Stuck On Career Path!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about stuck with nitpicker image:

A year ago I got promoted to a supervisory position. During the first few weeks into the job, my lack of management know-how has caused me to offend a lot of employees and created for myself the image of a nitpicker. Since then, with better training and learning from the school of hard knocks, I’ve made drastic improvements to my management style. Armed with positive feedback from employees and my immediate managers, I repeatedly asked the director for more job responsibilities so that I can further improve myself and acquire more experience to move along in my career path. Each time his response was I needed to work harder.

Every one of those times I asked him to specify the areas that he would like me to focus on, and after a month, I would go back to him with the results of those changes. Even though I had achieved the goals and improvements my director had set me out to accomplish, he is still unwilling to grant my requests. After talking to a few of my immediate managers about my dilemma, I realized that what hinders me is the first impressions I had created for myself when I started out in this job. That nitpicker image stuck even though I am no longer a perfectionist and had made great strides in all other areas of my work. How can I change that negative first impression image? How can I convince my director that he can take a risk in me because I am a diligent worker, and with the right guidance can be an excellent achiever? I feel that I am being measured by unfair standards and no matter how hard I work on improving myself, nobody will notice because they are stuck on that old first impression of me.

Signed, Stuck

Dear Stuck:

You are to be commended for reflecting on where you are and what you want. You are hungry for achievement. You say that you have repeatedly requested new tasks and have completed them well, but have not been promoted by your director. You feel stuck on your career path and attribute that to a bad first impression. Yet you should know that to be in supervisory position for one year is not overly long. Your feet itch and you aspire. That’s good. But do you know where you want to go? Are you simply asking repeatedly with no named objective? What are the possibilities within your workplace? What are the specific qualifications for those openings? How are those positions posted and what are the procedures for application? Have you mapped out what you goals and the steps and alternate paths to reaching them? And if they cannot be achieved in your organization, have your explored elsewhere?

If you want to play first fiddle rather than second fiddle in your orchestra, that may not be possible so long as first fiddle is doing well. Should that be so, you would need to change your goal or seek a position in another orchestra. Ideally your director would initiate and encourage you to map out where you might go within your organization or even help you to seek positions elsewhere that would satisfy your sense of achievement. Apparently, your director has not learned that saying work harder is unfulfiling. So you will have to do more than simply hound him. Rather you will need to scan the opportunities or shape them. What are the ways you can increase your skills? What are the things you have learned and are learning that are evidence of your how you can add value to your workplace?

Have you had a performance appraisal that is more than saying your have done so and so? If not, it is time to bring in writing, both what you have accomplished in your current role and the step-by-step path you want to go. This, of course, should be not come off as a demand but as a proposal that generates collaborative discussion of how realistic are your goals and proposed stepping stones. Preparing for a career entails informational interviews and study of what is out there. You say you have talked with your immediate managers about your dilemma and come to the conclusion that your first bad impression is the reason you are stuck where you are. Possibly that is true; however, I doubt that. More probably your director simply is interested in keeping you and others where they are. It is easier than moving someone until he sees a need.

My advice is not to be obsessed with this thought and not to picture your self in conversations with others about how you feel unappreciated and can’t get anywhere. Now is the time to map out possibilities and to enlist your director or someone else in planning and implementation of that plan. Now also is the time to be productive and happy in your current job. Are you doing everything possible to enable those you supervise to be effective and happy in their jobs? Are you finding ways to cut wasted supplies, effort, and energy? Are you doing for each of those you supervise what you would like for your bosses to do for you? Are you helping them with their own career plans? Are you applauding things them for things they do well? Are you enlisting them in finding ways to make your work group committed to pleasing their internal and/or external customers? Are you a cheerleader?

Could it be that if you become genuinely happy with what you are doing that your desire to be elsewhere will not matter? Or that then your director will see that you are the kind of leader he needs to assign to a job that moves you toward the career goals you have talked about earlier or one’s that you have not thought of? Do these thoughts make sense? If not, do they spur you to think creatively–to see yourself as a creative person rather than one who is a victim? Will you let us know what you do over the next several weeks and what works or does not? Ego-mindedness is best realized with WEGO-mindedness.

William Gorden