John Lees reveals the ways in which we hamper own career prospects and how
you can turn things around
Are you setting traps for yourself?
You’ll be familiar with the ways external events and even your colleagues
seem to conspire against your career prospects.
Organisations can do it too – Manzoni and Barsoux’s book, Set Up To Fail Syndrome,
suggests that managers make early decisions about winners and losers, and keep
plum tasks for the future stars in the organisation, and save the killer
projects for those they believe will fail.
So before you try to rescue your career it’s worth checking out whether,
consciously or otherwise, a manager is setting you up to fall on your face.
However, most career traps are designed, set and operated by ourselves.
Often the skill of managing your career is to work out how you can get where
you want without getting in the way of your own success.
This can best be described as reducing your career limiting actions (CLAs).
This is not a matter of committing corporate hara-kari – for example, by
parking in the MD’s space, or being sick on your manager at the office party.
It’s also best to avoid copying any part of your anatomy on the office
Finally, if you’re looking for first-level protection, always think twice
before pressing ‘send’ on any e-mail involving humour, personal references or questionable
attachments. Generally, you should only ever write in an e-mail what you would
be happy to write on a postcard left for everybody to see in the post tray.
CLAs are self-inflicted damage
CLAs are rather more subtle – the booby traps we lay for ourselves when we
are actively trying to do the right things in the job. This is often about
working too hard on projects that don’t matter to the organisation, or aligning
yourself with out-of-date systems or methods.
Build on your awareness of the real needs of your organisation. Research
your present employer as carefully as if it were a major new account that you
were trying to win. Try to focus all your working energy on the results that
will really matter at the top.
Working smarter, not harder
Success is often not about what you do, but how far you are seen to be doing
the things that matter by key decision-makers in the organisation – people who
will influence your future.
It’s worth remembering that those who make decisions about your career future
often do so on the basis of very limited information – where you have made a
presentation or led a highly visible team, for example – so think carefully
about doing things that are important and noticeable.
Managing how others see you is a critical step. This often means taking
advantage of special opportunities, unusual projects or new teams, and usually
means that you need to be flexible about what you will take on. Sticking to
your job description is the surest CLA of all.
Learn how much or how little to put in writing. Each organisation has its
own internal rules on using memos and e-mails to confirm or record decisions.
Learn what is acceptable and necessary, and always do it with a light touch
rather than sounding prim. If you can’t get the tone right in an e-mail, pick
up the phone.
Other career limiting actions are typically about the way you manage your
line manager. Don’t always double-check every detail to be 100 per cent
fire-proof. Go to your manager with solutions rather than problems.
And make sure you avoid doing things that really irritate your boss. Perhaps
they have a clean desk policy, while you believe that a tidy desk is a sign of
a sick mind.
Avoiding career limiting actions is ultimately all about learning how your
organisation reads you and your contribution – and beginning to manage that
John Lees is a career coach and is also the author of the publications
Job interviews: top answers to tough questions, How to get a Job You’ll love
and How to get the Perfect Promotion