Is Your Boss Sabotaging Your Career Growth?

Have you ever wondered if someone was sabotaging your career? Are you at a crossroads in your career where you need to make a decision?

Recently one of my millennial mentees came to me for career advice. This was her question:

“I began a job a year ago and have recently found my on-the-job learning declining. I suspect my direct supervisor may have been trying to limit my growth. Should I seek another job? The position and the company is prestigious, my job is very well paying and coveted by young professionals seeking to hone their skills. Am I being unappreciative of the opportunity I have be given or overly sensitive to situations that may very well be normal in this career phase? What would be my best course of action?”

At the end of this blog post, I will let you know the course of action my mentee eventually took at this crossroads in her career. First off, let me say, I did not realize job sabotage was still a thing! With all the research, books written, and body of evidence proving the importance of valuing, empowering and coaching employees, I asked myself: WHO STILL PLAYS CAREER-SABOTAGING POLITICS?

Yes, I know, it may be naïve thinking on my part to believe employers want to bring out the best in their employees. It seems, though, there may still be some bosses playing career mind-games with their employees.

Now that I have gotten this outrage out of my system, I’d like to offer you 4 signs your boss may be sabotaging your career growth:

  • Not Receiving Credit: Your boss takes 100% of the credit for a project you both contributed to. In my mentee’s case, she did the lion’s share of the work, or what some might coin “the heavy lifting,” but didn’t get to share in the credit.
  • Left Out of Meetings: Your boss excludes you from meetings you once attended which gave you greater visibility and the information you needed to do your job. When your boss does include you in meetings, he expects you to sit up, take notes and shut up. Translation “Your ideas or contributions are not valued”. You feel relegated to the role of recording secretary or admin assistant.
  • Workload is Scaled Back: In the embryonic stages of your current career position, you received challenging work, but lately the content and volume of your assigned work has been scaled back significantly, and what you are given to do is mundane. You begin to feel overqualified and overpaid for the work you do.
  • Others Get More Notice: You notice your peers or junior employees are receiving more credit and more visibility than you are though they lack similar credentials, are less qualified and less experienced.

The question remains: Why would your boss limit your career growth whether intentionally or unintentionally?

The reasons a boss may step in to sabotage an employee’s career are as numerous as the stars in the sky. Pondering possible reasons or telling yourself stories to answer the WHY can be a cathartic exercise in the short term–like say for about 3 hours max–but dwelling on possible reasons too long can leave you feeling unsettled and downright frustrated simply because you’re trying to be a mind reader.

Maybe you believe your boss is limiting your career growth because he or she feels insecure and even threatened by your knowledge, experience and skillset, especially since you are more qualified than he or she is. Without your boss admitting to feeling intimidated by you, though, or without some unequivocal evidence that corroborates your story, your reasoning is unimportant. There is a good chance your perceptions are quiet off base and invalid.

The REAL question to ask yourself is this: “What can I do to alter the circumstances I am in?”

Here are 5 action steps you can take towards salvaging your career:
  • Leave your Job: You can hightail it outta there. But I only recommend you leave your job if you aren’t interested in the end game of your career. If you are concerned about the end game and the implications of leaving too early, I suggest you consider the following action steps before executing a knee-jerk reaction of leaving your current employer.
  • Meet with Your Boss: Schedule a one-on-one meeting that allows you to have a “What does success look like for me?” conversation. If this type of conversation intimidates you, I recommend you do some power poses to get yourself ready. Power poses will help you enhance your PRESENCE.  Another exercise is to practice your pitch with a close friend or coach like myself, having them act cagey, shut you down, respond with silence as a form of avoidance and say NO to you so you can experience rejection. More importantly, this type of practice will help you prime yourself to become comfortable with the uncomfortable.  If you have a boss that doesn’t seem to be forthcoming with answers to your question, try de-personalizing it. Instead, ask, “What does success look like for the department?” Ask what matters most and what success means to him or her. Questions like these may give you greater clarity allowing you to see how your boss envisions your development as a professional within the organization. Hopefully, you’ll uncover whether your boss sees you as a glorified admin assistant or as someone who holds a more responsible role that includes taking initiative on new projects.  If you want to know where you stand and clarify your career direction, a one-on-one conversation such as this will help you decide how to close the gap you sense exists.
  • Network to Find a Sponsor: Networking is the #1 unwritten rule of success in business. If you feel invisible to the power brokers, it may help to network more with your peers, particularly those who have access to the power brokers. Could you offer to assist them with their tasks, or connect with them over a cup of coffee or lunch? Gaining the support of a sponsor will help you level up your networking. Mentors or coaches like myself help you reflect on your own work. Sponsors, on the other hand, have a stake in your career. The right sponsor will help you fight for your seat at the table. They’ll drop your name in conversations with senior management and push for your promotion.
  • Engage and Educate: When you have extra time on your hands because your work is mindless and you are able to finish most of your tasks by mid-morning, why not take the time to brush up on your skillset or volunteer to participate in company activities. Doing so will give you access to meeting a variety of new people in the company and allow you to develop what is called “loose connections.” Loose connections are contacts you make through your immediate contacts. Evidence has shown that loose connections or weak ties can be pivotal in opening up a set of new relationships that can lead to a person’s next career opportunity.
  • Reflect: When feeling threatened by career sabotage, consider whether your ego is the enemy. Your boss is in his or her position for a reason. Though you may think you’re at the bargain basement of your career, your boss may see things differently. He or she may just be getting back to basics. Winning coaches have used this method repeatedly with their sports teams from teaching their players how to tie their shoelaces to teaching them how to hold and throw a ball.

The key to weathering this type of career storm is to strive to be the best at the job you’ve been given whether others or you think you are too good for it. Give your maximum effort, and commit to your job. Doing so will instill in you a sense of excellence. The desire to be excellent at what you do is a quality that can erode over time, but the practice of excellence is the habit you need if you’re to propel yourself to career victory.

When you think your job is beneath you, you’ll have a bitter taste in your mouth. Left unchecked, you’ll hate your life. There’s no need to live in such torment. If you currently find yourself in this type of career struggle, here’s a suggestion for changing your perspective. In his book Ego is the Enemy, Ryan Holiday puts forth this edict succinctly, “It is about providing support so that others can be good…by learning the fine art of servitude you clear the path for people above you and by doing so you create a path for yourself…For the root of greatness is embedded in the soil of humble beginnings…Fear not if you make other people look good for taking credit for your ideas…for your reward will unfold as your results compound… “

Are you curious to know which piece of advice resonated with my mentee? It was #5 – Reflect–a wise choice.

If you have questions, ideas or feedback on this post then leave a comment below or Tweet me @paulabridgeH2O. I would love to hear from you. Oh, and please, share with your friends so that they can Live Unstuck in their career starting today.


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