Good communication skills should be a minimum requirement for promotion to management, but too often that doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, you might find that your boss is a poor communicator, and you have to cope with that unsatisfactory situation. Unless you find a way to deal with it successfully, you might find yourself heading out the door sooner than expected–either voluntarily or involuntarily. In view of that possibility, it’s essential that you take steps before crunch-time arrives.
Poor Communicators can Have Many “Faces”
Your boss might believe he/she is doing a good job of communicating but you’re not getting the message. That might be right–maybe you’re not listening as carefully as you should, not asking questions to clarify ambiguities, etc. However, if you’re a good listener and understand how to make sure you’re moving in the right direction if your boss gives you a reasonable idea of what that is, the problem might not lie with you. You might have a boss who is a poor communicator, especially with regard to expectations for your job performance. For example:
- Gives you “blanket” instructions on what he/she wants you to accomplish but omits one or more key points. This is like someone who gives you driving directions to a place they know well and forgets to tell you that one of the streets changes its name. The odds are that you’re not going to end up where you were supposed to–at least, not without having to retrace your steps.
- Avoids providing specifics because of a belief that you should somehow know what he/she has in mind and figure out the rest on your own. Sometimes this comes from a genuine belief that enough information has been provided and that someone at your level should be capable of working out the rest without having to be guided to it. Other times it could be that your boss is testing you to see whether you will either pin him/her down to get the information you need or find a way to proceed without doing that.
- Doesn’t even articulate in his/her own mind what a stated expectation involves, to make sure you “get it,” but thinks he/she has done that. For instance, he might say, “I’m not seeing from you what I expect to see from a vice president.” If you try to clarify what that expectation is and you get a vague answer that is really no answer, you might be stuck in an uncomfortable and ultimately untenable position. How can you hit a target you can’t see?
What Can You Do about a Boss Who’s a Poor Communicator?
If the boss is someone you want to continue working for, you can try to strengthen the lines of communication. One option is to request regular, short meetings to compare notes on performance goals your boss has approved and your progress toward those goals. As much as possible, avoid generalities and statements that might sound as if you’re on the defensive. Strive for facts and figures that can be backed up and that clearly indicate completion of or strong progress toward specific goals.
Anticipate comments about what hasn’t been done that was supposed to be and provide a reasonable explanation (again, without sounding defensive). Express your 100% commitment to making those things happen at the earliest possible moment. Communicate your dedication to meeting the needs of the company and link the actions you have taken and plan to take to the benefits they will bring to the company.
However, if the situation doesn’t yield to your efforts to achieve effective communication with your boss so you can do your job at the highest level of effectiveness and meet his/her stated goals, you might have limited options to choose from. Planning your exit strategy at that point could be the wisest choice you can make.
Performance management through open-minded learning has always made good sense to me. Along those lines, I always enjoy reading insightful communications from professionals I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with and getting to know at least a little. One of those is Saeed al Muntafiq, a senior executive in Dubai who has a view of the business world that transcends geographical boundaries.
Performance Management and Developing Leaders
Performance Management–Breeding Thoroughbred Leaders: As Saeed’s article makes clear, he believes performance management isn’t something that happens just once a year. It’s an ongoing process. He offers 5 points that he says are an essential part of that process:
- It’s part of your culture – ….Performance management is a culture of transparency and openness that starts at the top.
- Positive Reinforcement – …it is essential for a person’s performance to receive positive re-enforcement….Continuous negative feedback festers in people and diminishes output.
- Real-time Feedback – …I do not recommend non-verbal channels such as email or SMS….Verbal still remains the best form of communication, as much as our increasingly-digital universe steers us against it.
- There is no such thing as negative feedback – I much prefer the term ‘improvement feedback’…. Of course, you need to have a transparent company culture that welcomes critical feedback before real-time verbal performance management can work.
- Have a party – Celebrate and reward success.
Saeed uses the analogy of breeding and training racehorses, but it’s clearly applicable to human beings in the workplace. If you are a manager/executive in a company, the points he raises are well worth considering. If you’re an employee who’s in the position of being managed, you could still take them to heart and benefit from them.
Whose Performance Management?
Assuming for the moment that you manage a team (or an entire organization), what are your goals for their performance? Some of those performance goals might be set by top-level management, in that they are expectations for your performance as the manager of that group. Others might be goals you believe are important that are not distinctly mandated from above.
Of course, you need to keep in mind the goals you will be expected to meet as a manager; however, you also need to consider that the goals you set for the members of your team must be clear and attainable. If you set expectations that require your team to stretch themselves, that’s likely to be a smart managerial move. On the other hand, if you establish goals that require them to leap over the moon, you could be setting them–and ultimately yourself–up for failure.
Considering performance management in the light in which Saeed presents it could help you make it work effectively and benefit both you and your team.
I doubt whether there’s a “user’s manual” for getting promoted, although I’m sure many books and articles have been written on the subject. It’s not necessarily an easy subject to pin down. However, you know that other people are getting promoted, so why not you? Whether you’re aiming for your first promotion into management or targeting your next move up the ladder, you probably know it won’t be a snap .
If landing a promotion is your goal, you definitely need to be prepared to work for it. As David Rockefeller once said, “Success in business requires training and discipline and hard work. But if you’re not frightened by these things, the opportunities are just as great today as they ever were.”
Your First Management Promotion
For those of you who are at the first step, I came across an article in Harvard Business Review that you might find interesting. Written by John Beeson, it’s titled “Getting that First Promotion.” He points out that the rate of promotions in many industries is a lot slower than it was before the recession, so a large number of talented people are eager to snag a promotion now. This increases the challenge for those of you who are either in that group or have recently decided you want to move up.
Beeson makes one very important point: “The first thing you must understand is that producing strong results in your current job won’t be enough. That’s just table stakes, the minimum needed to get you into consideration for a promotion. But finding out what else is required is tricky.”
Suggestions for Getting Promoted in Tough Situations
Beeson offers a few “rules of thumb” for you to implement:
- Be not only a problem finder but a solution seeker–someone who takes initiative to find new ways to add value and improve your group’s performance, then presents the boss with both the problem and a proposed solution. This also requires professional maturity–thinking outside your group, understanding how the solution might impact other areas and gaining support from those people for your plan.
- Demonstrate the interpersonal skills necessary to manage potential direct reports, who can vary greatly in their skills, problems and receptivity to motivation. For those of you not currently managing staff, this could mean showing how you interact with and influence others on group projects.
- Seek out opportunities to show that you can anticipate and gather resources necessary for successful implementation of an important project.
First Promotion or Next Management Role
Again, although Beeson’s article focuses on first-time promotion, it contains truths that are valid for those of you who are already in management and want to advance. If you understand the challenges and are ready to put some mental muscle into career management action plans that can help open the door to a promotion, you’ve taken the first important step. As Beeson comments, “those who emerge from the pack will be the ones willing to go the extra mile to distinguish themselves from other talented people.”
Tip: Take a good look at where you are now and where you want to go. Ruthlessly evaluate your qualifications to determine whether you meet the essential requirements and have what it takes to handle that promotion if you get it–fooling yourself by cherishing unrealistic expectations will do you no favors! Even if you somehow talk your way into a promotion you aren’t well prepared for, when crunch-time arrives–and it’s going to–it will become painfully clear that you have set yourself up for a dismal, possibly career-damaging failure.
If you don’t have what’s needed yet, your short-term goal becomes doing whatever is necessary to prepare yourself to pursue the promotion you want and be ready for it. That could include actions such as increasing your expertise and building or strengthening your “political capital” with influencers in your network. Find out what you need to do and then DO it.
Obviously, not everyone can be a leader nor would everyone want to be. I’ve commented before that leaders–by definition–need followers. However, if you want to be a leader or are in a leadership role right now and just want to be a better leader (more influential, more highly compensated, or whatever), this topic might be top-of-mind for you. If not, it probably should be.
Many people tend to think of leaders as holding the top management positions within an organization, and certainly those individuals could qualify for the term. However, “leader” and “senior manager or executive” aren’t necessarily synonymous designations. For the purposes of discussion, though, let’s assume you’d love to get to a higher altitude in your career, which means moving up the “leadership chain” (or management ladder, or whatever else you want to call it).
Ready for Your Next Leadership Opportunity?
According to an article by Jennifer Miller, “When a leadership opportunity knocks, are you ready?,” demonstrating your leadership-readiness has a couple of key components:
- “Taking ownership of your desire for improved leadership skills is an important first step.”
- “…You must convince others that you’ve got what it takes [to] play on a bigger field.”
Note: The others she refers to include not only your boss and his/her boss but also others within your organization that can help you move your career forward (or upward).
I highly recommend reading Miller’s entire article, which is a fairly quick read. It has some practical, down-to-earth suggestions for assessing your support throughout the organization and maximizing the extent of your visibility as a promising candidate for career advancement.
Better Leaders–Made, Not Born
While it’s true that some leadership talents can be innate, I believe (and I’m certainly not alone) that much of what we think of as leadership can be learned. It does call for self-awareness and the ability to evaluate your capabilities–to reach out to possible mentors, for example, for help with areas where you realize you need to grow in order to be ready for advancement.
You need to have good connections both within your organization (and at as many levels up the chain as you realistically can) and outside of it–such as with your company’s customers, vendors and industry leaders in general. If you don’t yet have those connections or enough of them, that’s one good place to start working. The quality of your connections (and how you are perceived by them) plays a critical role in how much they are willing to serve as an advocate for you and support your career/leadership progress.
To sum it up, here’s part of the closing paragraph of Miller’s article: “It’s not enough for you to be ready to take on a bigger role at work; you also must be seen as being ready…By seeking out advocates, building your strategic thinking skills and creating connections throughout your organization, you will be seen as ready when opportunity knocks.”
You might think you can’t have too much of things such as preparation, excellence or creativity if you hope to achieve job success and have a fulfilling, long-term career. However, according to a recent article by Anne Fisher, called “Too much of a good thing can stall your career,” that’s not the case. It’s a thought-provoking concept, based on a new book titled Tipping Sacred Cows: Kick the Bad Work Habits that Masquerade as Virtues, by Jake Breeden.
Sounds to me like a book worth reading, even if you’re not much concerned at this point about job success–but especially if you are.
What Turns Your Assets into Liabilities?
You can push a trait to a certain point and achieve great success with it. However, if you fail to recognize when to stop or slow down a bit, your actions could block further progress. Worse, they could sabotage your career success as well as your current job situation. They can certainly stand in your way unless you recognize the problem. As the article mentions: “‘When leaders embrace beliefs without understanding and managing the potential side effects, the beliefs become sacred cows,’ Breeden writes. Like the wandering herds that clog the streets of Japiur, they get in the way of progress.”
One of the traits talked about in the article (and the book) is excellence. At first glance, you might wonder how in the world you could be guilty of carrying excellence too far. Think a minute, though. Have you ever encountered–or had the misfortune to work with or for–someone for whom perfection was the ultimate goal and nothing short of it was worth achieving? Someone like that can make life miserable for everyone around and block real progress at the same time.
Consider this related point: Good quality is important, and a firm focus on it could be viewed as essential to success. Clearly, if you don’t value quality in your job performance–the results you achieve for your company–you risk disaster. On the other hand, if you focus intently on quality-at-all-costs, the product you are trying to transition to manufacturing and from there to the marketplace might not be manufacturable at a reasonable price-point or might need to be sold for a price few customers would be willing to pay.
What’s Holding You Back from Job Success?
It’s obviously not always easy to tell if one of your assets has become a liability, which is necessary if you’re going to have a crack at correcting the situation. When we’re too close to something, we often don’t see it for what it is. Sometimes it takes an outside observer–hopefully, someone who is both knowledgeable and reasonably objective–to help us see the problem. However, as Fisher’s article points out, Breeden offers a short–and free–personality assessment (21 questions) that can help you identify those situations in your experience.
I took a look at the quiz, and although the site says the quiz usually takes about 4-5 minutes, I’m thinking it might take some people (including me!) a bit longer than that. The choices aren’t necessarily easy in some cases. However, taking the quiz could prove informative and worthwhile, even if all it does is cause you to think a bit more deeply about what you are doing or not doing, and why that could be a help or a hindrance in your career advancement.
The first time I came across the term “emotional intelligence” (EI) in connection with the work world, I thought, “What?” Shows how much I know–or knew then, anyway. Since that time, I’ve been reading more about the concept and have found it quite interesting and informative. Although there are probably a gazillion articles published about the topic, you can get a good sense of what it involves and what it could mean to your job success by reading just a few of them. I encourage you to spend at least a few minutes doing that in the near future.
Emotional Intelligence Makes Better Leaders
One of the most recent articles I read about emotional intelligence, “Secret Weapon: How to Strengthen the Most Valuable Job Skill” by Amanda Ebokosia, provides some enlightening and potentially useful information about EI. In doing so, Ebokosia also references an analysis conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University and mentions Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence. These are good sources of information, but you don’t have to read the full university study or Goleman’s entire book to get some sense of what they’re saying.
How does emotional intelligence make better leaders? You might not plan to be a leader–some people are perfectly happy and well suited to being followers, and after all, leaders need to have followers or they’re not leaders. However, even non-leaders could benefit from learning how emotional intelligence can help with job success.
Here’s what the article has to say about it (based on the VCU study): “For managers or senior executives, high EI usually corresponds with a good job performance. For employees it often leads to better decision-making abilities, job satisfaction and completion of goals….Leaders with good EI gain the benefits of creating a harmonious work environment while boosting job performance among staff.”
What is EI?
Ebokosia references Goleman’s belief that EI consists of five primary domains:
- Social skills
One of these concepts that I found particularly interesting was self-regulate. (The nit-picker in me notes that it should really say self-regulation to fit the noun form of the other four terms.) If you’re a leader or aspiring to be one, this concept could be critical. It’s not enough to behave well when someone is more or less forcing you to do that. You need to be able to control your own behavior–both your thoughts and your actions–and make them work for you in a constructive way.
As the article indicates, while it’s true that good leaders can “buckle under pressure and have breakdowns,” it’s also true that “a person with high EI and control over their emotions can effectively find solutions and operate with clarity.”
Emotional Intelligence Matters to Job Success
Before you dismiss this as “touchy-feely” stuff that doesn’t pertain to you, I urge you to look further into the subject. Emotions and their related actions have long been proven to have a potentially huge impact–positively or negatively–on what you experience and how the things you do affect those around you. EI is certainly relevant in that context. If you understand it and incorporate awareness of it into the steps you take going forward in your job and career, job success could be more certain for you than it has been in the past–at least as certain as anything can be in the world today!