Sometimes What You Need to Know is Hard to Hear

How open are you to receiving feedback about your work and workplace behavior from a perspective different from your own? How aware are you of other outlooks, viewpoints that collide, values that contradict, and standards that differ from those you envision to be right and just?

If you want to lead the team or just stay on the team, ask for input and listen to what you hear. Employers and co-workers are paying attention. And like it or not, they have opinions they’re itching to share with you. You might not agree with what you hear, you might not value the attitude of the person sharing it, but if you turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to what they’re saying, watch out. There’s a brick wall, with your name written on it, and it’s heading your way.

Case in point: Someone named Aaron (Darren or Sharon,) says, “How can I get promoted from my current position to a job where I make decisions and lead people?  I’m always overlooked in favor of hotshots, some younger than I, some not. Some come from outside the company, some come from the cube next door. What am I supposed to do to get that job?”

If you’re doing all the talking, no one’s listening. You may have all the answers and not know the questions. In other words, you don’t know what you don’t know, and that has to change.

“But I know what I’m talking about. Why should someone else tell me what I already know?”

Aaron, when you started with the company, they paid you to be independent, self- reliant, and productive. You did what you were asked, effectively and efficiently. You were focused, organized, and straightforward. As a result, they increased your pay and promoted you to manager.

“That’s right. I’m the same person I was, and now they say I’m “not good enough”.  I’m called an ‘arrogant, overbearing micromanager’. Can you beat that?”

Aaron, when you got that promotion, your job changed from independent player to team leader. That meant you needed to change your independent style to one that’s interdependent, empowering, and motivating, bringing out the best in others, so the company can benefit from the sum of all your efforts.

“I don’t know if I can do that.”

If you can figure out where you’re working you can find a way to fit in: Every business culture is different. Some companies like their employees to be team players, working together, building consensus, going for win-win outcomes. Some companies are hierarchical, insisting on structured approaches to problem solving and decision-making. And some want their employees to push boundaries, rewarding creativity over same-old thinking, where management styles range from “take no prisoners”, to “anything goes”. Where do you work, Aaron? And is it where you have the best chance to succeed?

Wherever you’re employed, avoid taking extreme positions, issuing ultimatums, and “my way or the highway” mandates: It takes courage to be the only one willing to take an unpopular stand. It takes political savvy to know if it’s a stand worth taking. Pick your fights wisely, present your position privately and select your words carefully. Look for win-win solutions that result in better outcomes than either of you could otherwise accomplish.

If you want to promote yourself, you’ll need to promote your subordinates to replace you. To do that, you’ll need to train them well to do their jobs well, so that you don’t have to spend all your time in the trenches with them.  That requires focusing on their development, giving them authority along with responsibility, letting them make mistakes so that they can learn from them, and rewarding their good performance with additional experience. It also means giving them recognition and providing them an audience and opportunity to showcase their accomplishments.

If you can do all that and open yourself to feedback that tells you what’s working and what isn’t, you have a chance to prove to your superiors that you’re ready for what’s next. Communicate what you want, why you want it, and how you’ll make a difference to your company when you get it.

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Joyce Richman ( has been specializing in executive and career coaching since she started her own practice in 1982. She works in a variety of environments including: higher education, manufacturing, sales, marketing, media, technology, pharmaceuticals, medicine, banking and finance, service, IT, and non-profit sectors. A member of the adjunct faculty at the Center for Creative Leadership, Joyce is certified to administer a number of feedback and psychological instruments. Joyce has appeared regularly on WFMY-TV and is the career columnist for The Greensboro News & Record. She is the author of Roads, Routes and Ruts: A Guidebook to Career Success and co-author of Getting Your Kid Out of the House and Into a Job. A popular speaker, Richman conducts seminars and workshops throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. Her coaching profile can be found at