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Want More Career Opportunities? Change How You Think

Dear Joseph,

How can I ask the higher-ups in my organization to “step up” their game? Their lack of ambition limits my career development because there are no real opportunities for me to take on more responsibilities. My higher-ups are pretty laid back. In fact, I hesitate to use the word “lazy,” but that would be more accurate. They don’t do anything unless it’s absolutely needed. I don’t want to threaten to quit, but whenever I’ve brought up this matter, I’ve been told I have to wait. I think they’re too comfortable in their roles and are just trying to do the minimum possible to maintain status quo. Please help me communicate my urgency to them!

Signed,
Topped Out

Dear Topped Out,

Please have a seat. I’ve got some straight talk for you. The problem isn’t them, it’s you. But if you’re willing to listen, I think you’ll soon be liberated from the frustration and powerlessness you feel.

This is a boundary problem. Relationships work when people understand what is and isn’t their role. For example, consider the parent of an adult child who lives in constant despair because his son isn’t living up to his potential (in the parent’s view). Let’s say the son is a plumber not a prime minister. The problem here isn’t the child, it’s the parent. The parent has a mistaken idea that his emotional needs must be met somehow through the son. He has made the son responsible for satisfying him. The end result of this role confusion is that the parent becomes a manipulative mess. And even worse, he suffers from recurring feelings of resentment, alienation, and powerlessness. Whenever you either take or impose responsibility where it doesn’t belong, you induce these unpleasant emotions in yourself, and embark on scheming projects that rarely bring results.

If you read back over your question objectively, you’ll see evidence of these problems. You seem consumed with judgment. When they choose goals you don’t like, you characterize them as lazy and lacking ambition. You don’t want to quit (take responsibility to find a job that satisfies you), but instead expect them to reshape their strategy to create opportunities for you.

Could it be that they are lethargic? Lazy? Lacking in ambition? Of course. But that’s not the problem. It’s that you’ve handed over responsibility for satisfying your needs to them. That’s not their job.

There is nothing wrong with trying to influence upper management to see greater possibilities. But when it becomes clear they aren’t buying your ideas, you have a choice to make. And blaming them, while always an option, isn’t a healthy or productive one.

I hope you find peace and opportunity. You clearly have a desire to continue to grow, so go for it! Step one is to reset your notion about what others are and are not responsible for.

Warmly,
Joseph

Joseph Grenny

Joseph Grenny is a New York Times bestselling author, keynote speaker, and leading social scientist for business performance. For thirty years, Joseph has delivered engaging keynotes at major conferences including the HSM World Business Forum at Radio City Music Hall. Joseph’s work has been translated into twenty-eight languages, is available in thirty-six countries, and has generated results for three hundred of the Fortune 500.

The ideas expressd in this article are base on the skills and principles taught in Crucial Conversations. Learn more about Crucial Conversations

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9 thoughts on “Want More Career Opportunities? Change How You Think

  1. Brilliant reply! This is a frustrated, albeit seemingly ambitious person. Blaming others isn’t helping. Trying to change others doesn’t work. Confronting reality is what’s needed. Taking that energy and applying it so personal work satisfaction is a daily output (perhaps in a different environment) is the key.

  2. Hi Joseph, what would you suggest for “Step 2” for this person? Once they have decided not to blame management, then what?

    1. agreed… i was expecting to read about some accountability convos, e.g. CPR skills? or maybe a timeline? or crucial conversations about working relationships? But this seems more geared toward personal psychology/therapy advice, which although valuable, esp from one who’s studied personal narrative so long, still seems usurping the reader’s attention…possibly to reify Joseph’s narratives…

      Topped Out seemed to be pretty explicitly asking only about how to improve their interactions with higher-ups (possibly, maybe even likely, because they feel their identity isn’t open to a deeper questioning…); while Joseph’s professional advice may work best to situate Topped Out for a more satisfying future (being “just what they need”), Joseph stops there without addressing how his own expectations of the listener (that they change something fundamental about themselves) are actually quite demanding… much like the parent in his hypothetical scenario…

      “fix your perspective” / “re-perspect” works both ways…

      maybe we can agree that giving advice to someone in such a way that they’re tempted to avoid it is ineffective at best (when it’s accidental) and antagonistic at worst (when it’s intentional)?

      this is not the first time i’ve heard Joseph, my fave, come out with an opinion different from what i usually consider so balanced that it sneaks into the reader’s ego… whatever, overall i’d stand by him… while i muttered about his mistakes under my breath haha

    2. agreed… i was expecting to read about some accountability convos, e.g. CPR skills? or maybe a timeline? or crucial conversations about working relationships? But this seems more geared toward personal psychology/therapy advice, which although valuable, esp from one who’s studied personal narrative so long, still seems usurping the reader’s attention…possibly to reify Joseph’s narratives…

      Topped Out seemed to be pretty explicitly asking only about how to improve their interactions with higher-ups (possibly, maybe even likely, because they feel their identity isn’t open to a deeper questioning…); while Joseph’s professional advice may work best to situate Topped Out for a more satisfying future (being “just what they need”), Joseph stops there without addressing how his own expectations of the listener (that they change something fundamental about themselves) are actually quite demanding… much like the parent in his hypothetical scenario…

    3. “fix your perspective” / “re-perspect” works both ways…

      (had a better written response, but akismet doesn’t like me!)

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