Crucial Conversations QA

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!

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.



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. read more

3 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?

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