6 Critical Missteps That Hurt Your Career Advancement

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Let’s face it: it isn’t easy to break out and establish yourself as an up-and-coming leader inside a large corporation. In fact, some days you can feel like the best kept secret in the organization.

For over fifteen years I’ve been going into large companies—like Microsoft, Bank of America, eBay and BP, just to name a few— to train emerging women leaders on how to break into positions of management and leadership. As a result, I have helped a lot of women avoid the most common “missteps” that could be putting a lid on their career advancement.

If you are wondering how to become a leader or how to get promoted, be sure to avoid the following 6 Critical Missteps That Hurt Your Career Advancement:

Misstep #1: Waiting to be promoted

Your management might have said that if you “work hard” and “do a good job,” you’ll be recognized but if you’ve already tried that route, you’ll know that it can bring mixed results at best.

You can’t afford to delegate responsibility for your career advancement to your boss. Instead of waiting for a promotion, take charge of your career trajectory by identifying the role you want next, and giving voice to your ambition. Let it be known that you are throwing your hat in the ring for that role.

Misstep #2: Allowing others to define your reputation

Inevitably, the people you work with perceive you a certain way. They have formed opinions— judgments, even— about what you are good at and not good at. You already have a “brand” or reputation, but it has taken place by default, not by design. Don’t wait for others to discover who you really are.

Instead, build your brand as an emerging leader. Identify what you want your name to be synonymous with, and create a short, succinct “brand statement” such as “the go-to person for strategy” or “the bridge between engineering and finance”. Make sure it describes something you are passionate about, skilled at, that your employer needs and values.

To build your own leadership brand before others build it for you, create awareness of your brand by adding it to your LinkedIn profile, your email signature, and your elevator pitch.

Misstep #3: Building a dead-end brand

It’s always important to do the job you’ve been hired for, but don’t let others assume you’ll be in the position forever. If people keep coming to you with requests and assignments that you’d have been excited to work on a few years ago (but now are bored by or, frankly, overqualified for) it’s a clear sign that your personal brand is holding you back.

Instead, make your brand scalable. Periodically review your “brand statement,” making sure that it describes to your current – and future – potential and not just your (past) experience. It should encompass your higher-level skills, not the ones you’d rather leave behind. For example, a financial analyst recently re-branded herself, scaling up her brand from “team player” to “change agent” and, in doing so, began attracting less “busy work” and more projects that required her to lead change.

Misstep #4: Working too hard

Believe it or not, working too hard can be a career misstep, especially if it’s work that’s neither valued – nor visible. If you are a hard worker and develop a reputation for hard work, guess what you’ll attract more of? More hard work! And not necessarily the visibility and recognition that is due to you for the work you do.

So don’t be the best kept secret in your organization. In other words, don’t spend 100% of your time at your desk, head down, doing your job. Make a point of stepping away from your work on a weekly or even daily basis, to do activities that make your value visible, and promote your accomplishments as you achieve them, not necessarily after the fact.

Misstep #5: Accepting low-visibility assignments

Leaders never operate below the radar because they know that the more visible the assignment, the stronger their brand – and potential of being recognized. There is a time and place for low visibility assignments, and they are typically at the entry level.

Seek out career-defining projects that place you at the epicenter of your company’s strategy and most important goals, while showcasing your personal brand and leadership skills. To devote to high-impact, high priority assignments that showcase your leadership skills, delegate or even say “no” to busy work to free up time. Say “yes” to high profile projects that define your career, not limit it.

Misstep #6: Downplaying your accomplishments

Humility has its place – in church! If you want to be rewarded and recognized, you must find ways promote your achievements. If this sounds too much like bragging, observe who gets rewarded in your team culture, and watch what they are doing to gain recognition. When self-promotion backfires, it’s often because it is done in a way that is inconsistent with a team’s culture.

Find a few methods that are consistent with your personal brand. For example, get on the agenda to present in a meeting and invite your leaders to attend. Or when a customer sends an email thank you for your great work, add “FYI” and forward it to your manager. Toot your own horn before somebody gets the wrong message – that you have nothing worth promoting.

The Takeaway

Could you identify with any of these career missteps? If so, please post a note in the comments section!  Let me know what you’ve discovered, and what action you’d like to take to move beyond these roadblocks and move ahead in your career.

 And watch my free four-part video series on how to build your brand as an emerging leader. I cover the six critical career missteps and the actions to take to move beyond these roadblocks. You don’t have to be the best kept secret in your organization!

Get started here.

Jo Miller

A leading authority on women’s leadership, Jo Miller is a sought-after, dynamic, and engaging speaker, delivering more than 70 speaking presentations annually to audiences of up to 1,200 women. Her expertise lies in helping women lead, climb, and thrive in their corporate careers. Jo has traveled widely in Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East to deliver keynotes and teach workshops for women’s leadership conferences, women’s professional associations, and Fortune 1000 corporate women’s initiatives. Jo is founding editor of BeLeaderly.com. Learn more about her speaking engagements at www.JoMiller.net and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.


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  • Kesha Kent

    Love this and would love to share on LinkedIn!

    • Jo Miller

      Please do, Kesha!

  • Dina McDonald

    Excellent post Jo. This advice should remain top of mind for all individuals in the workforce.

    • Jo Miller

      Thank you Dina!

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  • Destyne

    Thank you for the valuable input. I have unknowingly accomplished all 6 missteps. Now I need to evaluate how to implement change when our company has a major disconnect between the “on-site” workers and the “office” management team.

  • Xinh Huynh

    Nice post! Building your brand: that is something I need to work on. I’m going to come up with a succinct brand statement like you suggested.

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