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Don’t Let an Indifferent Boss Hold You Back

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If you want to advance but your boss isn’t invested in your professional development, it can be discouraging and frustrating. I know because I’ve been there. In the early stages of my career, there was a period where I felt invisible and as if there were no opportunities available. One summer, there was a long period where my annual performance review was repeatedly canceled at short notice. This happened several times, and eventually it got to the point where I quietly admitted defeat and stopped reminding my manager to reschedule it.

No one noticed that my performance review that year didn’t happen. At that time I thought, “If no one else is bothered, why do I keep pushing for the meeting?” So that year I let it go, but I quickly realized that was wrong. By allowing my assessment to be passed, I put a ceiling on my growth and potential income. I learned from it, and I won’t make that mistake again.

If you’re feeling underutilized and underappreciated, remember this: Your career is yours — and yours alone — to figure out and navigate. It is important that you know your worth, even if it is not returned to you.

Through my work as a career coach, I have learned that while our managers should be advocates for our development, that is not always the case. Here are four ways from my book Prepare, Push, Pivot to continue without the support of your manager.

Focus on What You Can Control

Your thinking and actions are your keys to success. It’s not your boss’s actions (or inactions) that matter to your progress. How you decide to respond to a situation – and what you do next – is what really matters.

If you have a boss who doesn’t invest in you, you have two options: You can shrink and back off, like I did when I first let my annual performance review slip away. Or you can keep pushing forward and find ways to see.

Option two accounts for the fact that bosses come and go, but your career is yours forever. Don’t let the behavior of others get in the way of your goals, and don’t let your feelings about work be decided by others.

Adopt a positive mindset — that’s an active choice you can make regardless of the circumstances. Continue to do your best work for your boss, strive to exceed expectations, keep the lines of communication open, and be a positive, proactive team member. At the same time, stay laser-focused on your career goals and next steps.

Making Your Own Career Commitments

Creating a personal set of commitments will enable you to be intentional and impactful in setting your goals and planning the next steps for your career.

To do this, think about the next 12 months ahead of you. Ask yourself:

  • What else do I want to do?
  • What do I want to be known for?
  • What skills do I want to acquire?
  • What do I want to start doing that I haven’t tried before?
  • Where should I be seen?

Next, look at your answers and assign an immediate action item to each one. Then, decide what you will prioritize. Use your answers to create a career roadmap that aligns with your goals and puts you in the driver’s seat.

Expand Your Perspective

Having a boss who is fully engaged and committed to supporting your career goals is a wonderful experience. When this happens, seize the moment, and make a personal commitment to pay it forward in the future by being an advocate for others.

Even if you are in the fortunate position of having a supportive boss, due to the volatile nature of the business environment, there are always too many variables to rely on for their unwavering support of professional development. If you’re feeling adrift, broadening your horizons can help.

There are many stakeholders that affect your work. Make a list of people who are important to your career, in addition to your employer. This list may include your peers, direct reports if you have them, and senior leaders. Find out how you can continue to develop relationships with them.

Making this list and taking positive actions based on it will remind you that your career does not begin and end with a dynamic relationship. Actions you can take include asking someone how they learned a skill you want to acquire or looking for volunteer opportunities for initiatives that will expand your knowledge. Remember, even if your direct manager is not invested in your professional growth, there are other people who can affect your growth. Continue to create your intentions and explore options, ideas, opportunities, conversations, and connections that help lay the foundation for what you want to do next.

Build Professional Relationships to Help You Grow

After you’ve created your “people that matter” list, consider any gaps in your network. The most important roles to consider are mentors and sponsors.

Do you have a mentor now? If you don’t, commit to identifying more than one. Is there someone in your company who could be a sponsor? If your boss can’t fulfill that role, consider who can be an advocate for you.

Go through your list of people important to your career and circle the names of senior leaders. Whenever possible, look for opportunities to connect and have career-focused conversations. Clarify your goals and ask for their feedback. If you’re worried that your interactions may come across as evasive to your manager, start by being positive. In preparation, think of a significant result that your manager has achieved. When you approach other senior leaders, reference your manager’s accomplishments and explain how excited you are to advance your career. Additionally, you can let your manager know that you are actively looking for a mentor and ask if they would like to be updated on how that is progressing.

When considering potential mentors, don’t forget past bosses and co-workers: If someone you’ve worked with in the past is invested in you, stay connected. You can also take advantage of opportunities from professional associations to learn and meet senior leaders in your industry.

. . .

If you and your boss don’t get along, it’s not a great feeling, but it’s not the end of your story. Your career is the most valuable — and the most personal — investment you can make. It is important that you reinvest your potential during difficult times by being proactive.

Adopt a positive mindset and continue to review your career commitments quarterly to track your goals, achievements, and insights. Continue to network and expand your horizons. Be intentional about engaging with others and starting career-oriented conversations. If you can be your own best advocate, you’ll soon look back on this moment and realize that it was a factor that helped propel you forward.

Don’t let an indifferent manager derail your ambition, career goals, or goals. Align your actions with your ambition. If you know you can do better, commit to keep aiming higher. No one else will truly invest in your career from start to finish, so you need to keep investing in yours.

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