Career coach: Can I get ahead without sucking up to the bosses?

Kate SavageThis week’s career coach advice looks at how people averse to schmoozing their bosses or struggling with a clique at work can advance their career.

Dear Kate,

There’s a guy at work, we started at the same time and he seems to be getting all the kudos and the promotions while I’m constantly fighting to prove my worth. He bills less than me, works less than me, but he still seems to be golden boy. It’s so infuriating! I can’t and won’t suck up to the bosses; it’s just not me. How can I get back on par with him without having to be fake?

Ok, I’m afraid saying ‘I won’t suck up to people, it’s just not me” wont work. It’s biting off your nose to spite your face. I know, I’ve been there. Calling it ‘sucking up’ won’t help your mindset, and immediately brings to mind connotations of the guy in the office who laughs too loudly at the MD’s jokes. Change the ‘label’ and there are obvious and subtle ways to play the game.

You don’t have to be an extrovert, but you do have to get over your fear (or whatever it is) of blowing your own trumpet and start treating your senior leadership as they want to be treated.

You can’t change what this guy’s doing and who’s buying into it. Forget about him, concentrate on you. And please, don’t let your frustration at their methods and success make you take another step further away from the internal networking.

Are his influencers the same people you need to impress? Whatever he’s doing is obviously working, can you do the same but in your own way?

It all comes back to your goal, your plan and your (buzz word alert) personal branding. Or more specifically, what you’re doing about achieving your goal.

You need to find a way to be your own cheerleader at work.  If you’re not part of the boys club or the high performing team, or you’re not comfortable in group situations, or you never get to speak to the MD – find another way.

Who makes the final decision in your career? Not your line manager. They’re the (very important) gatekeeper, but The Big Boss(es) needs to know who you are.

If they send an ‘all staff’ email, send a reply. Talk to them in the kitchen. Be confident, but not cocky. And if you can’t be confident on-the-spot, plan in advance what you’re going to say next time you see them in the kitchen. If someone knows who you are, likes you, and you’re doing a good job – it makes those ‘raise’ conversations much easier.

People want to work with people they like. But more than that, at the end of the day, they also find it bloody hard to promote people they’ve never heard of.

What’s your personality style? What’s theirs? Use it to your advantage. Play to your strengths. A tactical email to the MD can do just as much good as a whole night at the pub laughing at their jokes.

Sometimes that does mean drinking XXXXGold instead of Carlton Draught (True story. Thank god for SuperDry).

Sometimes it can mean staying an extra 10 minutes at an event and finding an opportunity to talk to the CEO. It doesn’t mean ignoring your values, or letting go of any leadership traits or forgetting the people around you.

But 20 per cent of the people make 80 per cent of the decisions* – you need to know who’s who, and not be afraid to let that 20 per cent know what a great job you’re doing.

It’s internal networking, done your own way.

Know your direction. Know who can influence your success. Make sure they know what they can do to help.

*I think I made that up, but you know what I mean!

  • Kate Savage is a career coach and mentor at Elbow Room Group

If you have a question you’d like answered, just email kate.savage@elbowroomcoaching.com – named or anonymous, on any career topic.


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