Career coach: how do I help my unambitious employee advance their career?

Kate Savage

This week’s career coach looks at how a boss can help an unambitious employee realise their potential. 

I have a girl on my team who I know could be amazing at her job, but she just wont take my advice on how to advance her career or improve her profile. What can I do?

Firstly, it’s fantastic that you are proactively trying to help your team(s) fulfill their potential and advance their careers.

However at the end of the day, only the individuals can really take control of their own career. And maybe a promotion and a profile is not something she actually wants?

Have you asked why she’s not implementing your advice? When you say she could be amazing at her job, do you mean the one she’s in now or the one you want her to do?

What’s she doing really well?

What does she want from her career?

What’s holding her back?

Have you asked her directly?

Is she not-meeting, meeting or exceeding your expectations – and which one do you really need her to be doing?

And can I ask the pointy question upfront? Are you pushing her for her benefit or for yours?

You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. It took me a while to realise that.

I’m a helper, with little patience. It’s not an oxymoron, it means that to thrive I need to work with people who are willing to help themselves. Given the direction, the support, the tools; they will go and do the work needed to keep the momentum going.

Here’s something I refer to when I am (often!) trying to explain the differences between support roles:

Managing is making sure people do what they know how to do.

Training is teaching people to do what they don’t know how to do.

Mentoring is showing people how the people who are really good at doing something do it. Counselling is helping people come to terms with issues they are facing.

Coaching is helping to identify the skills and capabilities that are within the person, and enabling them to use them to the best of their ability.

Encyclopedia of Theory & Practice in Psychotherapy & Counseling By Jose A. Fadul (General Editor)

There’s nothing wrong with any approach as an employee or an employer in the right circumstances, it’s a preference and a decision based upon the situation. But it’s a bit like personality types, if you are the kind of person who likes to give hands on advice and you’re working with someone who wants hand on advice, happy days. If you’re a hands on person and they’re more DIY, not so much. Ditto if you have expectations of people doing the work themselves in the background, and they expect you to be doing it for them, that relationship is not going to work either.

Decide which role you are happiest in – Manager, Mentor, Trainer, Counsellor, Coach. And then ask them what they are looking for from you.

If the two don’t match, can you match them up with someone else in the company to fulfill that role?

Some people don’t want to fast track. I have worked with some brilliant do-ers, who are happy to ‘just’ do, and they do it brilliantly. Often there is a need for these people, so just make sure you know why you want the change before you project it onto them.

In a nutshell, Have you asked this girl what she wants out of her career? Have you asked her what she wants of you? Is she doing a great job at the job she’s employed to do? Does it negatively affect you or your team if she continues in this way? Does it matter if she stays in this role for the next 5 years?

As always, it’s your choice.

You can push them up, push them out or stop pushing and let them do their thing – as long as they’re doing it well of course!

  • 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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