If you feel frustrated that your career has not advanced as quickly, or in the direction you had anticipated, the chances are career blockers are inhibiting your progression. Career blockers can have a negative and lasting impact on your career, and as an executive recruiter who has been in the industry for over 15 years, I have seen many careers negatively impacted by career blockers.
What are Career Blockers?
Career blockers are those people who will inhibit your career in some way – large or small. On a large scale, they will openly block your promotion in a leadership forum and explain to others why you should NOT be eligible for a promotion/role change; on a small scale, they do not recommend your skills when asked. This could be, for example, a peer, manager or senior stakeholder who:
May not see the value in your skills and experience;
Feel you are not effective in your role;
See your skills lacking in a specific (often critical) area;
Dislike your style of doing business; and/or
Feel there are others in the business who would do a better job.
We all have these career blockers, and most people I meet tend to steer clear of them and focus on their Career Amplifiers (those professionals who are your biggest fan and will openly rave about you). Knowing WHO your career blockers are is the first step, and it is then up to you to navigate which ones are the most influential and influence their perception of you.
I’ve seen firsthand, and on a number of occasions, the impact of career blockers. One case in particular, which I shared in front of 450 Product Managers at Leading the Product Sydney, saw two product managers of similar experience and capability have a vastly different career trajectory. One, now a Chief Product Officer, earns four times the other. Whilst some may suggest other factors might have impacted this – I know that ‘how’ they managed their career blockers had a lot to answer for.
There are 3 types of career blockers which you need to keep in mind when you are driving your career forward:
Blatant – These career blockers do not hide and I expect you could reel off 4-5 professionals who would be openly challenging your next promotion. These professionals will often have a drastically different working style to you and will likely sit in an opposing functional area.
Suspected – Less easy to identify and more dangerous if you do not know who they are. These suspected career blockers could be those who you have had conflict with or a difference of opinion in the past, or simply have naturally opposing functions/styles. They could also be a professional who has known you for some years and still perceives you as more junior than what you are today. These professionals may not be obvious to you; however, they will be more obvious to others around you.
Hidden – Completely hidden in the shadows and the ones you need to flush out. These individuals will not let on they are your career blocker; however, they can be the ones who do the most damage. They are often in positions of influence, generally not too far away from your own current level. These hidden blockers often have strong opinions, however will not share them in an open forum for fear of being judged or disliked. They can operate in more subtle ways to block your career trajectory and it’s important to understand their beliefs about you before you can start trying to change them.
While I appreciate you cannot please everyone, understanding WHO the ‘suspected’ and ‘hidden’ career blockers are is critical if you want to progress quickly within an organisation.
How do you identify your Career Blockers?
Simple answer is to solicit feedback. Your manager and peers will likely see your career blockers clearer than you can. Many people do not actively try and identify who their career blockers are because it is uncomfortable for all parties involved – therefore creating a safe forum for honest feedback is crucial:
- Ask your peers - a peer who you are not close to nor friendly with – one who will answer honestly and provide you with a completely different perspective. This peer must not be a friend as this may inhibit their view. I often find people who have been within the business less than 6 months great to ask;
- Initiate your own 360-degree feedback and send to suspected blockers - this is an initiative which you will be able to drive yourself with the help of your mentor, or one of your sponsors;
- Ask your manager/leader - share your ambitions for establishing and influencing your career blockers with key influencers to encourage them to share their perspective on who they believe your career blockers to be. I have also seen this kick-start the managers/leaders in thinking about who their own career blockers may be;
- Ask an old colleague for their view of your career and potential career blockers - this is a powerful strategy as they are no longer working with you and may come with a different and often objective perspective.
How do you change the Career Blockers view?
It is unrealistic to run around trying to meet all of your career blockers and attempt to change their view of you; the best approach is to rank your career blockers and rate them in order of influence. Pick the 3 most influential and work through a strategy to ‘unblock’ them. The strategy may include:
Set up a meeting to discuss their area/team/project and gently ask them for some personal feedback about how you can make things easier for them;
Share some introspection about yourself which may show them how aware you are of your development points;
Where appropriate, prioritise their projects;
Understand their drivers and pain points – this will allow you to provide them with support;
Get personal! Bonding on a personal level and sharing vulnerability is a great way of connecting on a deeper level; and
Ask them to mentor you.
Spending time with your career blockers will be both uncomfortable and confronting, however it is how successful professionals progress the quickest and learn the most.
Victoria Butt is the Managing Director of Parity Consulting, specialising in senior and executive search within Product Management and Product Development. In her spare time, she likes to go diving with sharks (the more dangerous the better!) and is known to enjoy a glass or two of good wine. Contact Victoria for a confidential discussion on firstname.lastname@example.org or +61 402 418 326.
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