I have a boss that is stifling my career. I need to move past him. It has gotten to a ridiculous point. He controls my pay, promotions, etc. I believe he feels threatened by my education and experience.
Thank you for writing in. I’m sorry to hear that you feel like your boss is stifling your career. I know there are many people who feel like you do and so I’m thankful you wrote in. This is a subject that I’m very passionate about; it’s very near and dear to my heart, and so rather than give you a standard response, like “go to HR”, I’m going to do what I do and give you a completely different way to look at this situation and turn the problem on its head. Because I believe nothing happens to us and everything happens for us and that every time we face adversity on our path, it is happening to help us grow and to become better for having gone through the struggle. And I believe there’s great meaning here for you, and incredible opportunities waiting for you to see them.
Now, without knowing any of the details of your situation, I’m going to tackle this coaching response from the perspective of the shifts that you can make — mentally, emotionally, and physically to change your experience. In other words, I’m only going to focus on the changes you can control and most of the strategies I’ll recommend start with asking yourself some thoughtful questions, spending time self-reflecting, reframing your perspective, and shifting your mindset.
A changed experience can only happen to a changed mind.
If you’d like tactical or strategic guidance based on specific things that your boss is doing/saying (e.g. “I did [blank] and my boss did [blank], how do I respond?”), write back in to me and give me the specifics and I’ll create another coaching response that’s less aspirational, less audacious and more block-and-tackle.
As a former boss and employee, let me start by saying that it’s entirely possible that your boss feels threatened by you and is blocking you. It’s also possible that your perspective and mindset is what’s blocking you (seeing a closed door instead of an open opportunity). And it’s also possible your boss/employer does not value the work you’re doing because there’s a disconnect between the value you think you’re adding and the value they’re needing/perceiving and that’s what’s blocking you from being promoted or rewarded financially.
I’m going to give you a quick fly-by about my corporate experience and my corporate mindset, because much of this response is designed to inspire you to think differently and see your opportunities differently. In order to do that, I have to illustrate how a different mindset can change everything and I use my mindset strategies and experiences in corporate America as the basis to do this.
Before I left corporate America to find and follow my purpose, I was a vice president at the world’s largest privately held insurance brokerage firm. I led a small team, in the institutional retirement services division, and my contributions to the team were instrumental in helping to grow our west coast practice from $500 million in assets under management to $6 billion in assets under management in under six years’ time, with very little increase in overhead. In my 17.5 years in the institutional retirement business, I worked with hundreds of CEOs, CFOs, HR executives, corporations, organizations, boards of directors, and higher education institutions — and in my 17.5 years in the business, only one client chose to leave me.
I was not always liked in the business—I ruffled a few feathers here and there—but I was damn good at what I did with my clients and no one could argue with that. My clients loved me and I loved them. Doing right by them and protecting their interests was such an honor, a privilege, and it meant so much to me. I made myself indispensable to my company and every year when I went to ask for pay raises, bonuses, and promotions for my team, I’d walk out of my COOs office with everything I wanted for my team and tens of thousands of dollars in pay increases and bonuses for myself. I didn’t have to ask for pay increases for myself; pay raises were always handed to me with gratitude and appreciation for the work I’d done (and my raises were always more than I would have asked for, if I had ever had to ask). I also lived an incredibly balanced life, working 40ish hours per week, and as a single mom, I stopped work at 3:00pm on the days my son was with me and I worked from home every one of those days when he was not yet school age. I was also in the top 10% of earners in America.
I share this with you, not because I want to gloat. I share this with you because there were some very fundamental things I did as an employee that made me of value to my company and to our practice, which made me worth promoting, being handed pay raises, and being given the privilege of having complete flexibility with my schedule to work when, where, and how I worked best. My company and its leadership appreciated me and I appreciated them. I did have a boss-like person who tried to stand in my way a few times, but because of the way I conducted myself, he could never touch me — I was too protected by my work, my work ethic, my intention, my clients, my relationships, and all the other executives who knew and saw my value. So this one person didn’t have a chance at stopping me from being the very best for my company and our clients that I could be.
I want you to take this in: there was not a person in the organization who could stop me from being the best that I could be for my clients, my colleagues, and my company. This was a mindset, and this mindset drove me.
It’s important to note, though, that even though I was very focused on giving my best work and being the best I could be, I never tried to advance at someone else’s expense. I never tried to get over on anyone. I never tried to get a promotion that I didn’t earn every bit of. I never tried to dodge the rules (although I did challenge them a lot). I played fair. I called bullshit on bullshit. And I never gave my clients less if what they needed was more.
I have always simply worked harder (notice I didn’t say longer; I said harder) than others; I saw opportunities to add more value where others did not—and I acted on them. I was also always determined to see all the areas where I was lacking or my clients’ experiences were lacking and I worked to correct any deficits in me or in our work product.
But I didn’t work harder to compete with anyone or to advance professionally. I work harder because I love being the best I can be—for me — and for all those who can benefit when we each give our best personally and professionally. The magic is that career advancements (and money) then come naturally. From a very young age, I knew, instinctually, that the only limitation to what I could accomplish professionally was in my actions, my thoughts, and in my mindset.
So, lesson # 1 for you, Clay: If you want to accomplish all you’re capable of accomplishing, you must decide to be the best you can be, if you’re not doing so already. You must decide that you will not let a single person stop you from giving all the very best you can contribute to your company and to your internal and external clients. You must decide this. It is not necessary for you to announce it to anyone but yourself. But, you must decide it. And then you must show up for it, regardless of whether your boss is rewarding you for it. Believe it or not, what your boss is doing is irrelevant to your decision to be your best and give your best because once a person decides what they want, and they show up for it (and refuse to settle for less from themselves), the waters part for them and they begin to see avenues of personal power and opportunity that their minds couldn’t see before. So giving your best is not for your boss. Giving your best is for you. So that 1) you can feel the confidence in yourself that no one can take from you and 2) with that confidence you shine and others can’t help but see you and your worth and your value. In other words, you become incredibly marketable and you feel confident in yourself and you see no reason to settle any longer for a situation where someone is blocking you without merit.
Before I joined the company I was just referencing, I was working at a large 401(k) provider in the marketplace. Within the first six months of me being there my boss called me into her office and she said that management had called her to say that my desire to make them better and make the client experience better was disruptive and that I wasn’t hired to “shake the trees” and make them better; I was hired to help them retain clients. Here was my response to my boss: I understand management’s perspective, and that’s too bad, but just know that by them trying to clip my wings, put me in a box, it means I won’t be here long. My boss’s response was this: “I know.” I was gone within a year and a half, quicker than my boss expected. At the moment my boss told me of the company’s inability to value my contributions, I set my mind on what I would accomplish in the time that I was there to make the experience for my company and clients as good as I could within the constraints that the company placed on me and I decided I would lean into learning everything I needed to learn so that I could be the best I could be when the next opportunity presented itself with another company.
The point is this: Management tried to hold me back. They tried to clip my wings. They tried to stop me from giving my best, doing my best, and being the best I could be. But they couldn’t and do you know why? Because my desire to be great wasn’t because I wanted pay increases or promotions or acknowledgment. My desire to be the best I can be and do the very best I can do is solidly anchored in the very core of my being: it is who I am through and through. I thrive on growing professionally and in every way in life and I thrive in being able to play whatever role I can in helping other people to grow into the best they can be as well. And I wasn’t going to let this organization take that from me. Just because they wanted to be mediocre didn’t mean I needed to be mediocre too. It simply meant I was better aligned with an organization that was already great (and wanted to stay great) and/or an organization that was willing and able to take a hard look at all the layers of dysfunction that kept it from being great—and grow.
You see, I had DECIDED that their opinion of me wouldn’t stop me from advancing in my career and continuously taking on opportunities where I could add value and grow. I just knew that it wouldn’t be with them. Now, if I had stopped and felt defeated, or backed into a corner, or like they were suppressing my advancements, I surely would have gotten angry, bitter, resentful, and started not giving 1000%. But, I didn’t do that. I didn’t take it personally. I saw their lack of a desire to be great as only an indication of them and where they were as an organization. I knew what I contributed to every company in all the work I’d ever done — I knew who I was professionally, and as a result I also knew it simply meant they were a stepping stone for me — and not a destination—and I wasn’t afraid to tell them that.
So, lesson, #2 for you: How do you show up at work? Do you give it your all? Are you working for recognition, a pay raise, or a promotion? Or are you working your ass off because you’re damn good at what you do and being damn good lights your soul on fire?
If you’re working hard because that’s what lights you up, then you’ll become unstoppable and all the right people within your organization — or an even better organization — will notice you and they will reward you. Consider this: maybe your boss is not blocking you. Maybe your boss is creating a situation for you (unbeknownst to him/her) that’s requiring you to rise into an even better version of yourself than you were before. Maybe he/she is forcing you to make a choice to either stay stuck and resent it OR to break free and GROW. The choice is yours, my friend. Isn’t that so awesome?!
(For what it’s worth, when I left the company who told me to stop trying to make them great, it was an advisor I worked with who saw my value and scooped me up to work for him and help him build his practice. It was the perfect opportunity for me, the perfect fit mutually, and my new boss was someone who liked that I stood up for what was right, challenged dysfunctional ways of being, and shook the trees like crazy so that we could be great.)
Now, I want to tell you something else. This desire in me to be the best I can be manifested itself in every job I’ve ever had. I was an incredible drive-thru attendant at Taco Bell when I was 16 years old (I loved my customers and they loved me; putting a smile on their face filled my soul with delight). I was a detail-driven change agent and the best cashier in the service department of a car dealership at 18 years old (the best they’d ever had, so they said. I loved being there, and I loved the freedom my boss gave me to make our customer and employee experience better. Whatever I needed in order to do that, he gave to me). I have always loved the feeling I GET INSIDE when I give my best to something and others benefit from it. This tenacity, grit, grace, and a love for the craft of creating experiences that people want to come back for — meant that when I entered corporate America at 20 years old, I was never the most qualified for a job nor the most educated but I was always the person my prospective employers chose. Because everyone could sense that I didn’t work hard for a promotion or a pay raise. I worked hard so that I could make others great, my company great, and so that I could make the experience that our customers had ones they wanted to come back for again and again. And I always did.
Lesson #3: What do you work for? What’s your why? What drives you to do what you do? Is it the promotion or the pay raise? What is your burning desire? Is it a big house, a nice car, superb meals on the table every night? Recognition? Or is it something deeper, something more intrinsic, something more internal? Is it a desire to be fulfilled?
If you can set your sights on a desire to be fulfilled, then everything else (the material gains, the money, the acknowledgment, etc.) follows, including fulfillment. But, if we are short-sighted and only set our desires on material gains or the need to be acknowledged/promoted then even once we accomplish these things, we’re still not fulfilled by them.
My desire to be great professionally always stemmed from the fact that I was so fulfilled by doing the very best that I could do because I knew that if I did the very best that I could do and had everyone’s back… then I’d be living up to the expectation of doing good in the world that I’d set for myself. I didn’t want to be great just to win. I wanted to be great so that EVERYONE COULD WIN. My bosses could win, my colleagues could win, my clients could win, my company could win, our shareholders could win, our vendors could win. Everyone could win. The thought of playing a role — no matter how big or how small — lit my soul on fire and still does to this day.
This desire to create circumstances where everyone wins is not luck or chance. It, too, is a mindset. And it guarantees positive results in life for those who value it and adopt it.
Now, before you think I had some special advantage growing up that allowed me to rise professionally, let me share with you something important: the only advantages I had were my mindset and my grit. I was a 14-year-old crystal meth addict who almost died from her addiction. I graduated high school from a continuation school, started college at a community college because my high school grades were so bad I couldn’t get into a university. In fact, my first job in the institutional retirement business, I got when I was 20 years old, had just finished community college, had only been clean from drugs for a couple of years, and had no clue what a Profit Sharing Plan was but I was about to start working with them. The woman who owned the company looked at my letters of recommendation from my prior bosses, all of which said something like: Christina may not be the most credentialed or qualified candidate, but she will learn what she doesn’t know and she will make your organization better for having been there. Hire her. We’re sad to see her go, but wherever she lands, everyone will prosper.
And the thing is, Clay, I knew this was true. My compass was and has always been pointed toward serving the highest and greatest good of all. I never thought that I could win if it meant someone else was losing. I wanted everyone to win, and I was so grateful that people entrusted me with this most important responsibility.
So another question for you Clay: Are you waiting for your boss to unblock you before you become great or are you doing AMAZING work right now, creating wins for everyone? Are you doing things to make your boss look great? Are you trying to do everything in your power so that your boss can succeed as well? Or are you a drag on your boss’s productivity or success? Are you resentful or mediocre and expecting big returns? Check in with yourself to see where you fit in. If your attitude is one of entitlement, then it may be a struggle to advance in the way you want within the company you’re in. You may need to jump ship and move to a new company to get the advancement you want — perhaps a sales driven organization where your accomplishments are celebrated when you achieve great sales results. Generally speaking, though, sales jobs aside, a sense of entitlement will often hold you back unless you’re backing up that entitlement with indispensable work.
Now, I know that our society teaches us to blame the other person and to make them responsible for the pain we feel. But that mindset will only keep you stuck as well. Society might tell you it’s so unfair what you perceive your boss to be doing. But, I always say that nothing happens to us and everything happens for us and this way of thinking, this growth-based mindset, means that only you can stop you from becoming everything you’re destined to be. If you know where you’re going in life, then your boss putting a chair in your path will not stop you, it will just force you to go around it. Just like the company I was working for who told me to stop trying to fix them. Management’s desire to suppress my natural gift of making things better for everyone didn’t mean they stopped me from advancing in my career, or stopped me from getting promotions or pay raises. It just meant that I likely wouldn’t be getting them with that organization, which is a BLESSING, because had I stayed with them, I never would have had the opportunity to work for the amazing organization I worked for after them and I wouldn’t be the woman I am today doing what I’m doing on my own terms. God had my back, and I knew it; I never questioned it.
So, you can look at the situation with your current boss and feel resentful, angry, blocked OR you can set your sights on your true destination and start working toward that. Perhaps that means you must leave your current employer in order for your talents and expertise to be valued, appreciated, or utilized to your fullest expression and fullest potential. Perhaps you simply need to shift your mindset about how you’re working and why in order for your boss and other people in management to see the value and contributions you bring to the company.
You see, the point is, you can look at it as though your boss is closing a door on you OR you can look at it as though a door is opening for you — giving you another way to go or another way to be. But, you must set your sights on what you want to achieve, and if you also want to be fulfilled once you achieve it, I would recommend that the sights you set be ones that 1) do no harm along the way and 2) benefit everyone. We cannot find fulfillment while intentionally causing harm. If your boss is truly blocking you, eventually that will harm him/her professionally, too. And if it doesn’t, you have to ask yourself if you want to be a long-term part of an organization where management is rewarded for blocking employees from being their best. That is not an organization I’d spend long at. But, for some, it is a comfortable place to be — because being our best also exposes us to the potential of failing, being resented by others, being judged/blamed/shamed by others, and having to face our fears so that we can succeed. It also forces us to constantly be willing to shed the habits, mindsets and patterns that block us so that we can see more, do more, learn more and grow more. Sometimes, for some people, blaming others for their lack of advancement is easier than looking in the mirror and DECIDING to succeed. Now, remember, if you’re the kind of person who is deciding to succeed, success may not come for you in the company you’re currently at — if they don’t value what you bring to the table or how you do it — success may be waiting for you at the next opportunity and that opportunity will present itself to you once you get your thoughts aligned with your actions and BOTH are focused on your destination.
We cannot manifest what we want if we’re too afraid of losing what we have.
In setting your sights on your intended destination/outcome, please don’t make your destination predicated on someone else helping you to get there (e.g. your boss). So, don’t write your intention like this: I desire for my boss to recognize my contributions, promote me, and give me the pay raises I deserve. Instead, write your intention like this: I’m grateful for the opportunity to do what I love and contribute my best work so that everyone can benefit, including myself. My eyes are always open for my opportunities to grow and advance my abilities and my contributions. I take immediate action on all opportunities to be better, do better, and receive better with pleasure. Can you see the difference between these two strategies? The first one requires your boss to change so that you can have a changed experience, which is a pretty miserable and stuck space to be, especially if your boss really is the kind of person who feels threatened by you and is blocking your career advancement.
The second strategy gives you the marching orders for being your best self, orders you and only you can control, and leaves the door open for an even better opportunity to come through (either with your current company or some place else). Either way, with the door this wide open in your mindset, you’ll know when you hit the place that you can either grow with your current company or leave it and continue your growth some place else. You see, your current company is either a stepping stone or a destination. If you think of it this way, then you’ll never feel stuck again. Because if your path to your destination gets blocked, you will have the option — with this new, open mindset — to find a new route to get to where you want to go, and you’ll know that the power is yours, and that no organization and no person can stop you from achieving what you want. Only you.
I would recommend, if it feels good to you, to write out the following intention—pen to paper—at least 20 times per day for the next 30 days or until it becomes your dominant mindset and your actions and reality reflect this new mindset, this new way of being:
I’m grateful for the opportunity to do what I love and contribute my best work so that everyone can benefit, including myself. My eyes are always open for my opportunities to grow, advance my abilities, and increase the value I bring to my company. I take immediate action on all opportunities to be better, do better, and receive better with pleasure. I love that I achieve great things in my work and live a balanced, happy life simultaneously.
Even if everything in this intention isn’t currently in effect (or real for you yet), if you want a different experience than you currently have, your job is to train your brain to create it by focusing only on what you want to experience and then showing up for it.
We are all such powerful manifestors that we are always manifesting our thoughts into form (even the negative stuff!). Think only about what you want to experience in your life and think only about how you want to feel in life. The more you think about, and have strong feelings about, your boss blocking you… the more this becomes true for you. What we think becomes our reality. If the intention I wrote in italics above feels like something you’d like to experience, then cement it into your mind so that it becomes your dominant thought. It will become your everyday reality and you will become indispensable and unstoppable professionally.
If you set your destination in such a way that you can serve all parties, then you will become a person who stands out in a crowd and you will be an asset to every organization you ever work for. However, if you’re the kind of person who’s only doing the bare minimum or putting forth mediocre work (for any reason), then you will be met with a mediocre response from management, likely everywhere you go (unless management values mediocrity, which is way more common than you’d imagine as a result of personally held insecurities/patterns among managers, and individual + institutional mindset challenges—which create dysfunctional, suboptimal corporate cultures).
If you are truly excellent in what you do, and how you do it, and your company thrives in part because you exist within it, then recognize that the company may not be a company that values your contributions and/or doesn’t have a management team/structure that allows for greatness to shine through. And all that may simply mean is that it’s not the right long-term company for you. Be okay with walking away if what you bring to the table is valuable but isn’t valued. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong with them or you; it just means there’s not a good fit, mutually.
Likewise, though, be sure to look at your contributions and see if you are really deserving of the promotion and/or the raise. Are you really making the company a better place to be for your colleagues, company, and/or clients? Are you adding value and if so, in what ways? Are you pleasant to be around? Are you speaking up in meetings and adding to the thought leadership of the overall team? Does your voice and opinion include outcomes that would benefit all constituents and stakeholders, including your boss/managers? Are your opinions or strategies well thought out before sharing? Take a good inventory of yourself and how you are truly showing up. Perhaps even ask yourself if you’re the kind of employee you’d give a raise or a promotion to if you were the boss. Any places that you find within yourself where you’re not showing up in a way that you would value as a boss are areas where you have an opportunity to adjust. What I’d suggest is that you truly give yourself a 360 degree look in a mirror and put yourself in your boss’s shoes or in the shoes of management and see if there are areas where you can develop yourself more or shift into a different/better version of yourself.
We can’t change what we don’t see. And we can’t change anything when we’ve given away our power to other people or circumstances.
And for what it’s worth, I know that it sucks to not be valued or recognized for your contributions to a company. But, I also know the personal power that you can take back by looking at this as an opportunity to adjust where you need to adjust and/or learn what you need to learn before you move on to an organization or a profession that values the whole of you. But before you can find that company and/or that profession, you must decide what you value about you and then show up for it consistently. After all, how are other people going to value what you bring to the table, if you don’t?! Let go of the parts of your personality or style that are no longer positively serving the outcomes you wish to experience.
Lastly, if your boss really is blocking you without merit, have compassion for him/her because oftentimes when someone is blocking another’s progress, it’s because they feel insecure about themselves and their own lot in the world. That’s a scary and painful place for them. Have empathy, compassion and grace for them and continue to chart a course for yourself that’s in line with where you want to take your work and in service to creating wins for all. Do no harm. Speak no harm. Think no harm. Only think of what you want. Clear from your mind any thoughts that are in opposition to what you want. So instead of “my boss is stifling my career”, think “I’m charting my course and removing all obstacles to achieving my goals. I know what I will achieve with my current company or somewhere better. I accomplish everything I set my mind to.” Where our thoughts go, energy flows.
You may also consider asking your boss directly if there’s anything you can do better and if there are any areas where he/she thinks you still need to develop your skills/abilities/knowledge in order to receive a pay raise, promotion, etc. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of asking for what you want or asking what the requirements are to receive/earn/achieve what you want. If you haven’t tried that yet, it’s a natural and practical place to start. Just be ready to respect the answer even if you don’t agree with your boss’ point of view, and chart the course for yourself that’s necessary based on how you want to succeed. A mentor of mine, Raymond Charles Barker, says this: “Successful people think only about what they want, and they want what they think.” In other words, successful people don’t waste their time thinking about anything that they don’t want or everything that’s not turning out how they wished it would. They focus their thoughts only on thinking about what they want and they deeply want what they think about.
I hope so. 🙂
As I mentioned before, if you’d like me to give you a very specific coaching response based on specific incidents that are happening with your boss, feel free to write back to me and provide the details, and I’ll provide you with a more specific coaching response.
I wish you the very best in everything, Clay. May you always have the audacity to be great, feel great, and live a balanced, fulfilling life, doing what you’re naturally good at doing, and doing what brings you joy, inner peace, light, and love. You’ve got this! I believe in you.
With love, gratitude, grit, and grace,
Leave a Reply