Three surprising reasons you are not getting ahead at work

If you try, you risk failure. If you don’t, you ensure it.
— Unknown

There was a smart guy I met through a professional real estate association.  Let’s call him Dan.  Dan is a very likeable young professional who travels, teaches, and is a real estate tax expert.  He has such a strong grasp of the municipal tax code that he helps his employer deal with complicated tax issues for large real estate assets.  He asked me one day for advice on figuring out why he was not getting ahead in his career.  There are a number factors to consider, but I told him it is good to keep in mind that even great virtues, when taken to extremes can hold back your career progress.   Here are three characteristics of a great employee like Dan, that when taken to extreme, can hurt their chances of promotion.   


You know your area of expertise better than anyone in your department.  You have published articles, taken professional courses, and worked extensively in your field.  How can this be a bad thing?  If you think about it, being irreplaceable is by definition a good reason to keep you in the same role.  If your boss cannot live without you and there is no one else in your organization that could succeed you in your role, you have become your own road block to getting ahead.  So start planning for your succession.  Is there someone internally you can develop?  Is your company willing to start an internship program?  It is risky, planning to put yourself out of a job, so you have to be strategic.  However, there is more risk waiting around hoping someone hands you a promotion and figures out your succession plan for you.


This is somewhat related to the expertise quality.  You know the inner details of one narrow area of your organization.  Mastery of those details makes you a great employee.  However, if you want to be a leader, don’t you have to understand the big picture?  How well do you know the business model of your organization?  How does it grow its client base? How does it mitigate risk?  Look for ways your area of expertise can contribute to the big picture of the organization.  Are there ways you can get on a cross functional committee made up of finance, legal, or project management?  From this platform you can start to gain credibility in tackling business problems broader than just your area of expertise.


The other myth is that being Mr. or Mrs. Congeniality is the only ticket to a promotion. The employee who never has a bad thing to say about anyone or any project.  This is an admirable quality, but if you take it to the extreme end of the spectrum, then no one needs your point of view.   Why would senior leaders in your organization come to you for insight or feedback, if all they are going to get sunshine and rainbow responses.  Give great, constructive feedback when asked.  Point out how one real estate acquisition may be higher priority than another based on your experience.  You may not have the full picture of all the considerations being weighed, but at least your leaders know they can depend on you for an insightful perspective.  They will respect the fact that you are willing to hunt down a solution, which may not make you the most friends, but will benefit the overall company.

…And the new employee of the year award goes to the Dan!  The irreplaceable, smartest, and most liked employee in the firm.  I would genuinely encourage Dan to show his appreciation and grab that award. It’s a good thing.  Just as long as he had a plan to make sure the award is not an anchor.

Andrew Garrett