Your appearance is hurting your credibility.
People avoid honest feedback (Consider the classic dating break-up line: “It’s not you—it’s me.”) So, consider the anxiety of giving delicate feedback at work, where you can’t walk away (not to mention the fear of litigation, if it isn’t delivered—or received--well.)
Nevertheless, if you have a truly courageous mentor/coach, boss or peer, and they care about you and your career ambitions, they will tell you the truth—but it’s rare. This feedback is so difficult; some leaders will hire a coach to deliver the message. For example, I’ve worked with high-potential women who needed a fashion/hair/glasses upgrade. I’ve also worked with men who needed to lose the comb-over and tuck in their shirts. Appearance usually isn’t the only development gap in cases like these, but they contribute to the perception of others. Once appearance improves, it stops getting in the way and the other strengths are easier to see.
The simple truth is we don’t see ourselves like others see us. Your best bet is to go into a fashionable store and ask for help—and an honest critique. The same is true of a hair stylist, make-up aesthetician and your optometrist. Ask for input from friends or family. Study the appearance of successful people at work. Do you look like appearance equals?
The real reason you didn’t get the job.
“The other candidate is more qualified.” That’s the pat answer you will hear when you don’t get the job. You won’t hear: “Your grammar makes you sound less intelligent.” “Our CEO didn’t like you because he thought you were too cocky.” “Your potential boss thinks you are too focused on your own ambitions—rather than being a team player.”
Finding a candidate who fits an organization—and the job—and the team—and the boss is an imperfect science, at best. It’s a little like speed dating—with long-term consequences, if it doesn’t work out. Most interviewers do their best to match candidates’ skills to the job description. But as much as managers are trained to be “objective” “behavioral” and “competency-based” interviewers, they still rely on basic intuition and human relations skills to make a marriage with a candidate. After all, breaking up is getting harder to do.
Your only recourse is to ask the recruiting firm for some honest feedback (your best chance of hearing the truth—since they have a vested interest in placing you). Sometimes an inside contact can fill you in, since they don’t have much to lose and may feel the information will help you. For an inside posting, you may get a courageous and caring interviewer who will tell you about the gaps that prevented you from getting the job. Listen well—and thank them.
They are afraid of you.
“Everything must be fine. I have an open-door policy and nobody has any complaints.” The real reason may be because they want to stay as far away from you as possible. If you have a volatile temper and blast others when you are under stress, don’t expect people to be dropping by to give you a head’s up when things are going south.
“Some people on my team and I are very close. They always want to drop in and talk about what they are doing and about our mutual interests…” Don’t be too sure it isn’t to be one of the favored employees who won’t get their self-esteem destroyed in the next staff meeting. If you are one who plays favorites, or is emotionally unpredictable, you will be given a wide berth by some and snuggled up to by others—all to keep safe from you.
And you don’t have to be a tyrant or play favorites to make employees leery. Having an overbearing personality, being a damaging gossip, or being overly political can also make people tread lightly. Self-preservation is a powerful motive.
You aren’t promotable.
No one wants to crush someone’s dreams. And no one wants to admit that some of the cultural or personal biases can influence who moves up and who doesn’t. I have seen cases where an individual had delusions of grandeur, with little to back it up. But I’ve also seen unfortunate situations where the person could have moved up but the culture was too biased against it. A simple case in point is the administrative assistant who goes back to school, graduates with honors but will never be seen by others in her company as anything but an assistant. Then it’s time to move on.
Then there are the cases of people with brilliant minds and technical skills but no EQ. They disregard the value of emotional intelligence and believe that their technical acumen is all they should need to move into the executive ranks. It just doesn’t work that way. In fact, it’s their very lack of EQ that makes them blind to the fact that EQ takes on more importance the higher you climb.
During succession planning, executive teams often use terms like “well-placed,” or “promotable in place,” which basically means they see the person as reaching their level of competence, with the ability to grow on the job but probably not move up—at least in that organization.
So, if this fits your situation, you have several choices: grow in the job you’re in and enjoy what you do, or get your developmental gaps filled and then leave for a different culture.
Feeling paranoid? Don’t. Just take steps to be self-aware and gather the truth wherever you can find it.
Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee-based executive coach, organizational & leadership development strategist. She has a proven track record spanning more than 20 years, and is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Email your question to Joan at email@example.com
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