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Being Over-looked versus Being Over-Criticized at Work

I recently came across a post discussing why employees are 'overlooked' at work, primarily attributing it to the lack of behaviors or skills the employee exhibits. However, reflecting on my own experiences, I wondered if the author's perspective might be too one-sided and perpetuate a leader-centric narrative that doesn't consider the perspective of the employee?

The primary role of a leader is to provide clear direction, support, and guidance, helping team members achieve their goals and grow in their careers (Worth me saying again...a leaders role is to help a team member achieve THEIR goals and growth in THEIR career!) Yet, it's not uncommon to see leaders restricting team members opportunities for reasons beyond the employees' control, such as mismatched values, unconscious/conscious biases, or personal insecurities, something many professionals may have unfortunately encountered in their careers.

At one point in my career, I accepted a leadership role in a small organization. Outside of meeting times with a larger group, my supervisor rarely met with me, cancelling nearly 80% of our 1:1's over the course of a year's time. Despite being told by this supervisor that "one thing that would define success" for me, my year-end evaluation revealed otherwise, in addition to revealing the "one thing" successfully completed, actually had zero impact on evaluating my "success". This was a stark lesson in how the subjectivity of a leader's desires and wants, or shift thereof, can overshadow an employee's efforts.

My experience has shown me that employees are all too often unfairly judged based on subjective assessments of their skills and strengths, which may stem more from personal biases rather than not meeting established expectations. The concept of being overlooked, as revealed in my recent readings, resonates with me both as an employee, also as a leader. While some employees are "overlooked" for righteous reasons, there are supervisors who fail to recognize their subordinates' successes out of an inability (or desire) to relate to them. This ties in with my ten Guiding Principles for Leadership, principle #10, "You're only as successful as your manager allows you to be" which I'll explore further in upcoming discussions.

In my analysis, I review the five factors pointed out by another author that contribute to employees being overlooked for new opportunities. I explore how these factors, initially attributed to employee actions, can equally be affected by a leader's behavior. This comparison underlines how different perspectives can rightfully or wrongfully influence a team member's opportunity for career growth.

Five factors of missed opportunities:

A. Underestimates the Power of Networking:

  • Overlooked (Employee influenced): An employee who intentionally does not participate in meetings or engage in the discussions where needs are identified or new opportunities are presented may lack awareness of them along with an ability to self-advocate for them.

  • Over-criticized (Leader influenced): Leadership might have privately or publically shamed the employee for their contribution in previous discussions. This may cause the employee to think their opinions are not valued. As a measure of self-protection, the employee might then refrain from engaging in discussions with the same people, which could be perceived as a lack of involvement, or interest, further losing visibility across the leadership team for consideration of a new opportunity.

B. Not Speaking Up:

  • Overlooked (Employee influenced): An employee who doesn't share opinions, a voice, or perspectives about the business at hand may risk not being viewed as a person with the right level of knowledge to move the business forward, nor someone with the needed level of knowledge to effectively mitigate business risks.

  • Over-criticized (Leader influenced): When a leader does not demonstrate value for suggestions an employee has previously made, or if the leader has not appropriately given credit to team members for ideas, the employee may hesitate/resist speaking up with future ideas or thoughts.

C. Not Going Above and Beyond:

  • Overlooked (Employee influenced): An employee who does not exert extra energy to do more than is expected, risks being seen as a person not capable of doing anything more than their job currently defines, or not having the ambition necessary to advance in their current role and level of responsibility.

  • Over-criticized (Leader influenced): When a leader is too process or goal oriented, they may not appreciate anything more than simply getting a job done that meets said goal. The quote "A leader who doesn't listen, will find themselves surrounded by followers who dont talk", speaks volumes about this factor, as a leader who doesn't listen may never actually hear (understand with full appreciation) about their teams 'above and beyond' behaviors.

D. Lacking Personal Brand:

  • Overlooked (Employee influenced): An employee who does not demonstrate skills, strengths, or values that distinguish them as unique, or an expert in their space, may not stand out to other leaders when opportunities are identified.

  • Over-criticized (Leader influenced): When a leader's personality and/or values do not align with that of their employee, little appreciation will be given to them, nor will work opportunities to demonstrate them be provided. This is a constant battle and explains clearly why some people do well under one leader, but when leadership changes, the person's dynamic of success changes too.

E. Outdated Skills:

  • Overlooked (Employee influenced): When an employee doesn't invest in keeping their skills relevant to the shifting market, the employee is not viewed as valuable in sustaining or growing the business. Understanding and functioning in market changes ensures future opportunities exist.

  • Over-criticized (Leader influenced): When a leader is inflicted with "Hero Syndrome" s/he may not be open to new ideas or ways of working other than what they know to be true. In this situation, an employee may be labeled as not having pertinent skills when/if the leader is simply not capable of understanding them based on their own limitations of market knowledge.

In conclusion, while being overlooked for career opportunities can sometimes stem from an employee's lack of skill or will, it's equally important to consider the role that leadership can have in limiting opportunities for team members. A leader's inability to recognize or relate to an employee's strengths, or a leader with a tendency to be overly critical, can single-handedly thwart the career projection of someone. As leaders, it would benefit all of us to recognize that as frequently as a team member may not live up to the potential of their job, we have leaders not capable of being effective leaders to their team members. When consideration is made for new opportunities, consider the perspectives of the factors you assess, it can easily blur the narrative and underscore the value someone might actually have.

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