Final post on career ending mistakes, though, I am sure I will take up the subject again, as soon as I see someone make one or make one myself. This mistake is the sweet but homely step child of the over functioning problem and we’ll call it: Being All Things to All People.
You have either done this, are still doing it or know someone who does it and watch them suffer. I had one client a long time ago who was All Things to All People (ATTAP) – for the purposes of this example we will call him Dean. He was a delightful person – with a passion for Disney characters, always had candy (the good stuff) on his desk, and always had the cupcake for the birthday girl or boy. He literally adopted several nieces and nephews and took on full parental responsibility. He never said no to his boss, so his boss just kept piling it on. He was a tremendously good listener so everyone, and I mean everyone including folks from other departments, came to him for “advice” – a nice way of saying that they used him to vent. If a direct report complained that his workload was too heavy he would take on some of the tasks himself. He read something about servant leadership but missed the chapter about delegation and taking care of himself. He was exceptionally good with computers so when his people got the endless hourglass or dreaded ‘blue screen of death’ they would call Dean – they knew he would be faster and nicer than the IT guys. All round great guy. All things to all people.
And you know what? He was happy. He loved it. He loved his job. Until he was bypassed for promotion, not once, not twice but a third time at which point he felt he had to leave the firm and try again someplace else. We looked at what was up with the bypass. Here is what we discovered:
- He missed critical meetings because someone was having a crisis.
- He was drowning in operation details others should have been taking care of and did not attend to strategic imperatives.
- His colleagues depended on him but mocked him for being a doormat.
He realized he had a choice: Stay where he was, be ATTAP, or shift. Focus on what’s necessary to be promoted. Choose his causes and his battles. Let them call IT and not him. Keep bringing cupcakes, but take down “THE THERAPIST IS IN” sign. Insist that his people suck it up and work at least half as hard as him.
He shifted. He stopped being IT genius. He drew some boundaries. It was not comfortable for a long time. He found a new equilibrium. He got his promotion. And he still brings cupcakes. And his people still adore him.