Taking the High Road:
Advancing Your Career While Staying True to Yourself
Are you a high performer looking to advance your career as a leader?
If you are like many genuinely good people that I’ve coached over the years who have ambitions to climb the corporate ladder, then you’ve probably heard higher-ups share the following advice with you: “You know, you are a solid and trustworthy employee BUT you are WAY ‘too nice.’ If you want to advance to senior management, you need to ‘Play THE Game,’ and look out for number one.”
When you look at them with a confused look on your face (because up to this point you had been recognized for being a good team player), they’ll come in with the knock-out punch:
“Sorry to break it to you kid, but you’ll need ‘to become mean’ to get ahead.”
The first time you are given the ‘talk,’ you may be taken aback, feel frustrated and discouraged, and think, “Why can’t I just get ahead based on the quality of my work, my results, and my positive attitude toward the company and colleagues?!”
You are right to ask yourself these questions and feel sick to your stomach, because “playing the game” is about nasty organizational politics rather than being promoted fairly to get ahead based on merit and solid leadership abilities; it goes against everything you’ve been taught about hard work and good work ethic. In fact, it would be more accurate to categorize this whole notion as being told to play the “M.E.A.N. game,” and that you become:
Never ever try to play the game of those who have a weak moral compass or little remorse for their actions. It’s not that they are better or more intelligent than you, it’s that they will stop at nothing to step on others and get ahead, whereas your conscience will stop you from sinking to their level and retaliating.
Before you begin to question your own capabilities and feel torn thinking that you have to choose between being a decent person and being a senior leader, here is an alternative piece of advice. Genuine and honest people beware: Never ever try to play the game with those who have a weak moral compass or little remorse for their actions. It’s not that they are better or more intelligent than you, it’s that they will stop at nothing to step on others and get ahead, whereas your conscience will stop you from sinking to their level and retaliating.
In fact, these toxic types are quite comfortable becoming your nemesis and advancing their career at all costs, even when it’s to the detriment of others. If you are a high performer and well liked by senior management, they’ll see you as competition and will want to bring you down. For instance, they’ll pretend to be your friend and get you to gossip about a colleague or a manager, and then go tell the person in question what you said to stir up trouble. They’ll take credit for your work while at the same time try to sow doubts about your capabilities with senior management. In short, they will go out of their way to make you and others look bad, and aggrandize themselves to look better than who they really are.
To beat manipulators at their own game, you would need to behave in awful ways and make power plays that would leave you feeling like a horrible person—so even if you “win,” you’ll likely get little or no joy or satisfaction from it. If this is the path you are on, then know that there is a better way to advance your career than to choose to play the game and become mean to get ahead.
The truth is that there is another way for you to you get ahead while you uphold integrity and maintain your dignity.
If you’re an honest person, then my advice to you is that there’s no reason for you to play along with unscrupulous and shameless people. The truth is that there is another way for you to you get ahead while you uphold integrity and maintain your dignity. Below, I share seven tips to help you stay in integrity if you feel that someone is trying to play you as you work to get promoted:
7 Tips to Advance Your Career While Staying True to Yourself
1. Understand the games people play in the higher echelons of organizations, and choose not to join into all the scheming.
2. Shift your focus back to your vision, your goals, and your team.
3. Build your own relationships with management and work on your communication skills.
4. Stay neutral with any person who tries to drag you into games and stay the course. Do not take the bait and do not feed their drama. Try to view them with compassion as they are likely struggling to fill a big void in their life.
5. Be very good at what you do, get out of your comfort zone, and learn to influence decision-making by preparing and presenting excellent business cases for your ideas and those of your team.
6. Build your courage to be at once assertive and respectful. Speak truth to power in a professional manner and don’t be afraid to clear your reputation, backed by facts and positive results. Get out of your comfort zone and “get your shine on!”
7. Build your competence and learn to become the best leader you can be with members of your team and form positive relationships with colleagues throughout the organization.
In other words, if a colleague tries to drag you down into a vortex of conflict and unhealthy competition, then you need to rise above it by staying focused on your goals and aligned with your values. Respect senior management and share with them your vision and strategies to grow the company. Find ways to be innovative and help them succeed, and they’ll appreciate you. Become an expert at supporting your team, removing obstacles, and giving them what they need so that they can be empowered to do excellent work. Always show employees your appreciation for their efforts, give them credit, and help them shine. In return, they will appreciate you and always have your back; they will let you know if someone is trying to sabotage you. So instead of playing the game and being mean, B.E. T.R.U.E. to yourself. That is, focus your positive energy and be:
- Respectful and Resourceful
In addition, learn how to put forward well-reasoned and well-researched business cases in support of you and your team’s ideas. When you opt out of playing games and focus on your people, your goal, and your leader, you’ll eventually have good results and your nemesis will lose credibility in the eyes of senior management. If this doesn’t work, then you may want to consider changing employer. Read Oldest Language of The World.
If you are a high-performer who is kind and who cares about people and about the planet, pay close attention, because I am appealing directly to you:
“Realize the great value you have as a good and honest worker and as a high performing leader. Do your best work, hold your ground, and stay true to you. If you have a calling to lead with your heart forward, the world needs you to get promoted and to become a great people leader. There are far too many people suffering at the hands of those in leadership positions who, they themselves, got ahead by playing games. Workplaces need more people like you who take the high road to secure management positions, and eventually land in the C-Suite. That’s right, we need leaders who are compassionate and who genuinely care about their teams and colleagues to step up and climb the corporate ranks. Over time, with managers and senior managers like you at the helm, we will be able to shift the mindset from ‘leadership is power’ to be yielded at all costs and at the expense of others, to ‘leadership is being of service’ to uplift, inspire, and engage others to contribute to something greater than themselves. Not only will employees benefit from this shift, so will companies, shareholders, and society as a whole.”
Together, we will make the world a better workplace.
And it begins with you
About the Author:
Lisa Anna Palmer is the Founder & CEO of the Cattelan Palmer Light Your Leadership Institute (LYLI). Lisa coaches and trains leaders while drawing on over twenty-five years of experience in senior HR & Organizational Development roles. She is featured in The Top 100 Magazine in 2020 (https://www.thetop100magazine.com/lisa-anna-palmer), and has been a guest on TV, radio and podcasts internationally. She currently resides in Ontario, Canada, with her husband Andrew, son Jake, and their canine companion Shadow. Lisa’s fundamental belief is that together, we can make the world a better workplace: www.LisaAnnaPalmer.com
Lisa is the author of Light a Fire in Their Hearts: The Truth About Leadership, which was released by Morgan James Publishing on August 11, 2020 and is being sold both as e-book and paperback. Learn more about Lisa’s book: https://lisaannapalmer.com/light-a-fire-in-their-hearts/
Connect with Lisa on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lisaannapalmer/