If you're experience career stagnation, you may feel lost in the woods. It's lonely feeling, searching without knowing exactly what you're looking for... what it will take to get your career back on track.
If you're feeling stuck in a rut, the first thing you should know is this:
You're Not Alone. Career Stagnation Is Common.
According to a University of Phoenix survey, 64% of working adults report having limited opportunities in their current companies.
Not everyone minds being in a state of career stagnation. Some value the stability and comfort of remaining in the same job and with the same company long term. This post is not for them.
This post is for people who want to pursue new and challenging opportunities and people who hope to grow in their careers. It's for you if you're willing to put in the time and effort to make yourself promotable.
You Know It's Career Stagnation If:
- You're no longer challenged by your work and haven't done anything new in the past quarter.
- Your performance reviews are exceptional, but you're still not considered "ready now" for next level assignments or roles.
- You feel stuck and can't see a variety of options for continued development.
- Your reputation, network or follower base isn't expanding in positive ways.
- You aren't being heard or taken seriously when you offer ideas and input.
NOTE: It's your responsibility -- not your employer's -- to continually build your skills, develop your network and get your voice heard. No one will ever be more invested in your career advancement and growth than you are.
Roughly half of my coaching clients forget this along the way. They are waiting for someone to tap them for new assignments or a promotion. They are "resting on their laurels" instead of volunteering for new challenges (often convinced that they've earned a break from the tough stuff). They expect their influence and impact to grow, just by virtue of their longevity in a given role.
I call this self-induced career stagnation. It become a vicious circle, and it's linked to the #1 mistake people make that leads to and exacerbates career stagnation.
The #1 Mistake People Make When They Experience Career Stagnation Is...
Spinning, which is completely counter-productive.
If you're saying or thinking things like this, you're spinning:
"I deserve _______. They keep passing me over, and it's not fair. I'm the one who did ________, and they should be rewarding me."
"I don't have time to learn something new. Besides, I'm going a good job, so why bother with something new and different? This has always worked in the past. If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
"People here don't respect me. They're not listening to me. They'd rather do things their own way. Fine. Whatever. Let them figure it out the hard way."
If you heard someone else make these claims, you'd counter by rolling your eyes or ticking off all the evidence against these sweeping excuses. So why let yourself slide with such simplistic rationalizations?
Maybe you're not being honest with yourself. Before you blame the boss, the company or the team, do some self-assessment. Instead of spinning, take a good hard look at yourself.
- In your desperation to advance, are you trying to be something you're not?
- In an effort to gain favor with others, have you mis-represented yourself or held back in ways that make others wonder what's really under the surface?
- In the day-to-day grind, are you reverting to your own comfort zone instead of continually stretching yourself?
- In your pursuit of a promotion, have you focused on power and prestige at the expense of doing what you truly enjoy?
- In a defensive mode, have you taken visible accountability for your own shortcomings and failures? Have your turned them into learning opportunities or denied them and hoped others won't notice?
No Matter What Else Is Holding You Back, You Can Overcome Career Stagnation by Doing This:
You've got to be authentic. You've got to be honest with yourself and transparent with others. That includes being genuine, self-aware and true to yourself.
When you get back in touch with yourself, it will be easier to take these steps in ways are meaningful and productive. Caution! Taking these steps before you work on your own authenticity will be an exercise in futility and frustation.
1. Figure out what you really want to do. Not what you want to be or how you want to be perceived. The satisfaction that comes from a promotion in status or title is short-lived. What you will be doing, day in and day out, is where you'll find gratification.
2. Focus on showcasing your strengths in ways that help others grow and achieve their own goals. You'll make it easy to promote you because people you prepare will be ready to fill your current role. As you build the capacity of others, you will make a higher level contribution to the organization that underscores your leadership abilities.
3. Be a role model for acknowledging areas where you need help or are not as strong. Ask for help. Seek development opportunities. Stop dodging the hard work you have to do (we all have to do!) to work on our skills gaps. That may include working on soft skills and, if so, find resources who will stretch you to do more than perfunctory work in these areas.
4. Identify incremental steps that will inch you closer to your goal. If you're focused exclusively on the next rung of the career ladder, you could miss out on other less obvious opportunities.
5. Get some perspective from others. You might benefit from a 360-degree assessment for leaders or from time spent with an objective business coach. Without becoming defensive, you may want to re-read your performance evaluation or re-play reasons given for not promoting you into next-level jobs. Ask your boss "what do I need to do in order to prepare for next-level opportunities?" Listen to the response instead of debating it or dismissing it.
When you are authentic and open, you will recognize and be better positioned to see and select more options that will genuinely satisfy you professionally. You'll be exploring more opportunities and breaking new ground for yourself. You and your career will be rejuvenated instead of stagnate.
Next Steps for Overcoming Career Stagnation and becoming the Authentic Leader You Really Want to Be:
Deb Calvert is a certified Executive Coach, Certified Master with The Leadership Challenge® and architect of leadership development programs for nearly 100 organizations. She helps leaders at every level discover and achieve their leadership goals. Deb is the founder of People First Productivity Solutions, building organizational strength by putting people first since 2006.