by Sue Weston

Career momentum: Step back to move ahead

Jun 04, 2019
CareersIT JobsIT Skills

You can move your career forward by sharing responsibility, letting go and focusing on the future.

Ever wonder what makes people tick?

I get caught up trying to understand other people’s behaviors, especially when things don’t turn out as I had hoped. Instead of looking ahead, I become introspective. I question how I could have handled the situation better. And assume (mistakenly) that things would have turned out differently. By internalizing the situation, I have taken responsibility. But wait – should this even be my concern? Looking back, I realize I was over analyzing and shouldering someone else’s responsibility. I needed to learn to step back.  

Learn to let go

Don’t ruminate on an issue, distance yourself, and move past it. In business, after a difficult conversation, men appear to move forward by focusing on activities. In contrast, women tend to dwell in the past replaying interactions, internalizing, and taking comments personally. Women ruminate where men jump to action. Whether women are more concerned about maintaining the relationship or feel personally responsible, dwelling on the past leads to self-doubt, stress, and inaction.

Because it’s impossible to change the past, over-analyzing is an unproductive use of time. Learn to distance yourself from the situation, and do not take personal responsibility. You can own the solution, but do it guilt-free. Use mistakes to expand your knowledge and expertise. Re-message these learning moments into war stories, and freely share the responsibility. Never apologize. Maybe you could have prevented a bad situation, but were you alone? 

Recognize that people act in their own best interests

(And some people can be plain mean.) Most people simply want to be recognized, and as a result, their actions may be self-serving. They may dominate a conversation or take credit for an idea to feel important. According to the social comparison theory, people judge themselves in comparison to others. To get ahead, they need to put someone down. The resulting behavior does not consider the other person and leads to careless comments which can be hurtful.

Added to this is the desire to conform to authority. In a famous obedience study, subjects followed instructions, administering electric shocks despite the patient’s screams. People’s desire for approval and recognition can be more important than their sensitivity for others. To advance in the workplace, you need to be strong and stand up for yourself. Don’t be concerned why people act the way they do.

Stop being responsible for other people (let them own their actions)

By assuming responsibility for another person, you permit them to shirk responsibility. Think of the Peter Pan who remains a boy refusing to grow up and accept responsibility, charming but not reliable. Step back and let other people own their work and their mistakes. Think back…were you ever part of a team project with someone who did not do their part?  It can be frustrating, and if you compensate and do their work, you are reinforcing this behavior.

During my career, I remember spending late nights finishing someone else’s work to complete a project on time. My work produced results, but it was a thankless act, because the other person received credit for a job well done. I thought I was acting for the good of the team but learned that being selfless caused me to be overlooked and expendable.

Own your work (get out of the shadows). Women tend to undervalue their accomplishments and downplay achievements. Many successful women suffer from the impostor syndrome, which causes them to doubt the value of their accomplishments, and assume that if they can do something, it must be easy. Never undervalue your contributions. Think what your male colleagues would do. Never work behind the scenes. Despite the adage “there is no ‘I’ in team,” always take credit for your work, own your success and never look back!

It took me years to realize there are no absolutes. Despite my proclivity to classify things as black or white, bad or good, these distinctions are not real. Situations constantly change, nothing is forever. It’s important not to dwell on the past. Instead, learn to move forward, adjust your thinking to deliver high-quality results, and don’t feel the need to shoulder the load for someone else. Own your work proudly. Step back to let others contribute. Then stand strong and be noticed!