The Go-Getter Dilemma

A close friend reached out to me recently with a story I’ve heard and experienced way more than I care to admit.  He had started out in a new company and began to rapidly climb the corporate ladder.  Unfortunately, he was recently fired and the reason for his dismissal was personal.  In this post, we’ll find out why and we’ll identify the single greatest challenge for a go-getter.

Before we dive into this post, it’s best I provide my definition of a go-getter.  In my experience, most go-getters are highly educated (e.g. master’s degree or higher).  This is not always the case so don’t get offended. I’m just sharing my experience here.  A go-getter is an individual with significant drive, determination and an unwavering passion to be the best they can be.  They want to learn and grow in their work.  They are enterprising, ambitious and aren’t afraid to pursue what they want.  They are also intelligent, get things done and are able to accomplish work without direction.  I know….that’s a lot to cram into one person.  But they exist.  I know many people like this.  You might even expect that these people would be highly successful.  They are but not always with respect to position on the corporate ladder. With that, let’s talk about why go-getters can’t always climb to the top.

My recently unemployed friend told me about another high level manager in the company that didn’t like him and his meteoric rise.  This manager monitored his actions closely for a way to get my friend terminated.  Well, he found a way.  The disturbing part of the situation is that the other manager spent a lot of effort and time into something that was not good for the company; that is, eliminating the company’s national sales leader.  A logical person might feel that to grow the company, it is useful to have a high rate of sales. I’ve learned over the years that when people do things that are illogical, it’s usually because the driving force is emotion, not logic.  To make matters a little worse, the company’s senior leadership admitted to knowledge of the situation but chose to fire the national sales leader to keep the more senior but spiteful manager.   Low performance harmony is better, right?

You would think that companies would run their organization like an NBA team; that is, hire the best and brightest, tell them what you want them to do, give them the resources to do it, and then get out of the way.  Logical?  Well, authority and power are not always logical.  In my experience, most aren’t.  You see, most managers feel some anxiety about their role.  Maybe they earned it and maybe they didn’t.  Either way, they are in a leadership role and feel they must lead (even if they don’t know how).  In my friend’s case, this other manager couldn’t manage his meteoric climb.  “If you can’t manage them, they have to go.”  Managing the smart and talented is not easy, especially when your abilities fall below theirs.  That’s why you see so much information about leadership on the web.  There just aren’t that many great leaders out there and most of the ones we study are dead.

So as you go out into the world to obtain high levels of formal education and achieve great feats, don’t expect that it will shower you with accolades.  Here are few things you will run into.

I can’t manage you.  Some managers shouldn’t be managers.  They will be unable to handle the difference between your abilities and their own.  The only way to handle that is to get out of the situation entirely, which means YOU have to go.

Don’t threaten me.  If you’re too good, you will threaten your boss with your success.  They may not view your success as a reflection of their leadership abilities but rather in a more selfish light; that is, you took their success.

I’m a prick.  Some managers are just mean.  I had manager write me up on a dozen infractions during a two week holiday shutdown.  I was asked to work a solid month in December to get some challenging products created, tested and shipped by the end of the month.  I worked with several vendors since my company was home on holiday. In a highly successful completion, my boss wrote me up for breaking company rules such as working more than the company allowable hours in a day, pulling parts from inventory without following full process (i.e. remember, no one is on-site), and numerous other things that were a result of everyone being on holiday.

It’s a competition and I’m the boss.  Have you ever been around people who were highly competitive? They are always trying to outperform every story they hear.  It’s unusual to have a boss that will work hard to help you grow.  If you’ve got one, hold on.  If not, try to avoid any confrontation with your boss.  It’s not in your best interest….ever.

Many believe that your boss has the greatest impact on your career.  I disagree.  I think it can be many people in the organization.  It can be other managers or those who influence them.  In my experience, your greatest career challenge will be other people who will push things in your way and try to drag you down.  It can easily impact your employment, as my friend found out recently.  It’s also important to realize that fighting the system rarely gets you anywhere.  HR, regardless of their intentions, is too ineffective in such situations.  Senior leadership will usually side with their management team, regardless of the validity of the argument.  It’s really hard to believe but the people who can do the most for your career are actually the least likely to do anything.

How do you get away from this?  Be your own boss.  Be an entrepreneur!  Put yourself in a position where your limits are set by your own abilities.  Get in a place where you can run as fast as you can run….and not as fast as your boss can.  Be in a place where your rewards are a direct result of your effort.

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