These 7 traits can help you get ahead, then harm you as you move up

Being technically proficient and detail oriented can get you noticed early on, but staying “in the trenches” will hold you back if you want to be a manager. Here are some other habits that may have gotten you some promotions but won’t get you to the next step.

These 7 traits can help you get ahead, then harm you as you move up
[Photo: U.S. Forest Service Coconino National Forest]

When it comes to your career, moving ahead can be a case of “what got you here won’t get you there.” Unfortunately, if you keep doing what you were doing, the consequences can be harmful. Traits that initially get you noticed can later cause you to be overlooked for a promotion or raise.


“People have behaviors that work early in careers and they can hang onto them because they’re invested in them,” says leadership consultant Sally Helgesen, coauthor of How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back From Your Next Raise, Promotion or Job. “Even when it looks as if the habit may not be serving you well now, it can be difficult to let it go.”

It’s important to gain awareness of the behaviors that are potentially problematic, so you can ask yourself if it’s time to move on and take a different approach. Here are seven habits you need to break to move ahead.

1. Being Precise and Correct

This is especially problematic for women, who tend to get promoted and rewarded based on being precise and correct, says Helgesen.


“What they take away is that being precise and correct is very important to success,” she says. “The problem is that at the highest level, precision and correctness is not what an organization looks for. That can be considered a micromanagement approach.”

2. Focusing on Strong Technical Skills

Being technically proficient can get you noticed, and it’s always good to be up to date on the latest tool, says Allison McWilliams, assistant vice president of mentoring and alumni personal and  career development at Wake Forest University. Later, it can hold you back if you stay in the trenches.

“There is a clear difference between an ability to use and implement the latest technologies to do the work, and being able to create a vision and a direction for and manage the people who will do this work,” says McWilliams. “To move up, it is far more important to be able to see the bigger picture and to get the right people into the room.”


It can be easy to overvalue expertise, adds Helgesen. “Especially for men engineers or accountants who strongly identify with that trait as part of their identity,” she says.

3. Seeking Ownership and Recognition

The first few rungs of the professional ladder are about taking ownership for your work and gaining individual recognition for your contributions and accomplishments, but as you move up, you need to learn to put your ego in check, says McWilliams.

“It’s no longer about you; it’s about the team and the organization,” she says. “It’s not about getting credit or individual wins. It’s about giving credit and team wins.”


4. Self Reliance

Taking initiative, being self-motivated and figuring out how to get the job done and then doing it will make you an invaluable resource early in your career, says Michelle Tillis Lederman, CEO of Executive Essentials and author of The Connector’s Advantage: 7 Mindsets to Grow Your Influence and Impact.

“As you become a people manager, it is your job to not go it alone,” she says. “You need to develop skills in others, delegate, and you are evaluated on the results you get with and through other people. Remember, it is the relationships that you build that will elevate your career. Self-reliance can be self-destructive.”

After you move into a leadership position, the hustle you used to get you there will start to work against you, ads Byron Matthews, CEO and president of Miller Heiman Group, a sales performance company.


“Your responsibilities have grown in complexity, which requires you to be more thoughtful,” he says. “It’s no longer just the activity; it’s asking, ‘What is the best activity?’ The top senior executives come to the table with perspective that doesn’t just answer a perceived need, but instead helps shape those needs.”

5. Networking

Early on your career, meeting with as many people as you can is a great way to solidify your network and explore the resources, connections, and contacts that a wide network can provide, says Beck Bamberger, founder and CEO of BAM Communications, a PR and media relations firm.

“However, as you move up the chain, you have to become ruthless with your time,” she says. “In short, saying ‘yes’ to every person who wants to do a lunch, coffee, or a session to ‘pick your brain’ will leave you with zero time to actually get work done. In short, be more discerning as your career advances. The art of saying ‘no,’ is a hard one but a must to master.”


But be sure to make time to give back, says Jane Tutoki, director of the board at Sedgwick, a global claims administrator. “As you grow in your career, you have to be cognizant that you are now a role model for others, and that you have to behave like a role model, and help people accordingly,” she says. “You have to be more generous with your time and knowledge because you should become a resource for others, in order to build and lead a high-functioning and successful team.”

6. A Large Appetite for Risk

When people don’t have much to lose, they’re usually willing to take on risks, says Kate Zabriskie, founder and CEO of Business Training Works, an onsite training provider. “When those risks pay off, they often pay big,” she says. “When they don’t, the consequences often aren’t usually too dire because there wasn’t much to lose in the first place.”

Later, however, heavy risk taking may seem disproportionate when considering gains versus potential losses. “Nobody wants to work for a loose cannon or someone who makes them feel unsafe,” says Zabriskie.


7. Patience

Patience may be a virtue, but careerwise, it’s more likely to help early in your career than later, says Rebecca Horan, founder of Rebecca Horan Consulting, a brand strategy firm. “Let’s face it: when we’re just starting out, we need to prove ourselves,” she says. “We should be willing to do the grunt work, and roll up our sleeves to prove we’re a team player.”

Later in your career, patience can begin to lose its shine if you’re not receiving the project assignments, promotions, and pay raises you’d like. “The further you progress in your career, the more you’ll want to advocate for yourself,” says Horan. “Speak up about your goals and desires. Positioning your personal brand for the next leap becomes more about strategy and less about patience.


About the author

Stephanie Vozza is a freelance writer who covers productivity, careers, and leadership. She's written for Fast Company since 2014, and her byline has appeared in several other leading publications and websites


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