Ask Why

So you didn't get the promotion. Before you look for a new job, ask why. It's possible you're missing something critical for that role.

Many years ago, I was working as a “senior member of the technical staff.” I was a tester, had coordinated beta tests, much of the testing work for the last couple of releases, and was working as the tester-project-manager and helping the project manager realize what her job was. My boss left the company. I was “obviously” the next one in line for his job. I didn't get the job. When I asked why not, I was told “You're too valuable where you are.”

That's a non-answer. But I did talk to my new boss, and told her I wanted to know what I needed to learn to get the promotion. She smiled and said, “people skills.” Ok. Clearly not my strengths, but I figured I could learn. I told her I wanted her to teach me. She agreed.

I put away my resume and stayed at the company another 4 years. I learned how to be a great manager. I learned how to be a great program manager. I learned how to do strategic planning, both the stupid way and ways that made sense. I doubt I would have learned how to do any of those skills that quickly without my new boss' coaching and mentorship.

Managers, telling people they're “not ready” or “too valuable” is a cop-out. Provide authentic feedback, offer to teach/coach/mentor, and you will have a loyal employee who will amaze you.

I stayed because I asked why and because I learned what I needed to learn. If you're frustrated with your job, maybe it's time to ask why, before you go look for a new one. Ask. What can you lose?

5 thoughts on “Ask Why”

  1. Reading this post is like looking to myself 4 years ago. The difference is that I’ve left the company. I returned back after just 3 months as I figured out my place was with my old guys and they also figured out I belong with them.
    I am a manager now learning a lot from my boss (the same through all this time)

  2. Did the manager who was coaching/mentoring you stick around too? Sounds like she would be very much in demand given that her leadership and talent management skills shone so brightly.

  3. I moved on when I didn’t get a promotion. I almost started to believe them when they told me I had so many weaknesses, but it was ok, I could work on them, they would help me.

    But “help” turned out to be busywork, and constant reminders that while I might think I was good I really really wasn’t you know, and while I never thought I was perfect, I knew I wasn’t *that* bad. I decided I’d better get out before any last shreds of confidence disappeared. When I went on the market, I discovered that actually, my “weaknesses” … weren’t. I got enough offers that I finally started believing that I might be worthwhile.

    I picked the one where I thought I’d learn most. I made a good choice – I learnt so much I could hardly believe it. I also started to value what I already knew and had been told for so long was worthless.

    Sometimes you’re just in an insane environment, and the right thing to do is move to a saner one. Ironically, even in the insane environment, I had a really good boss. But what she could do was constrained by the insanity around her.

  4. Pingback: on becoming too valuable – tumblr :: Nitesh Gautam

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