5 things to do when your boss misunderstands your career goals

A colleague I was coaching a few years ago came to me with an interesting story. She had just had her mid-year review where she and her boss went over her career aspirations, as well as performance.

A development plan is a document where a career professional describes where they want to be in 6 months, 1 year, 3 years etc. and the steps they need to take to get there. Anyone interested in pursuing their career path needs one, IMO.

She didn’t have a formal plan written and looked concerned when we went for coffee afterwards – so I asked what happened.

“He thinks I want to be a Director of Marketing. I want to be in Communications,” she told me. The disconnect made me frown. Her current title had ‘marketing and communications’ in it, but her manager’s gravitation towards marketing was clear.

Her manager had no idea where she wanted to take her career, despite her numerous project successes in communications and her (self-reported) struggles in marketing. He was, himself, a VP of Marketing.

We chatted through some solutions that, over the course of a few months, helped her guide her career more pointedly. She is now a Director of Communications at a small firm.

  1. Be honest and clear about your goals: The best way to handle this situation is to have an open and honest conversation with your boss about your career aspirations. Explain to them what you hope to achieve in your career and why your goals are important to you. Be clear and specific about what you want and why you want it, and try to communicate this in a way that is respectful and professional.
  2. Take a collaborative approach: When discussing your career aspirations with your boss, try to adopt a collaborative mindset. Ask them what they think about your goals, and try to find common ground where you can both work together to help you reach your aspirations. Offer suggestions on how you can both benefit from you reaching your goals and how you can help contribute to the company’s success in the process.
  3. Provide concrete examples of your abilities and achievements: To help your boss understand why your career aspirations are achievable, provide them with concrete examples of your abilities and achievements. Highlight your past successes and explain how they relate to your future aspirations. Show your boss that you have the skills and experience necessary to succeed in your desired role.
  4. Be flexible: While it’s important to be honest about your career aspirations, it’s also important to be flexible. Be open to feedback and suggestions from your boss and be willing to make changes to your plans if necessary. You may also find that your boss has ideas or suggestions that can help you achieve your goals in a different way.
  5. Consider alternative paths: If your boss is not supportive of your career aspirations, consider alternative paths that will still allow you to reach your goals. Perhaps you can gain more experience in a related field or consider seeking out a role within a different department or company. Keep in mind that your career is a long-term journey, and there may be other opportunities that can help you reach your goals in the future.

In the end, having a manager who misunderstands your career aspirations can be challenging and also potentially damaging, but it can also be an opportunity to clarify your goals and work together to find a solution that benefits both you and your employer.

By being honest, collaborative, flexible, and willing to consider feedback you can achieve your career aspirations and grow professionally.

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