The road to a career downfall is paved with good intentions.
If you’re spending your days in the office coming up with new ideas, speaking out about your opinions, intervening in office emergencies, and, overall, displaying your leadership skills, you probably have every intention of furthering the company’s goals—and, at the same time, your career.
But sometimes, between those noble intentions and the way your actions play out, you’re doing more harm than good. By doing a few key things the wrong way, you may be making your way onto your boss’ bad side.
1. Going Around Him or Her to Make Decisions
When there’s an urgent situation at the office, sometimes you have to make an executive decision. Maybe your boss is in a meeting and you can’t get ahold of him or her, or maybe you just want to show off your leadership chops—either way, you decide on a course of action and notify everyone involved.
In some cases, your boss will certainly appreciate your willingness to stop in. But for larger issues that may extend beyond your expertise, this isn’t always the best plan.
For example, a co-worker of mine recently pointed out that there was an error in our customer newsletter that had already gone out to our client base. He immediately sent an email to the entire marketing department, demanding that a correction be sent to all customers, indicating it was a significant error and would likely spur customer complaints. The marketing department went into a frenzy, drafting the email, getting it approved by the higher-ups, and preparing to send it.
And then my co-worker’s boss stopped by. We showed him the email—which, as it turns out, he hadn’t known about. His reaction? “Oh, we don’t need to send anything. It’s not that big of a deal.”
What was an absolute emergency to my co-worker was an insignificant oversight to his boss. And his boss wasn’t too happy that he’d created chaos and wasted the entire marketing department’s afternoon.
How to Avoid It
There are times when you can safely and confidently make an executive decision (here are a few pointers), but when it’s a significant issue or you aren’t 100% sure about the situation, get your boss’ thoughts before acting.
2. Making Everything an Emergency
There’s a fine line between keeping your boss informed and assuming every situation is one that needs immediate attention. Yes, your boss certainly wants to know what’s going on, so he or she can, if necessary, intervene. But sometimes, that turns into overwhelming your boss with interruptions, emails with the subject line, “Urgent!” and frazzled office pop-ins—all in the spirit of making sure he or she knows what’s going on.
Often, you do this simply because you’d rather be safe than sorry. It’s better that you notify your boss of an escalating situation as it’s happening, rather than have it blow up in everyone’s face later. But when the situation isn’t actually an emergency, it’s an inconvenience for your boss.
So, it’s important that you can discern the difference between what is truly urgent and what is part of standard business operations.
How to Avoid It
It may take some time to determine what’s really an emergency and what can wait to be brought up or handled completely on your own, but for the sake of your boss’ sanity—and yours, too—it’s important to learn.
You have the company’s biggest client on the line, about to cancel his or her contract and sue the organization? Yes, emergency. A typically happy customer left a mediocre response on his or her latest customer service survey? Probably not something you need to rush into your boss’ office immediately to address.
3. Taking Forever to Get to the Point
Your boss is probably juggling a lot of information at any given time. He has to keep up with his own work, as well as that of each of his direct reports.
But that doesn’t mean that when you have to tell him about a certain situation, you need to provide every last detail.
As a manager, I would often have employees who would compose essay-length emails or give me long-winded speeches about a certain situation, from the very first email that was sent to who said what and how long it took her to respond to everything else remotely related to the story—until we eventually arrived at the current state of the challenge. In the end, the only thing that really mattered could have been summarized in a few quick sentences.
In the long run, many details of a situation are unnecessary—and to point you in the right direction, your boss probably doesn’t need to hear about them. Just give him or her the basic facts, and you’ll arrive at a much speedier solution.
How to Avoid It
Summarize the situation first. This is especially important in an email, when information at the end tends to get lost and overlooked, but works well in direct conversations, too. In a couple short sentences, sum up the situation and what you need from your boss. If he or she needs more information, you can then go into your reasoning.
4. Failing to Look Beyond Your Role
Typically, bosses think it’s great when you suggest ideas to improve processes or produce better work. But in any company and role, when you present these ideas, it’s easy to get tunnel vision and only consider how your idea will impact you.
Maybe you want to implement a new process that would eliminate some of your workload by allowing you to document less. While that’s great for you, what you’re not considering is how that might increase the workload of your co-workers in other departments by forcing them to track down the information you didn’t document.
Or, maybe you think you would benefit from a new software program—but don’t take into account that the money would be taken away from the continuing education budget for your team and hinder the professional development of your peers.
How to Avoid It
Think about the big picture. As you move up in your career, you’ll find more and more that you need to think beyond you and your department. Consider how your ideas will affect other teams, the company budget, and workloads—and adjust your plan accordingly. That will allow you to present well-thought out, forward-thinking plans to your boss.
In the end, there are probably much more annoying things that you could do. But when it’s your career on the line, it’s worth it to make sure you’re performing to the highest standards possible.