The really bad news for strong to high performers…your odds of reporting to a disengaged leader in the form of an executive, senior leader, middle manager or supervisor are HIGH regardless of your industry or profession. With only 32% of U.S. employees and 13% of worldwide employees “engaged” in their jobs and workplaces — meaning they’re involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace — 68% to 87% of employees, single contributors and leaders alike, are disengaged (The Worldwide Employee Engagement CrisisGallup, 2016).

So you’re stuck reporting to a disengaged leader. Now what? Above all else, realize that a disengaged or “checked out” leader has likely ZERO interest in you, your value-added contributions, your growth and development and your professional dreams. You’re facing four choices:

Choice 1 – Blindly accept the disengaged leader’s mindset as you sit on the sidelines, watching your career sputter, fizzle and flatline.

Choice 2 – Refuse to accept their mindset, and in doing so, react tactically destructively, e.g., complain, gossip, snipe, sabotage and antagonize. Realize however, that while you may feel justified in your actions, poking the bear won’t magically inspire the uninspired to step up their leadership game and their investment in you. Quite the contrary, you could find yourself on the short end of the termination stick.

Choice 3 – Move within your organization or move to a different organization altogether, then cross your fingers, light candles and pray that your new leader is engaged, though the odds aren’t in your favor.

Choice 4 – Skillfully, constructively and strategically work around disengaged leaders by becoming a black belt initiative taker. How so?

Through intentionality!

1. Intentionally forge your unique career path.

Whether you’re working for an engaged or disengaged leader, never accept the company-prescribed career path as the be-all and end-all, nor become dejected if your company hasn’t laid out a crystal clear career path, nor become disheartened if your disengaged leader isn’t helping you determine your next one or several career moves. After all, you own your own career. It’s 100% “on you”.

First, recognize that each of us is unique, so expecting everyone to align with a “one size fits all” career trajectory is flawed logic. Second, following a pre-determined path can result in career-limiting pigeon-holing. Why would you do that to yourself? Third, allowing the advice of a disengaged leader in one particular organization to somehow influence your entire career journey, which may span several organizations, is sheer foolishness.

Your job is to know YOU better than anyone else knows you — your strengths, talents, knowledge, capabilities, experiences, passions, differentiators, gaps, growth opportunities, motivators, long term aspirations. Even if you’re working for a highly engaged leader, while seeking his/her advice is certainly fine, know that you and only you own your life. Defining your unique, forward-looking success criteria then charting your just-as-unique corresponding course, must be a priority if dream fulfillment is your ultimate goal.

2. Intentionally evolve your unique brand essence.

Each and every one of us has the opportunity to genuinely, mindfully and reflectively create our brand essence — a feeling that others experience as they interact with us. What we “put out there” each moment of every day — a combination of abstract and concrete concepts, spoken and unspoken language, reactions and images — causes others to respond to us in one of three ways — positive, negative or occasionally neutral. That fact of the matter is, we’re continuously sending signals to others…those signals are continuously being evaluated…those evaluations are continuously engendering feelings….and those feelings are continuously sparking reactions. That’s human nature. Most people on the planet would prefer being the recipients of positive evaluations, feelings and reactions, therefore it would only seem reasonable to intentionally create a brand essence that elicits and perpetuates positivity. And when we intentionally create a positive brand essence, we find ourselves:

  • Serving in pivotal roles
  • Earning the trust of others
  • Being actively listened to
  • Inspiring and influencing others to affect and advance positive change
  • Becoming the beneficiaries of those who are eager, enthusiastic and committed to helping us attain mutually-rewarding goals
  • Operating in high demand within our organizations, our industries, our professions and beyond

Whether we’re reporting to a disengaged leader or not, when we leave our brand essence to happenchance, and should our essence become anything other than strongly positive, we’ll undoubtedly find ourselves marginalized to some degree in the eyes of executives, peers, colleagues, staff and customers to where others will discount us, our ideas, our capabilities, our contributions, our value and ultimately our relevancy.

3. Intentionally devise and execute your unique, targeted, robust, multi-year professional development plan (PDP).

Over the years I’ve observed five unfortunate patterns specific to high performer development:

  1. Getting so caught up in monstrous workloads, compounding deadlines and an over-inflated sense of responsibility that high performers imprudently sacrifice professional development. They simply don’t make the time to invest in themselves. Must-have learning gives way to “if I only had the time” excuses. But what they do carve out time for — mandated training that may be of little to no value in terms of strengthening, expanding or refining their capabilities.
  2. Taking “no” for an answer as in “No, we don’t have the budget to support your targeted development. Find a cheaper solution. What about a 1-hour webinar or one of our corporate computer-based training courses?” For high performers in particular, they appreciably benefit from advanced development in highly engaging and discussion-rich environments followed by real-life workplace practice — not through “quick and dirty” lecture-based, lifeless, discussion-void, one-and-done training.
  3. Losing sight of the need to regularly step away from the known, and instead explore the unknown to catalyze reimagine, reinvigorate and reinvent as motivational plus staying relevant techniques. This miss seems to especially afflict the more seasoned and financially successful high performers who suddenly awaken to the alarming fact that they’re no longer fiercely-spirited, enthusiastically-inspired and doggedly-determined. They’re simply going through the motions. Or just as worse — they realize that they lost track as to how their industry or profession was morphing or saw it evolving but chose to bury their heads in the sand until it was too late. And now they’re forced to “fit in” to an unappealing, restrictive and potentially detrimental new paradigm.
  4. Giving credence to the disengaged leaders’ professional development recommendations on the off chance that they volunteer their two cents. These are the absolute worst people to offer development advice for two reasons — leaders that aren’t living up to their full potential: 1) aren’t equipped to advise others how to become their best versions; and 2) know little to nothing about you so how could they possibly offer mindful counsel?
  5. Failing to think big and look far-forward, e.g., beyond the next 2-3 curves in the road when creating your plan. Organizations look at PDPs as check-off-the-box assignments which encourages tactical, short-term, throw-stuff-up-against-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks thinking. When I use the words “targeted”, “robust”, “multi-year”, I’m recommending powerful, dynamic, big picture PDPs that will catapult your career, not just move it along at a snail’s pace. PDPs that exponentially push your boundaries, expand your capabilities and raise your “I’m determined to become my best version” bar.

4. Intentionally construct your unique role (and continue to do so throughout your career).

Not dissimilar to orchestrating your own career path, proactively seek out niche-creating opportunities. As long as you’re a well-regarded strong to high performer who is delivering to or beyond expectations, seize unexpected, role-expanding, door-openers that best align with your long-term aspirations, strengthen your capabilities plus position yourself “in high demand”. Net/net configure your own job description and in doing so, build a compelling, irrefutable, accomplishments-driven business case for increased compensation. Of course disengaged leaders will likely not take the initiative to move your business case forward, but don’t let that stop you. Be politely persistent plus offer to join them so you may personally present your persuasive case to the right decision makers. For those who may be questioning approach effectiveness, I can personally attest to having successfully leveraged this formula numerous times throughout my career. If you have the high-performing track record and the gumption, you can move role expansion and compensation mountains.

5. Intentionally discover your unique “harmoniously at ease” formula.

It would be unrealistic to believe that someday we’ll experience absolute workplace nirvana, especially in today’s messy, chaotic and imperfect world where work unempathetically intrudes on our personal time, throws us continuous curve balls and interferes with our career cadence.

With some intention and mindfulness we can however, creatively mold and integrate the good with the bad fragments, as long as the good considerably outweighs the bad, into a coherent, symbiotic collage that somehow feels right or harmonious — at least to us. But it takes: 1) honest introspection to figure out the formula; 2) concentrated work to strike the right harmonious balance; and 3) impenetrable boundary-holding to preserve harmony. When we attain harmonious order and remain vigilant in protecting its sanctity, our finely-tuned armor shields us from becoming entrapped in workplace circumstances that could potentially alter our pleasurable state.

6. Intentionally craft your unique exit strategy.

While strong to high performers can, without too much trouble, easily maneuver around many disengaged leaders because they’re myopically preoccupied with their own situation, every once in awhile strong to high performers encounter a disengaged leader of a different type — a permanent, immovable, inflexible roadblock.

Never ever compromise your unique career path, your unique brand essence, your unique professional development plan, your unique role, your unique “harmoniously at ease” formula and essentially your big workplace dreams because a disengaged leader is attempting to block you, discourage you, force you into becoming someone you don’t want to be or failing you altogether because he/she has zero interest in helping you: 1) maintain your strong to high performance; and 2) attain your professional dreams. Always think 2-3 steps ahead of the disengaged leader so you can anticipate the possibility of being stonewalled — seeing the writing on the wall well in advance of the ink drying.

Instead of idly watching your career about to stall, leap into action. Scan your current organization for potential opportunities plus develop and nurture authentic relationships with those internal leaders who recognize your value. Of course this aspect should be considered an ongoing PDP fundamental. But don’t stop there. Equally explore opportunities outside of your organization as you similarly develop and nurture authentic relationships. Get creative. Again, these aspects should be baked into your PDP, but if not, turn up the heat on actively pursuing speaking and panel engagements, publishing your own original subject matter expert articles, developing your unique website to differentiate you from the rest of the LinkedIn pack, volunteering your subject matter expertise in ways that help others, reviewing your job search plan with trusted advisors who will guide and advocate for you — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The bottom line…GET MOVING!

Thought Provokers: So you’re stuck reporting to a disengaged leader. Now what? The really bad news for strong to high performers…your odds of reporting to a disengaged leader in the form of an executive, senior leader, middle manager or supervisor, are HIGH regardless of your industry or profession.

With only 32% of U.S. employees and 13% of worldwide employees “engaged” in their jobs and workplaces — meaning they’re involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace — 68% to 87% of employees, single contributors and leaders alike, are disengaged (The Worldwide Employee Engagement Crisis, Gallup, 2016). How are you taking matters into your own hands so you’re not sitting on the sidelines, watching your career sputter, fizzle and flatline?

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