The absolute worst personality traits that could be holding you back from a promotion in your career
Promotions can be a magical thing. Not only do you get more opportunity but you also get that sweet, sweet pay raise. People work hard for promotions. Sometimes folks get them that don’t deserve them, but either way it’s still a fun feeling to receive one. However, some people are ruining their chances of a promotion – without even knowing it. We’re not talking about breaking the law or calling your boss a terrible name at a company meeting. There are many subtle ways we’re self-sabotaging through harmful personality traits.
If you want a career filled with meaningful promotions (and the extra money that comes with it), make sure you remove these traits from your personality.
Not accepting feedback
If you look at most good senior leaders in a company, they often know what they are good at and what they are bad at. They aren’t afraid to give someone else credit for their great work because they are confident in themselves. They have self-awareness.
On the other hand, some of the least successful leaders (and the people who never get promoted), usually don’t have self awareness. They think they are great at everything. They don’t respect and listen to other people. Or they are very difficult to work with and never accept feedback. In any case, these types of people will have trouble getting a promotion.
If you want a promotion, eventually you’ll need to take and act on feedback from other people. This may be from your manager or a coworker, but it always happens in a team environment. And it’s a good thing. When people give you feedback, they want you to improve. Don’t be afraid to take it (and ask more questions if you’re not sure what they are saying).
It may sound obvious, but many people are accidentally being lazy at work. And even if you aren’t a lazy person, you could be giving off lazy vibes. If you’re looking for a promotion, laziness is one of the worst personality traits you can have because it indicates that you can’t handle more responsibility (even if that’s not true).
If you think you’re doing a great job but things still aren’t working out for you, make sure you’re not:
- Showing up late (even by five minutes)
- Never being the first to respond to someone asking for help
- Using body language to indicate laziness or disaffectedness – slumping, groaning, or rolling your eyes
Don’t let these personality traits hold you back!
As the saying goes: it’s okay to need help, it’s not ok to be helpless. The difference between needing help and being helpless is your actions. If you’ve tried a bunch of things and it’s not working, you need help. If you come up to a problem and give up, expecting someone to solve it for you or tell you what to do, that’s helplessness. When it comes to promotion time, decision makers are looking for people who can solve problems on their feet. The helpless need not apply.
If you’re worried that you’re coming across as helpless (even when you are trying to solve your own problems), the first thing to change is how you document and communicate what you’ve done. Every solution you try, document what you did and what the outcome was. Also keep notes of what kind of research you’ve done so you know what knowledge you’ve sought out (sometimes it’s just a matter of not asking the right question). That way, when you go for help you can start with “this is what I’ve tried and it’s not working – can you help me?” instead of “I have this problem, please help me”.
Most job descriptions will say they want someone detail oriented or something similar. It’s a very good personality trait for employees to have. However, being a perfectionist is one of the personality traits that may be holding you back. When you’re a perfectionist, nothing is good enough. You’re always tweaking and changing. This can be beneficial, but it becomes a major problem when you stop delivering because you’re too focused on perfecting.
If you’re the type of person who is brilliant at what you do but can’t get your work done fast enough, you may have some perfectionist tendencies to work out. Remember, there are two kinds of anything: perfect and complete. You can only choose one. In the business world, you have to be detail oriented and a perfectionist, but only to a point – sooner rather than later, you’ll need to deliver a completed project.
Being too passive
Some people get tapped on the shoulder for a promotion, seemingly out of thin air. They aren’t seen to be campaigning for anything… it just happens. Right? Wrong. Whether or not you see it, that person demonstrated they wanted a promotion via their words and actions. The cool part is that it’s not hard to demonstrate what you want. If you want a promotion, you can make this known to your manager or boss. Be up front with them about what you want, why you want it (where it fits in your career goals), and then ask them what you need to demonstrate in order to earn the promotion.
If you’re too passive – that is, you take life as it comes and never ask for anything specifically – you risk always being passed up for promotions. Sure, you may end up with cool experiences along the way. It’s not a bad idea to be passive in some ways. But if you never ask for what you want, you won’t ever get it.
Being overly aggressive
The flip side of being too passive, being too aggressive is one of the personality traits that could be holding you back. Aggression is the extreme end of excitement or drive, so it can initially appear as someone being really devoted to their work. However, it can end up causing some major problems, including:
- Damaged coworker relationships
- Inability to work on a team
- Inability to deliver work that can’t be done alone
- Personal mental health issues
If you’re a more hot-headed type of person, that’s not necessarily a horrible thing. People with fire inside of them can get a lot of things done and be very motivational. The key is to not let that passion and fire turn into a weapon that hurts other people. Paying attention to other personality styles – including more passive, quiet people – is necessary to ensure you can play on a team. As the saying goes: if you want to go fast, then you can probably do it alone. But if you want to go far, you need other people.
Being unable to have difficult conversations
Most conversations that happen at work are pleasant. You’re talking with coworkers over coffee. Or maybe you’re brainstorming on how to solve a big problem or launch a new project. You may even be talking about life outside work, which studies show is healthy and helpful. In general, a good worker can coast through work conversations. You don’t need to ever have a bad conversation if you do good work consistently.
But if you always avoid difficult or potentially negative conversations, you may be holding yourself back from a promotion.
It seems weird to say, but having difficult conversations is a necessary skill of great leaders. “Difficult” could mean a variety of things. A difficult conversation could mean delivering harsh, but necessary feedback. Or it could mean standing up for yourself against a bully at work. Or it could be something positive, like encouraging a new coworker to do their best work – good things can still be difficult.
If you’re not able to have these difficult conversations, your boss or manager may pass you over for a promotion because they think you always want to get along with everyone. While that’s a great goal for a healthy social life, unfortunately company leaders are not always liked. You will have to cultivate respect as a leader, but if you want a promotion in your job you have to be willing to have the tough conversations that may be uncomfortable, but are necessary.
Not being able to forgive people
This may sound religious, but the ability to forgive people isn’t about religion in this case. When someone messes up or tries to hurt you in some way, in most cases they didn’t mean to. And even if they did, at some point you’ll need to move on. This is especially true in the working world, where coworkers and colleagues may accidentally cause you harm while doing their job in another way. For example, a coworker launching a new project might put your project on hold, even if they didn’t mean for that to happen.
When bad things happen, the first thing you should do is minimize the damage however you can. Sometimes, the person responsible will need to face consequences. But then you will eventually need to forgive them. If you hold a grudge against someone, you may be delaying your own promotion at work. This is because your boss or manager may feel that you can’t forgive and forget (or forgive and move on), a key trait as you climb up the corporate ladder.
If you’re great at your job, your boss or manager will want you to stay in your role and keep performing. While many managers want to help their people progress, they are looking for more than just if you are good at your job. They are looking at if you are leadership potential. Or, at the very least, someone that can become an example for more junior workers. That means they want someone who can forgive mistakes and move on for the good of themselves, their coworkers, and the company.
Being unable to prioritize
In most cases at work, you’ll have far more tasks on your plate than you can accomplish. This is especially true as you get better at your job. The better you are, the more people will give you additional work to do. Initially, this is a compliment. But eventually you will get swamped with work. When this happens, you need to know what work is most important, also known as prioritization.
If you don’t know how to prioritize, you could be holding yourself back from a promotion. This is because prioritization is not just about choosing an order for your work, but recognizing what work is the most important.
Importance could mean who asked you to do it – the CEO’s requests may be more important than your junior colleague, for example. Or importance could mean impact – a company-wide initiative may be more important than editing a small project. It could even be about time – get the quick things done as fast as you can so you have time to focus on the big stuff later. However you choose to prioritize, this is a key trait that you need to develop if you want to get ahead and get a promotion.
If you don’t learn how to prioritize, one of two things will happen.
One: your boss or manager will continue to assign you work and you will drown under how much you have to do. You won’t accomplish it all, which makes you look like an inefficient worker. As such, you likely won’t get a promotion – even if you’re really good.
Two: you will complete most of your work, but the timelines will be messed up. You may end up doing the least crucial task, but spending a lot of time on it, and as a result other projects in the company get put on hold. You end up looking like a bad team player, even though you worked really hard. Suddenly, your boss thinks you aren’t ready for a promotion.
Neither of these cases are fun. So make sure you learn prioritization and use it with all your tasks if you want to get promoted.
Jealousy or envy
It’s natural to have some jealousy or envy towards people. If your coworker gets a big promotion, you may be happy for them but also a little envious of their good fortune. Maybe if your other coworker gets to work on a cool project, you might be a bit jealous of them. It’s natural. And, what’s more, it can be good. A little bit of jealousy or envy and stir up competition and drive you to succeed. After all, you’re only feeling jealousy or envy because you want the same, or similar, things as they have. That could be a strong motivating force to help you push through and work hard.
Having too much jealousy or envy, though, could be holding you back from a promotion.
When you have a little bit of jealousy or envy, it motivates you to work hard and have some friendly competition. This can bring out the best in everyone. But if you have too much, then your focus becomes not about getting the thing you want but taking it away from your coworker. For example, a little bit of jealousy that a coworker got a cool project might make you step up and do great work so you get the next cool project that comes along. Too much jealousy and you start to think of ways to get your coworker off the project so you can move in.
If you only think about ways to stop your coworkers’ good fortune instead of working hard to produce more of your own, your work may suffer. Managers and bosses might think that you’re too competitive or can’t work in teams, and that likely means you won’t get promoted as quickly – even if you’re a good worker.
So if you find yourself really jealous of envious of a coworker, think about what you can to do get the good fortune or luck for yourself. But don’t think about how you can take it from them – think about how you can make more of it for yourself while also being excited for your coworkers.
Being overly critical
Workplaces and teams thrive on genuine feedback. Sometimes you have to tell someone what’s what – if an idea is bad or really won’t work, you need to say so. It’s a brave act when you say the truth and tell someone they are wrong. In many cases, the person will thank you for it (eventually). But where you run into trouble is constantly being the one who criticizes people.
The issue is not whether your criticism is right or wrong. You may be right every single time. The issue is actually about working together in a team. If you’re in a workplace that leverages team work to get things done, as most do, then part of your work will be focused on getting along with your coworkers. It sounds annoying – after all, you just want to do good work – but if you can get your team on your side then they will help you way more often in the future.
If you find that your team is often messing things up and you need to share blunt or brutally honest feedback, try doing it in a teaching or caring way, instead of criticizing. This could mean offering to help them fix the problem, instead of just telling them a problem exists. Or, if you don’t have the time to help fix the problem, bring it up to them privately so they aren’t made to feel embarrassed.
Sometimes you have to deliver harsh criticism. It’s necessary and even good in the long run. But if you’re always known as the one who criticizes, you will lose the respect of your team. When that happens, your manager or boss may not want to promote you – they’ll worry the team wouldn’t listen to you. Since managers need leadership traits beyond just being good at the job, this could be a major issue.
Never offering ideas
Companies thrive on discussion, debate, feedback, and constantly trying to do a little bit better or a little bit more. That means when an employer hires you, they are hiring you as much for your opinions and experiences as they are for your direct skills.
So if you’re never offering ideas, you could be hurting your chances of a promotion.
Workplaces need intelligent people bringing up opinions, concerns, ideas, and solutions. While these may come from certain people more than others, everyone should be speaking up and offering ideas. Those who don’t may be considered people who don’t have any ideas, or are unwilling to share. Either way, a manager or boss may think that person isn’t ready for a promotion.
It’s not entirely fair sometimes – you may have great ideas but are concerned no one will listen to you – but you still need to bring them up. If you’re in a workplace where you think no one will listen to your ideas, make sure you document when you bring them up. For example, put the ideas (with your name) in meeting notes or in the follow-up email. If you’re presenting this as a fact, for example as part of a list of ideas presented during a meeting, then you have legitimate documentation of your ideas. That way, if someone says you’re not ready for a promotion because you don’t present ideas, then you can refer back to the facts.
Being too shy to ask for a promotion
When you start at a new job, your goal is to prove yourself. You want to show that you know how to do the job – and that you do it well. From there, you want to deliver. By showing this, you are setting yourself up well for a promotion. There may be bonuses or other financial incentives along the way, making it that much better for you.
You may be great at your job, but if you never ask for a promotion you may never get one.
If you’re really good at your job, your manager or boss may make two assumptions about you. One, they may assume that you love what you’re doing and you don’t want to move on or up. Two, they may assume that they won’t find anyone else as good as you. If the first one happens, then your manager may not look for growth opportunities for you. If the second assumption happens, your manager may be fearful of encouraging you to take on more responsibility and climb the corporate ladder.
Both assumptions can be fixed if you clearly say that you want a promotion. This can happen at different times, as there’s no set rule. But usually, it’s good to ask for the promotion during a review time where you’ve shown you exceeded work expectations. Even if you don’t think you’ll get it that exact moment, putting on the table that you are looking to grow in your role and get promoted is a good thing. If you don’t say anything, you risk your manager making those assumptions.
Sometimes, managers will jump at the chance to offer you professional development. Other times they won’t do anything until you ask. Since you can’t always know what kind of manager you will have, it’s best to be up front with your intentions. Especially since some people truly are happy in the jobs they have, if you want more, say so.
At some point in everyone’s life, they may need to tell a lie. It might be to protect someone, or to help someone. Perhaps it’s to save your own butt from a major issue. A study by the University of Massachusetts found that most people who lie do it to be seen as more intelligent or likeable, two motivations that are understandable.
However, if you’re consistently dishonest, you may be hurting your chances of a promotion. When managers look for people to promote, they want to promote people who are not only good at their job but also live the company values. That means it’s not only about if you can crush your numbers, but also if your managers can use you as an example of a great worker. And working in a team environment is all about team building and moving the team forward.
For example, if you say you completed something you hadn’t, but then scramble to get it done, that’s one thing. But if you tell your boss that a key project is complete that isn’t, you risk being called a liar later on. This could be a big problem if future plans were made assuming you completed the work you said you did. If you want to get ahead in your career, dishonesty is a major potential roadblock. Some people get ahead by lying, but it always catches up to them.
In any career, you need to watch out for your own interests. If you don’t pay attention to your needs and speak up for yourself, you risk getting railroaded over. Having confidence is necessary if you want to get ahead. It’s also a good thing. If you know what you want and have the confidence to work hard for it, you will likely be better off.
But if you want a promotion, be careful that you’re not accidentally being too selfish. You should always be watching out for your own interests, but that doesn’t mean it should only be your own interests you watch out for. Companies thrive on team collaboration and everyone helping one another, so getting promoted is all about your ability to work in a team.
As well, focusing too much on yourself in the short term may actually hurt you in the long term. For example, if you fight to lead a project so you can be seen as a project leader, that sounds like a good thing. But if you push your coworkers away in the process, they may not listen to you as the leader. If that happens, the project could fail – and it will be seen as your fault since you were the leader. Sure, it happened because the team didn’t do their jobs, but as the leader you end up taking the blame.
If you find yourself in a situation where you’re not being respected, you absolutely should stand up for yourself. But also make sure you’re thinking about other people’s needs as well – and how you can create win-win situations.
Most people hate being micromanaged. They don’t want a boss breathing down their necks all the time, watching everything they do and constantly checking if they are completing their work. It’s annoying at best, and reduces productivity at worst. But the other side of that – your boss leaving you alone to do your work – means you have to be reliable.
When managers and bosses look for people to promote, they want people who they trust to get the work done even when they aren’t around to check on it. They want reliable people. So if you are unreliable – you say you’ll do things but you won’t, or you don’t deliver the right work quality – then you may be hurting your chances of a promotion.
If you want to get a promotion, one of the best ways to show that you’re reliable is to be proactive. Instead of waiting for your manager to ask if you’ve completed your work, send them a note to let them know. If you want to learn more about your manager’s expectations or need help on something, ask. Instead of getting stuck on a task, see if you can solve your own problems.
The more you can show that you’re reliable, the more your boss or manager might be willing to support you getting a promotion. Even if it’s into a new area you aren’t an expert in yet, they are more likely to trust that you can get it done if they believe you’re a reliable person.
Unwillingness to learn from mistakes
It’s simply a fact that you’ll make mistakes when you’re at work. Everyone does. Anyone who looks like they aren’t making any mistakes is either doing a task they are overqualified for or they are covering up their mistakes. So when you make a mistake at work, it’s ok – it happens.
But if you aren’t willing to learn from your mistakes, you are likely holding yourself back from a promotion.
Learning from mistakes sends a few signals to your manager or boss (or whomever chooses promotion decisions). One, it lets them know that you want to learn and get better, a necessary trait for anyone getting a promotion into a bigger job. Two, it shows them that you’re capable of acknowledging your mistakes, which is needed as you grow. Three, it shows humility and knowing that you don’t know everything, an essential trait for anyone more senior in a company. And four, it demonstrates that you can learn and gain new skills.
In order to better learn from mistakes, you want to look at a few different things. First is to figure out what was the mistake in your actions. For example, if you didn’t close a sales lead, think about why. Did you not communicate the value of your product? Did you not know the answers to the prospect’s questions? Whatever it is, see if can isolate the true “error” from the other actions you took.
After identifying the main error, think about what you can change to make sure the mistake doesn’t happen again. In the previous example of not making a sale, let’s say it’s because you didn’t know the answers to the person’s questions. As a result, they weren’t confident in your product and didn’t buy. For the future, you can make sure you’re armed with more facts about the product and rehearse the answers to common questions like the ones you missed before. That way, you can overcome the mistake in a strategic way.
Being unable to lead meetings
Let’s say you’re in a junior sales role and you want to get promoted to a senior sales role. You want a higher base salary, better commission options, and to work better hours. But what happens when you get promoted? You become the “senior” member of the team. That means you may have to run team meetings, plan out coaching sessions with the new junior salespeople, and maybe even mentor a junior salesperson in a one on one setting.
With all the new responsibilities that come with the promotion, you need to be able to run effective meetings. If you can’t, you may be holding yourself back from a promotion. This is because the more senior you get, your role becomes less about doing specific work and more about showing others how to get the job done.
While you may not lead a whole sales team after one promotion, it’s likely that your boss or manager will want to show how great you are as an example for junior people. That means you can’t just be great at the job, you need to be able to run helpful meetings – both groups and one on one – so that you can teach new people what it means to do the job well.
Being asked to run meetings as part of your promotion is a huge compliment. It means that your boss or manager feels confident that you’re great at your job and they want you to help other people do better, too. But it means you’ll need to learn how to run meetings well.
Being too curious and gossiping
This may sound off, since curiosity is one of the personality traits that leads to innovation. However, being too curious – to borrow the British definition of the word – is when you pay so much attention to everyone else that you forget to do your own job. Or, worse, you don’t do it well and you’re seen as someone who delivers low quality work.
It can be tempting to gossip at work (nearly a quarter of employees report regularly gossiping at work), focusing too much on other people’s jobs, lives, and work means less mental energy for your own work. So if you’re a naturally curious person, channel that mental energy into curiosity for every element of your job. You’ll produce better work, spend less time worrying about your colleagues, and show the higher ups at your organization that you aren’t the type to get stuck in idle chatter.
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