You might be the smartest and most capable person on your team at work, but that doesn't always mean that your career will go well. Smart people make serious workplace mistakes too -- ones that can have lasting implications for their careers.
Here are five mistakes smart people can be in danger of making at work.
1. Not understanding what your boss values most. It doesn't matter how great you are at doing any particular thing if your boss's priorities lie elsewhere. You might be great at, say, building relationships with customers and might pour loads of time into doing it well, but if your boss is judging the success of your role exclusively by how quickly you process sales orders, you could end up falling short of that mark. Too often, people are out of sync with their boss about which pieces of their performance matter most, and are frustrated when they don't get recognition for doing a good job on X when their boss wants Y.
2. Shutting down the first time you fail. If you're going to advance in your career, you're going to have to take on new challenges, and some of them will be tough. But if you're used to being "the smart one" and things have always come easily to you, you might not have built up the skills you need for when things are hard, like persevering in the face of obstacles and working hard to master something. You might take failure at a new type of project or responsibility as a sign that you're not cut out to do it, instead of putting the energy and time in working to get better at it. Someone who has always had to work hard at doing well and who therefore has developed more " perseverance muscle" than you will often be inclined to simply practice and practice until they eventually master the new skill. Related to that...
3. Taking feedback badly. If you're accustomed to doing high-quality work and having it well-received, it can rattle you to receive criticism -- after all, you don't have much practice at it. But getting upset or defensive when you're told that your work could use improvement will make you appear less than professional, and it can prevent people from wanting to give you useful feedback in the future. Remember, even people who are the best in their fields don't get it right every time ... and they're probably where they are in part because they welcomed input, rather than letting it bother them.
4. Underestimating the importance of relationships with co-workers. When you're good at what you do, it can be easy to think that that's all that matters. But the reality is that relationships matter quite a bit too. You don't have to be close friends with your co-workers, but asking about someone's kids or hobbies or dog and not tuning it out every time everyone else is talking about their weekends can go a long way toward humanizing you. And that makes getting things done a little bit easier the next time you need last-minute help, candid feedback on a proposal or the inside scoop on how internal transfers really work.
5. Thinking that doing great work trumps general decency and politeness. This can be common among star performers with big egos and difficult personalities. Their work might be good enough that they get away with temper tantrums, alienating colleagues or neglecting workplace niceties for a while, but good workplaces won't put up with it for long. And even when a workplace does tolerate it, that person is going to get a reputation for being hard to work with, which will make it harder to get the jobs they want in the future. Good managers won't tolerate boorish behavior on their teams, even from top performers.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.
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