I work as a subject matter expert on sales and implementation teams for integrated software. I get pulled into all kinds of teams. I am constantly being told to join new teams and I feel like I’m doing most of the work on the teams I am already a part of. My problem seems to be that I am too useful for my own good.
In theory, I’m supposed to advise on what to propose and on implementation strategies. In fact, I am often stuck with scheduling and leading client meetings—which is not in my job description—as well as writing proposals and plans. The people who are supposed to do those jobs always say “You are so much better at this than I am; why don’t you do it?” Often these people are technically senior to me and I don’t know how to say no.
I don’t want to be that person who says “It isn’t my job” and have people say I am not a team player. I would go to my manager, but she doesn’t really understand my job and hasn’t taken any interest in me. I’m working too many hours and it is getting to the point where my performance on my own job—the tasks I am actually responsible for—is suffering. Help?
Victim of My Own Success
Dear Victim of My Own Success,
Sigh. It would be so much easier for you if you weren’t that smart and dependable. If you just did mediocre work and missed deadlines, no one would ask you for anything. We tend to think the reward for great work is acknowledgment, promotion, and more money, but in fact, the reward for doing great work is more work!
At least you understand the role you have played in getting yourself to where you are. It is time to turn the ship, though, before you either have some kind of burnout response or become unable to manage your resentment at being taken advantage of.
You could really use your manager’s support and influence right now, so it is up to you to help her understand your job and get her to be interested in you. How to do that? Go at it directly. Go to her and say “Hey, I really need your help. This is my job, this is what I am up to, this is my problem, and this is the kind of help I need.” Your manager is probably doing what most managers do: focusing most of her attention on the low performers and ignoring the high performers. She can only ignore you if you allow her to.
In the meantime, you are on your own. So repeat after me:
Say it 10 more times: “No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No.”
Articulate for yourself what your actual responsibilities are. Make it so clear that you have it in bullets. Next time someone tries to push something onto your to-do list that doesn’t belong there, be ready with something like: “My area of responsibility is A, B, and C. I am committed to doing those things. Everything else is up to someone else on the team.” Practice saying this out loud with a nice, neutral tone. Be ready to repeat it. This way, you aren’t stuck saying a bold “No.”
Now be prepared for big, uncomfortable silences—silences you’re probably in the habit of jumping into with your desire to get things done and be good. Let somebody else jump in. Keep your hand over your mouth. Breathe.
If someone senior to you won’t let it go, be prepared with something like: “I will not be able to do what you are asking. I have priority commitments to other teams.” Practice a bunch of different ways of saying “I am not able to do that” in a kind and neutral way.
Stand up for yourself. No one will do it for you. It will be hard at first, but it will get easier.
About the author
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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