How to Get Off the Sidelines?

Sheila Murphy
March 11, 2022

In the classic basketball movie Hoosiers, the coach tells his players to pass four times before shooting. During the season opener, Rade, one of the team's star players, disobeys and repeatedly makes baskets without passing first. The coach benches him for the rest of the game, even when another player fouls out, leaving only four players on the floor.

Many of us have been in spots where we are in the proverbial "dog house" and need to get back on track. Other times, we feel that our management has put us on the sideline, and we don't know why. Maybe you are not getting put on the exciting deals or invited to the key client events. Or perhaps you are not being considered for advancement.

So how do you get back in the game?

Here are 3 steps to getting your career back on track.

Understand Why.

You need to have honest conversations about what is going on with your career, both with yourself and others. While Rade understands that the coach benched him for acting contrary to instructions, he may not understand why or the ramifications. If management sidelines you, you need to get all of the information you can.

To do this, you need to be open to hearing others' views without argument or disagreement. You can ask probing questions to understand better what they are getting at. For example, if the perception is that you lack gravitas or fail to explain issues without resorting to legalese, you can ask for examples of what that would look like.

If you do disagree with what you are hearing, it is best if you can say:

Thank you for your time. You have given me a lot to think about. I am not sure I agree with everything, but I would like to think about it. Can we have a further discussion later?

This approach gives you time to get additional inputs, process the information, and take emotion out. You may want to reach out to your personal board of directors or mentors to evaluate the feedback during the time.

Develop a Plan.

Once you have the information and assess it, you need to develop a plan to address it.

And let me be clear, your assessment may be that there is no path forward for you in your current organization at this time. If that is the case, your plan may focus on an exit strategy. However, even if you need to leave an organization to advance, you still may need to address your underlying behaviors or skills to succeed at your new place.

If leadership says you are an excellent lawyer, but 3 of your peers are better at relating to clients, then at your next shop you need to work on your relationship-building skills. On the other hand, if your management tells you that you won't advance because they don't have enough opportunities, your development plan should focus only on finding your next position.

Remember, even if the feedback focuses on your soft skills - you still need a plan to address it, and you need to work at it. Do not downplay it because it is not a technical skill. Enhancing soft skills can be more complicated than upgrading technical skills.

Be Accountable & Obtain Feedback.

The world is full of people who fail to execute development plans. Do you know where they are? Right where they started.

When I was in corporate America, I had a coach to enhance my speaking skills. I found out from her that many people don't take action on their plans and are then unpleasantly surprised later.

You need to not only find a way to be accountable, but you also need to obtain feedback during the process. This additional input will let you know if you are on the right path and provide motivation.

If you are working to stay at your present employer, I recommend letting people know that you heard the feedback, telling them what your plan is, and that you will be asking for periodic input so that you can improve.

By understanding what you need to do to improve and developing a specific plan to move forward, you can go from sitting on the sidelines to quarterbacking significant matters. My clients have found that if they have the information they need, they regain control of their careers.


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