Q. My boss is refusing to help me advance my career. For 10 years, I have been the executive secretary for “Rob,” the owner of a small law firm. When a legal assistant position opened up, I asked to move into that role, which doesn’t require any legal experience.
Because of my long service and our excellent working relationship, I expected Rob to be supportive. However, he immediately said, “No, I need you right where you are.” I explained that I could easily recruit a qualified replacement, but he wouldn’t consider it.
My responsibilities far exceed those of most secretaries, and I know I have the ability to do more. However, advancing within the firm now seems like an impossibility. Apparently, my only choices are to leave or remain a secretary forever. Do you have any advice?
A: Let’s hope Rob knows more about the law than he does about management. Smart managers understand that blocking the advancement of a talented employee almost always backfires. Frustrated people eventually look elsewhere, and the best ones are quickly snapped up by other employers.
On an emotional level, Rob’s refusal probably reflects his own anxieties. After 10 years together, he undoubtedly counts on you to anticipate his every wish and speak for him on many subjects, so the thought of a substitute scares him to death. But while his reliance on you is certainly a compliment, his decision to hold you back is extremely selfish.
Before abandoning hope, however, try making one more attempt to sell Rob on this idea. His initial resistance came as a surprise, but now that you recognize his concerns, perhaps you can develop a strategy to address them.
For example: “Rob, you know how much I enjoy working with you. However, I really am extremely interested in becoming a legal assistant. I realize that having a new secretary would be a big adjustment, so I would like to suggest a possible solution for that problem.”
If your boss seems willing to listen, outline a specific plan for gradually increasing your legal duties while simultaneously training your replacement. But if he refuses to discuss any career options, you will know that you’ve assessed your choices correctly.
Q. My former company has introduced a new product line that is completely bogus. When I refused to promote the product to customers, our vice president fired me. Should I inform the CEO about the problems with this product?
A: Although your question seems straightforward, the answer depends on several qualifiers, including the exact nature of the problem and the CEO’s involvement with the product. Also, if your industry has a tight network, you should consider whether aggravating your bosses might harm your future employment prospects.
So let me try to sum all this up. If the product has serious quality issues, and if you are sure the CEO is unaware of them, and if lodging this complaint won’t damage your reputation, then sharing your perspective might be worthwhile. But if any of these things are in doubt, you may want to give this decision a little more thought.
Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”