Every one of us can relate to a time and place when we felt the anxiety of waiting to be chosen. Being selected creates a rush of adrenaline, while the sting of being bypassed lingers long after the dodgeball game has ended, or the promotion has been handed to someone else.
Years ago, I ran for a board seat at a non-profit organization I had been an active member of for a long time. I had many accolades, was a regular attendee, and had made a name for myself there. I was encouraged by other members to run with high praise such as “We can’t wait for you to be on the board and see the positive impact you will have. You’re going to do such a great job!” However, the current board members had to nominate new candidates before they were eligible to be voted in by the constituents. The time had come and gone for nominations and when the board didn’t reach out to me, I was immensely disappointed.
I share this story in hopes of laying the foundation for understanding that many components are considered when making selections in the workplace. For example, seniority can be a factor. Paying your dues throughout the years can dictate opportunity. Another factor is title, where position dictates the participant. While not always concrete, especially in a non-bureaucratic organization that allows fluidity, an individual carrying a particular title is often included in the conversation. Finally, sometimes people are chosen based upon their promise. Promise is what the host, manager, or leader sees in an individual. It is subjective in nature which makes it difficult to quantify but usually there are three reasons why a person’s promise or potential is factored in:
1. This person shows leadership qualities and is a positive influence in their role. This is hard for the disenfranchised to accept since it can feel like an affront to their ego. The truth is, some people lead just by virtue of their strengths or because of their drive and courage. These individuals set up meetings with people, they talk to people, they listen to their peers and those they feel will be a value add. These persons can inspire and influence.
2. The relationship of the host to the recipient. Managers know their employees and might have a reason that goes beyond common knowledge. Maybe the individual has valuable insight because of their previous job experience or perhaps this person would benefit from inclusion based on of the professional goals they are pursuing.
3. There is a plan. Sometimes the plan isn’t immediately recognized. For example, the host may want to challenge the attendee. Or, maybe the attendee is having a performance issue and the host believes inclusion in this circumstance or event may help to inspire or motivate them.
If you’re fortunate enough to work for one of these companies, take pride and appreciation in the emphasis that is placed on these components. These programs are well-intended labors of love, difficult to initiate and come at a great cost, being both labor intensive and financially burdening. Always seek out the positive and celebrate the constructive experience with those in attendance. Ask your coworkers about their learnings and possess enthusiasm sharing in their knowledge. This won’t go unnoticed.
Advice to help those feeling rejected:
1. Don’t let it eat you up and become discouraged. I’ve seen fully engaged happy employees resign after they were not elected for a promotion. Once the ego is bruised and the “selfishness” of personal ambition flood our minds, we can easily become bitter. Bitterness breeds underperformance.
2. Your time will come. Continue to excel, work hard and prove yourself so that the next time an opportunity arises, you might be considered.
3. Ask yourself the tough questions. Am I a good team player? Is the team better because I’m a part of it? Do I indulge in gossip or talk negatively about others? Am I sarcastic or passive aggressive? If your answers aren’t all positive, chances are you aren’t reflecting the company values and it shows. Even if you bring in the biggest accounts and run the most profitable desk, you may not be an ideal team player.
4. Leadership is a responsibility and a privilege, not a position. Personally, when people see leadership as a stepping-stone instead of a way to serve, it immediately triggers the realization that this person doesn’t understand leadership at all. It’s not about distinguishing yourself but about working to raise others up.
5. Lastly, ask your co-workers and managers what they think. Have open and honest dialogues about your influence and contributions to the team. Share with your managers your desire to be a leader and ask what you can do to increase the chances of being included in the future.