Is Your Boss Holding You Back?

Lisa Earle McLeod
3 min readMar 16, 2023

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If you want to get promoted, grow your career, or even make a bigger impact in your current role, your boss will play a crucial part in either propelling that future or holding it back.

Even well-intended managers can fail to recognize the potential of their employees; in the cadence of daily business, boss-employee relationships tend to become more about deliverables than strategic growth.

Feeling like your career is motionless is frustrating and without the encouragement of your boss, it’s easy to lose your own motivation. Here are three signs your boss may be holding you back:

They ‘yes/no’ opportunities on your behalf.
Part of being a strategic manager is knowing how to best allocate the time and resources of your team. However, if your boss is repeatedly declining opportunities for you to take on stretch projects, contribute to new initiatives, and have professional development experiences, you should start to raise an eyebrow.

Several years ago, one of my clients was exploring offering an educational-reimbursement benefit. The program would help offset the cost of MBAs for qualifying employees. When the Chief People Officer approached the Chief Revenue Officer about the idea, the CRO shrugged and said he didn’t think his team would be interested in that. After all, they’re busy, and in sales, an MBA typically isn’t a requirement for growth. A year or so later, one of his top reps left the organization, citing a lack of professional development opportunities. He went to work for an organization that was willing to pay for his graduate degree.

In that scenario, there’s some fault on both sides. The CRO said his team probably wasn’t interested (and he shouldn’t have, without asking). Yet, the rep never expressed his desire for professional development. You can avoid this trap by recognizing (and even asking) for specific growth opportunities. When your manager undoubtedly knows you’re interested, they’re more likely to put your forth.

They’re not moving either.
Not all bosses want to move up or on to new opportunities. That’s certainly not a requirement for being a manager that champions the growth of your team. However, when career growth isn’t in their personal sightline, it’s easier for it to fall off their radar completely (and their team ends up paying the price.)

If your boss has been in their role for a long time or is perhaps, counting down their years until retirement, it’s imperative that you be absolutely transparent about your own desire to grow.

They’d describe you as irreplaceable.
At first, this seems like a compliment. In fact, it likely is a compliment. Yet, being irreplaceable (which means you’re irreplaceable) is a double edge sword- you’re valuable, but you can’t move. There is some nuance here; being ‘irreplaceable’ in terms of strategic thinking, perspective, or trust is very different from being ‘irreplaceable’ because, you’re the only one who knows how to use the software.

If your boss starts to tell you how they could never live without you, dig into why that is. Is it because you have the skills essential for this role? Or the insights and vision necessary for the future?

None of these signs alone are the kiss of career doom, but taken together, they can contribute to a rather stagnant picture. If you’re feeling like your boss might be holding you back, you’re not powerless.

Be transparent about your desire to accelerate your career and ask for their support. In most cases, your boss will be more than willing to champion your growth. But you won’t know if you don’t ask.

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Lisa Earle McLeod

Lisa is an advisor, consultant, and speaker who works with senior executives and sales teams around the world. She is the author of five bestselling books.