I’d like to tell you about the time at work that my fate was controlled by a boss who was never, ever going to recognize my potential.
At the beginning of my career, I worked for WGBH/Boston, one of the leading public TV and radio stations in the United States. At the time, WGBH originated about 1/3 of all PBS television series.
To land a coveted job at this leading institution, first I had to volunteer for three months, and then I was offered an entry level job in the fundraising department. This was not exactly my dream job, but it was a foot in the door.
I spent months as a glorified clerk, typing donations into a computer and solving problems for members. To this day, I remember most of the zip codes in the Boston area, because we would search for a donor by his or her zip code.
Long story short, I was way overqualified for my job, but I had an even bigger problem. My boss was very nice, but she was going to stay in this department forever, something I had no intention of doing. Her boss, in contrast, was highly territorial and – hard as it was to imagine this from my lowly position – eventually turned out to be threatened by my ambition.
This went on for a year: me gaining responsibility but moving far slower than I wanted.
Then, I had a flash of insight. I had a good relationship with my boss’s boss’s boss. He was Vice President of Marketing and Development, and often stopped by my desk to say hi. I decided to write a job description for the job I wanted, instead of the one I had. The description, which I gave him, was Development Coordinator. I argued that WGBH’s development function lacked someone who could reach across departments to leverage all the talent and relationships we had. A coordinator like me, already on staff, could help increase results substantially, without increasing costs.
As you might imagine, I did not say a word to either of the two supervisors above me. Neither would have reacted favorably to my proposed job description, and neither had the power to make it happen.
Two weeks later, the VP walked by and tossed a few pieces of paper on my desk. “Let me know if you’d be interested in this position,” he said with a wink. (Yes, he actually winked at me.)
The job description read “Capital Campaign Coordinator”. It was my job description, with a new title and a few minor changes. At the time, we didn’t have a capital campaign underway, but apparently we were about to launch one and the timing of my pitch was perfect. Not surprisingly, I took the job and spent the next two years helping to raise $7.5 million to fund the production of new TV pilots. I got to work directly with the station’s president, as well as with top talent across the station.
Much to her credit, my boss was very happy for me. Her boss, however, held a grudge. I’ll spare you the details, but her resentment of me only made it crystal clear that it would have been a huge career mistake for me to wait patiently to be promoted by an insecure and insular supervisor.
The moral of my story is pretty simple: if you don’t like the person who controls your fate at work, find a better person to control it. Yes, this can be a risky move, but if your career is stalled, you have little to lose.
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn. Image: Louish Pixel/Flickr