top of page

When a team member hits a career ceiling

(January 15, 2024 Newsletter)

The challenge: One of the pains of a caring manager is seeing someone on your team stall out.

  • Maybe you’ve already promoted the person and there’s nowhere left to rise within the current structure.

  • Maybe they’re burned out and have disengaged from work they used to find interesting and do well.

  • Maybe they’re struggling in their role because it’s not the right fit and you’re not sure what else to suggest internally (but you really like them as a person!).

In any of these cases, all of which represent dilemmas brought by coaching clients, you might not be sure which next move is the best (or least worst) option. Why it matters: You’ve probably noticed that person starting to cut corners, get sloppy, or express impatience or resistance disproportionately. It impacts you, them, and the wider team/org when a team member is unhappy, but especially so when you know they have more to contribute beyond their current performance or role.

  • Personal confession: I knew it was time to leave a job I loved when I put the wrong time zone on my boss’ travel itinerary and messed up some meetings, even though I’d made about 50 other schedules like this before. So I know what it’s like to be on both sides of the table…

Seek clarity first: Here are some questions I ask clients when these kinds of situations arise.

  1. Have you asked them about it yet? [If so, what did you learn? If not, what’s stopping you?]

  2. Which of your values are in conflict in this case?

  3. What would be an ideal outcome, in your mind?

  4. What’s your biggest concern? (see my latest video  about this question)

  5. What options are you considering?

  6. When you look back in 5 years, what will have made you proud of how you handled it?

  7. What’s the brave thing you’re avoiding?

By clarifying your answers to these questions, you might articulate that you care about the person and want what’s best for them but also need to acknowledge your disappointment with their recent performance. You might be balancing your sense of responsibility to them and the organization alike. You might recognize that you’re pushing off this conversation because you’re afraid of what they’ll say about/to you.

Your next steps: Regardless, you’ll end up with a relatively limited set of possible next steps –

  • Talk to them and help them reframe their outlook while they’re still on the team.

  • Talk to them and figure out solutions for an internal move into a role they’ll find challenging within a different department.

  • Talk to them and reassure they’ll get a glowing recommendation from you when they need it.

  • Don’t talk to them and hope the situation resolves itself.

The bottom line: By doing your own inner work first before engaging in a conversation with the person, you’ll make sure that you’re grounded and present for the interaction. You’ll be more equipped to offer validation, hold complexity, be honest, and maybe even think of creative solutions together.  

If you’re in (or have been in) such a situation, I’d love to hear your approach. Reply and let me know what you did (or didn’t do), what you’d do differently, or what you’re considering, if it’s a live challenge. And if you’re stuck on how to move forward, feel free to set up a time to talk.


The Coaching Corner

“What’s your biggest concern?” 

When a team member comes venting, this one question can cause them to pause and reflect, so you can resist the urge to jump in with a solution. Watch our latest video to find out more.



If you work with colleagues or clients from around the globe, I highly recommend The Culture Map  by Erin Meyer. It’s a fantastic book that will challenge your assumptions about what’s considered acceptable or unacceptable forms of communication, specifically with people who weren’t raised in the same place as you were.

If you want a summary of the main points from the book, here's an article that the author published when the book came out.


Stay informed and never miss a beat! Subscribe to our newsletter for more coaching tips and weekly insights.


bottom of page