If You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get

By Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL

Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers” – Voltaire

Working with a female client recently, I noticed her frustration at the level of effort and work; the time, energy, and dedication she put into her job. She spends hours working, thinking about work, and can’t even fall off to sleep at night because of worrying about things on the job. She’s well liked, and considered a team player, but she feels held back. She was hired for a specific position, and perceives that job eludes her. She’s. not performing the work that she thought she was hired to do.

            In her mind, she’s done everything right. She comes in early and stays late. She’s always on call, evenings and weekends included. She’s in the office on holidays and weekends. She’ll travel across the country at the drop of a hat and will relinquish fun times with family and friends to do so. After all this effort, she wonders why she is not getting ahead. She senses she is underpaid as well for all her laboring.

After almost six months of coaching, one recent meeting opened a very interesting conversation. She expressed her resentment about not being considered for a C-Suite position. After all, she works harder than the other C-Suite members and puts in more hours than anyone else in the small technology company that employs her. Her performance reviews are outstanding, her peers and her customers report her work ethic is exceptional, and she’s on a first name basis with the CEO. What is missing from all these sterling accomplishments?

The job of an executive coach is to reframe and reflect the client’s thoughts, and as I stepped back from the conversation, and began to process her concerns, an old saying from my years in sales came back to me. I thought it was totally appropriate to broach the subject with her. In sales training, I learned no matter how good your presentation was, or how well you were connected to the customer, if you didn’t ask for the sale, you were leaving the buying decision on the table. You must always ask for the sale.

Once this thought brewed for a minute or two, I interrupted her mid-sentence and inquired, “Have you ever approached your CEO and asked for the promotion you want and think you deserve?” She looked stunned and set back on her heels. “Why, no. I assumed if she saw how much work I’m doing, she would know enough to put me in a C-Suite slot”. Immediately, another sales rule came to mind, “never assume anything with a client in a sales situation. Assumptions can make the sale go south fast”. In this case, her CEO was her client, she just didn’t realize it. As the old adage goes, “assume makes an ‘ass’ of ‘u ’and ‘me’.”

Often people don’t ask for the “sale” out of fear of the unknown or the fear of rejection. My client had not considered the worst thing that could happen. When asked, she said, “well, I guess they could say no”. That’s exactly right, and where would that leave you? Right in the same place you are today, and with the knowledge that the job just wasn’t for you. On the other hand, what if the boss says yes? You’ve moved on to another level, one which you wouldn’t have had, unless you asked for it.

The message for all those seeking a promotion or upward mobility in your career (especially women – but that’s another essay,) how can the boss know what your ambitions are unless you let them in on what you want. And don’t be afraid to ask. What’s the worst thing that could happen?

“If you don’t like the answer, you should have asked a better question” – unknown

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Mary T. O'Sullivan

Mary T. O’Sullivan, Master of Science, Organizational Leadership, Member, International Coaching Federation, Society of Human Resource Management. Candidate, Master’s Certificate in Executive and Professional Career Coaching, University of Texas at Dallas. Member Beta Gamma Sigma, the International Honor Society. Advanced Studies in Education from Montclair University, SUNY Oswego and Syracuse University. Mary is also a certified Six Sigma Specialist, Contract Specialist, IPT Leader and holds a Certificate in Essentials of Human Resource Management from SHRM. Mary O’Sullivan has over 30 years experience in the aerospace and defense industry. In each of her roles, she acted as a change agent, moving teams and individuals from status quo to new ways of thinking, through offering solutions focused on changing behaviors and fostering growth. In additional, Mary holds a permanent teaching certificate in the State of New York for secondary education, and taught high school English for 10 years in the Syracuse, NY area.