Q: I'm in a management position for a large multi-national brand owner. I'm doing OK but I can't help but notice that the aggressive, thick-skinned, devil-may-care, least likeable people seem to be on the fast track. I'm no shrinking violet but should I become more of a backstabber and muscle my way to the front?

A: You may see those colleagues as being rather unpleasant, but just possibly your boss sees them as the people she can depend on to get the results she demands. It really does need a thick skin sometimes to have the self confidence to follow through your ideas. Conversely, if by backstabbing you mean telling tales to the boss, that really is a waste of everyone's energy.

Also take a moment to consider what others think of you - is the "I'm no shrinking violet" code for "I'm already an aggressive loudmouth but not that successful".

Your first step would be to spend time with your line manager to understand how she sees your performance and what she feels are your strengths and development needs. So muscle your way to the front, by all means, but don't backstab your peers to get there. Not if you want to last long.

Q: I'm in my mid-20s and working with a food manufacturer. I would love to engage you as my personal coach but there's just no budget at my level. If you won't coach me for free, what do you recommend I do to enjoy the benefits of coaching and advance my career?

A: I believe coaching is of huge benefit at every level of an organisation and, although I mainly work with senior management, there is much that you can do of the self-help variety.

Many people spend more time planning their holiday than planning their lives, so you are already on the right track. I would strongly advise finding a mentor, preferably in your business, who you respect and who is senior enough to have a different perspective. Start by asking those nice people in HR if they can help and, if not, ask the most senior person in your department if they can recommend someone.

I usually find folk know what they need to do, but shy away from getting on with it. A good start is committing to paper where you want to be in five years and the key milestones you need to achieve. Plan your work and then work your plan.

My golden tip is to start now, not next week or when you get back from holiday, but right now.

If you have a question for Sue, email her at