CXO

10 ways to destroy your management career

Your career can survive a few missteps -- in fact, what you learn from your mistakes can fuel your progress. But certain errors are guaranteed to blow your aspirations to smithereens. Here are 10 mistakes to avoid at all costs.

Every day, managers and executives just like you self-destruct. They don't just shoot themselves in the foot. Nope. They destroy their jobs, even their entire careers, and in dramatic fashion. If you liked 20 Ways to Screw up Your Management Career, you're going to love this. The methods are far more insidious.

As before, there's no theory here; I've witnessed each of these career-ending spectacles in real life. And you'll notice that none of them has anything to do with your capability, experience, skills, business acumen, or what a nice guy you are. That's what makes it all the more ironic... and pathetic.

So, managers at all levels and aspiring or current executives, listen up. Especially in this economic environment, the last thing you want to do is kiss your sweet career goodbye. And that's what may happen if you commit one of these sins.

Note: This article originally appeared as an entry in BNET's The Corner Office blog. It's also available as a PDF download.

1: Get a DUI or other alcohol- / drug-related conviction

Decades ago, I had some indiscretions along these lines. It came up in every executive job background check, as recently as nine years ago. Didn't change the outcome, but these days, I bet it would.

2: Leak material inside information

That's right. Last year, the Galleon scandal snagged top executives from IBM, AMD, Intel, and McKinsey for blabbing inside info to a hedge fund. Career ending for everyone involved.

3: Pad the perks

It's surprising how many bright and successful people take advantage of their company and its shareholders. Depending on the severity, it could be considered embezzlement. Not just career ending; we're talking jail time.

4: Document something in an email that nobody should ever see

I'm not that surprised when executives break the law or do something unethical, but I'm constantly amazed at how often they document their stupidity in email.

5: Sexually harass or discriminate against an employee

In this politically correct era, it doesn't take much. A couple of over-the-top or off-color jokes will do it. Even bullying can be considered creating a hostile work environment.

6: Burn bridges

There are actually loads of ways to burn bridges, and you can probably think of plenty. Avoid all of them simply by being respectful and empathetic, and that means behaving like an adult instead of acting out like a child. And don't do what Yahoo's Joanne Bradford did.

7: Lie about something important on your resume

What starts out as doing what it takes to get a job when you're young and desperate, ends up as a terminal offense when you're an executive. Recently happened to a top Broadcom exec.

8: Cut corners on something important

Important means something that's potentially health-related, devastating to your company's or key customer's business, or something the media might be interested in. Think BP, Toyota — that sort of thing.

9: Get terminated for cause

For whatever reason doesn't matter. Do not get yourself terminated for cause. Negotiate your way out of it or it'll follow you for a long, long time.

10: Get in the crosshairs of a psycho employee

No, I'm so not kidding. I've personally seen two CEOs of public companies brought down by nut-job direct reports. In one case, the board wasn't even dysfunctional. Amazing but true.

With the exception of leaking inside info, notice I didn't mention anything like committing accounting fraud, securities fraud, or anything really heavy like that. Too obvious and too rare. Besides, executives who do that are too far gone to listen to a blog, don't you think?

So, what did I miss? Tell us a story; we love the stories.

Steve Tobak is a consultant, writer, and former senior executive with more than 20 years of experience in the technology industry. He's the managing partner of Invisor Consulting, a Silicon Valley-based firm that provides strategic consulting, executive coaching, and speaking services to CEOs and management teams of small-to-midsize companies.


Editor's Picks