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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.


15 comments
Justin James
Justin James

"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." So, these things are just dandy, but it's the "politically correct era" that makes them off limits? This should REALLY be phrased: "People have varying degrees of sensitivity, and what may seem harmless to you is quite possibly considered out of line by your co-workers, the HR department, and maybe even the law. A couple of over-the-top or off-color jokes will do it. Bullying can and will create a hostile work environment as well. Having these kinds of issues in your past will make it nearly impossible for your career to stay on track." J.Ja

maj37
maj37

Seems to me Hurd was terminated for cause but he got another job real quick.

wim
wim

There is a slow but sure way. Forgetting that you are there for the long term realization of a vision that is shared by the company. No vision? No direction! No direction? Bye bye!

singahdude
singahdude

Dipping your pen in the company ink is usually a bad idea! Work is for work. Find romance somewhere else! It rarely ends well.

ShaneHo
ShaneHo

Is there something ironic about an author who warns about discrimination, political correctness and over-the-top or off-color jokes, and then goes on to talk about 'psychos' and 'nutjobs'? Steve, If you are referring to people with mental health difficulties, then they deserve better than this kind of labelling. If you're referring to plain old bad employees, then why would you need to use this kind of language?

mjstelly
mjstelly

in defense of the OP, i think the "pc" comment was more for literary short-hand than a broader social comment.

four49
four49

Larry Ellison is a morally bankrupt individual himself so it isn't too surprising he hired another person like himself. I'm pretty sure Larry wouldn't have a problem hiring someone who violated all of the items on this list so long as they didn't direct any of their illicit activities at Oracle.

mjstelly
mjstelly

I personally have never seen someone lose their career for forgetting the company vision. Vision and/or mission statements are too amorphous and poorly executed to engender a ruined career. If this were true, the majority of employees, especially at larger companies, would be canned. Remember, people work for their managers, not the "company".

ME
ME

Openly bad-mouth the company.

robo_dev
robo_dev

12) Printing porn on a color shared printer (seriously) 13) Padding expense account 14) Using a company phone for 900-sex-chat line during lunch breaks 15) Stealing computer hardware

RogerF
RogerF

Commenting on Steve using generic terms that anyone on this forum would interpret 'politically correctly' as referring to a type of person as opposed to anyone with psycho-logical problems?

Justin James
Justin James

Those two were also buddies to begin with. Speaking as a former employee of a company Mark Hurd was running, the man has no morals or ethics, makes decisions to run businesses in an illegal fashion, has no heart (he loves doing the yearly mass layoffs the week of Thanksgiving), and is a pro at running companies into the ground. Oracle is the only company slimy enough to hire him, and they deserve what they get. J.Ja

chris
chris

If you violate one or more of these 10 ways, you may not be good management material, but you can always get a job in the U.S. Congress...

ShaneHo
ShaneHo

Yes, I'm very serious. Language like this stigmatises people with mental health difficulties. How can you say that 'psycho' doesn't relate to 'psychological' problems? Would you think that it's OK to use language like 'crip' or 'retard' in a professional article?