Education

Five mistakes guaranteed to derail your career

Even leaders with a successful track record can fail. Usually that's because they have bad habits that can derail them unknowingly. Leadership coach John M. McKee cites five common leadership mistakes to avoid.

I've had a successful career.  I've outlasted a lot of people who started at the same time I did.  And, I make a lot of money.  It boils down to this - I succeed because I behave in a certain way.  Anyone else who wants to be successful only needs to follow my example.  Just do what I do."

The guy who said that was wrong.  Simply copying his behavior would have been exactly the wrong thing.  I'll explain why in a minute, but before that I want to share five approaches and tactics that, if you're serious about your career, you need to avoid:

1. Always chasing the brass ring: Many execs, and companies as well, are constantly looking for a big win.  When they find these "awesome opportunities" they throw resources at them in the hope that this success will fix a lot of existing mistakes and problems.

However, while going after the brass ring, they often starve many of the smaller initiatives or operations which have been plodding along successfully for a long time. As a result of lost resources, these little successes consequently founder. They may fail. When the big win doesn't materialize -- and they usually don't -- the organization is left with less-effective pieces that can no longer provide enough juice to continue.  Adding to the loss: Ultimately this approach of always going for the brass ring can demoralize even the best performers.

2. Failing to spend time on the practice range: When it comes to sports or new hobbies, nearly everyone understands the importance of repeated practice to improve performance.  But for some reason, leaders often fail to practice on the job. They apply new techniques, style changes, or business approaches without the necessary testing. For some reason, many leaders think that all they have to do is read or hear these new approaches and they can they go out and put them into action. Consequently, they blow it.  At that point they may decide this new way is no good and abandon it too soon.

New approaches -- physical or mental -- require practice. Accept the idea that during your first few times of trying something new, you're likely to stub your toe. Learn from your flub: What could you have done differently for a successful outcome? Then try it again. It'll come. Soon it will become a part of your management style repertoire and your game will improve.

3. Failing to be tough-minded when it comes to people issues: Intellectually, everyone knows that having the right person in the right job is critical.  And yet...

Many bosses will leave a weakling in a role for too long. They often attempt to justify their lack of action ("Chuck's been with us for years. Sarah's still learning," etc.), but regardless of their reasons, this mistake can cause a lot of problems. Good people will leave, or at the least, simply become less engaged. The wrong person in the role may miss opportunities that another may have seen, he / she may create more problems because they are in over their head. Being soft isn't generous, or thoughtful, or kind hearted. It's just dumb.  I'm often told by the recently terminated that they kind of knew, in their heart of hearts, that they should have been more proactive.

4. Believing that behavior causes success: The guy quoted above was showing signs of being superstitious, never a good personality trait in an organization's leader. Like most winners, in any game, he was successful because he did more of the right things than he did of the dumb things. But he did do wrong things too. Almost everybody does at certain times.

His delusion regarding his success kept him from constantly upgrading himself, fixing his mistakes, and building on the really good things he did. Like many corporate high-flyers, he flamed out, crashed, and burned.

5. Being a constant fixer: Some people are naturally predisposed toward helping people fix their problems.  If you're in trouble, you may welcome his or her stepping-in to help correct your issue. But many times, you don't need that person to come and tell you what to do. Then, their help is seen as interference.  And it can make you pretty cranky.

If someone is thinking aloud with you, resist the urge to jump in. Don't interrupt them to provide "the answer." Let them process it on their own -- it will make them better and more self-sufficient.  And, as a bonus, you may actually learn something.

On the other hand, when another individual comes to you with a great idea, just tell them it is. That's all.  Don't add anything. Because by adding, "that's good, why don't you add this to it," you devalue both their idea and their thinking. That's demoralizing and frustrating. So, keep this in mind -- for the most part people don't like fixers.  Just shut up, let them own it, and tell them they're doing good stuff.

Here's to your career!

john

Leadership Coach

About

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

19 comments
benwal91
benwal91

I believe the last one is always getting in my way... Usually when I suggest an idea someone is there to add something else. I volunteer at a church in the communications department and my ideas get thrown out when I mention switching videos to BNC cause S-Video cannot support HD Cameras.

maclovin
maclovin

God, is #3 ever true. #5 is definitely true in many situations as well.

Caractacus Potts
Caractacus Potts

I agree that being a constant fixer makes you out to be a pain in the whatsit know it all. But adding to a good idea is not a bad thing if you can improve on it. All ideas are improved upon, if we took the first notion of an idea as the final baseline we would miss the opportunity to make it better.

msnyder
msnyder

First off, I must say that anyone who thinks they haven't made all of the five mistakes listed at least once isn't being realistic or honest. As several have observed, we all make mistakes from time to time. That said, I think the key point is actually #2: practicing the things that work to improve our own performance. It's not always easy to get into the mind set of habits that work for us. And if I were to add anything about being being tough-minded, it's remembering to be honest with our staff about expectations and consequences. Both my last boss and my current one are real straight-forward about mistakes and dealing with them, provided I'm honest about what happened. The first question is always, "What are you doing to fix it?" If it's a repeat offense, that's another discussion. But knowing a mistake is a chance to learn and improve, rather than being the end of the world, reduces the chance I'll repeat it. I try to give my staff the same consideration.

cbader
cbader

I can pretty much apply all of these to various executives at my last job, particularly the CEO and the whole brass ring thing. Consequently, the company is closing and I just started my new job this week.

cavio
cavio

With no doubts, I have some of the problems outlined here. Yet, as much as with no doubts, some of the managers above me (not all, luckly) have a wider range of these problems and much more importantly. This includes managers of age and education similar to mine. I'm sure this is everybody's experience, too. Now, apart from what Garth says (which I fully share), what other conclusion can be drawn? That is, what is that makes your career not to derail, even if you are ... "strong" with this five mistakes?

Universal Soldier
Universal Soldier

There is almost always an exception to any rule. By the way never say "never". For example: The first time Michael Jordan tried out for the high school basketball team he didn't make it. Superstition: Michael never went out on the court with out his North Carolina basketball shorts on under his regular shorts. When Michael was younger he wanted to play professional baseball not professional basketball. The reason Michael picked number 23 is because when he was younger his older brother had the number 45 so he picked what he considered half on 45 (23). Keys to success vary from individual to individual. Perhaps something to think about is don't be too quick to judge someone. You may just be wrong.

gedevane
gedevane

Everyone, by definition, is human and to overengineer yourself comes accross as false. That said, good info to keep in the back of ypur mind.

collie21
collie21

funny the first one I mis read, I thought it was something to do with always sucking up to the boss. Instantly I thought of all those people who do that, and I don't like any of them...... Is it a good thing or a bad thing to be a complete fawner?

coldboyqn
coldboyqn

Great thoughts. I have been annoyed by constant fixers many times yet I still don't know why. Now I know why. Thank you.

Ramesh.Astik
Ramesh.Astik

I agree with all except with failing to be tough minded when it comes to people issues. It is not that Chuck has been there long, it is that Chuck has a management weakness that ought to be corrected and not punished. Punishing never ends because its a circular issue. People try to shuffle responsibilities when in a fear mode. Business and creativity always runs parallel.

kasiviswanadham
kasiviswanadham

I totally agree on the point #1 and #5(ofcourse others also, but I have experieced #1 and #5 personally)

CareerCoach
CareerCoach

These can easily offset all the good you do each day.

santeewelding
santeewelding

And you while away time with matters such as S-Video? This is a church of what?

QASIMARA
QASIMARA

complete fawner= sycophant. 'nuff said.

michael4096
michael4096

a) he is in the wrong place, get him out for his sake as well as your own b) find the right place if possible c) if he asks to be repositioned try doubly hard - you don't want to lose someone so brave and honest

pb1492
pb1492

As I see it there are two distinct factors to consider. 1) Before you fire someone, you should examine the workplace 'system'. If the system is flawed you are bound to have the same problem again. Being proactive is a good trait, however everyone in the workplace should have clearly defined roles. 2) If the system is ok, you have to fire the person. It's all about resource allocation at this point. Improper resource allocation can kill a company.

nick
nick

The other alternative is to breed a bunch of ruthless managers. Do we want to work in that environment? I Don't.