We’d all like to think that we are immune from failure, but even the most successful executive hits a wall sometimes. The reality is that you will experience set backs at some point in your career. Being alert to these common career derailers can help keep you on the right track:
You have lousy interpersonal skills. You’ve been pulled aside for yelling at people or otherwise showing your temper. Or maybe you’ve received feedback that people don’t trust you, don’t see you as a team player or feel uncomfortable delivering bad news to you. You may need to brush up on your interpersonal skills. People want to work with people who are empathetic, personable and motivating. You don’t need to be best friends with everyone at work, but you do need to be approachable and perceived as caring about others.
You don’t collaborate well. No one likes a Lone Ranger and it’s rare that anything gets done in an organization due to a single individual. Being able to work well in a team is vital to your career success. This means being willing to delegate tasks (and not just the scut work you don’t like doing) and share credit with others. It means rolling up your sleeves and grinding out the long hours with your team every now and then to meet an important deadline. Get a reputation of not being a team player and you will find that you are getting shut out of juicy assignments that can get you promoted.
Your goals are misaligned with your boss’s. This seems like an obvious one but it’s imperative that you make sure that you are working on the things your boss thinks are important. Don’t wait until your quarterly performance review to find out that you have the wrong priorities. Make it a point to check in with your boss at least twice a month on the things you are working on and confirm that they are still important.
You don’t understand how decisions really get made in your organization. Every organization has both formal and informal (what I call the “shadow organization”) decision making structures. Even if you are very senior in your organization, you still need to understand who the influencers are. Small factions can kill new initiatives before they are even up and running. Understanding who the power brokers are in your organization can help you understand who you need to influence when trying to create organizational change or launch a new initiative.
You let your network dry up. This is a common problem for women. We can be so focused on doing the job that we forget about relationship building. My late Grandpa Morrow, who owned his own construction company and was the ultimate business man, once told me, “You don’t want to meet your neighbors for the first time when your house is burning down.” Truer words have never been spoken. The time to build relationships is when you don’t need something. Make it a habit once or twice a week to have lunch with a colleague and call or email associates you haven’t spoken to in awhile.
You avoid confronting problem employees. If you are someone who’d rather chew ground glass than deal with a problem employee, you are in for trouble. A poor performing employee reflects poorly on you. What’s more, the longer you let the problem fester, the more you are sending a signal to the rest of your team that you are a weak manager. Do yourself a favor. Next time you have an employee who is not performing as expected “woman up” and deal with the problem directly. This might include putting the employee on a performance plan or asking HR to intervene – whatever your company policy might be. Doing nothing will not only not make the problem go away, you risk your credibility by not confronting the issue directly.
You are too narrowly focused on your on own job and don’t see the big picture. These days, successful executives are expected to know more than just their job function. They are expected to be able to bring sharp, strategic thinking that will benefit their enterprise. Whether you are in marketing, finance, operations or HR, the more you understand and can contribute to your business’ strategy and competitiveness, the more valuable you will make yourself. Ask yourself every day, “How can I help my boss make better decisions about our business?” and “How can I help create more value for our business?”
You fail to ask for candid feedback from your subordinates and peers. We’d all like to think we are the most approachable managers in the world and that our direct reports feel comfortable enough to give us constructive criticism. The truth is that most of the time, unless you ask for it specifically, your direct reports may not feel comfortable giving you feedback. This goes for peers as well. What can you do? Ask for feedback and be specific. Maybe you are trying to work on not talking so much in meetings to give others a chance to express their opinions. Pick one or two people and share your goal and ask them to give you feedback on how you are doing.
Managing your career is an on-going process. With vigilance and forethought you can avoid these common career blunders. What would you add to this list? I’d love to hear your thoughts and advice on managing your career.