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How to Avoid the 5 Career Derailers

Career Derailers

HY DO SOME careers stall while others flourish? The careers of one-half to two-thirds of managers and leaders will derail. “At some point, over half of us will get fired or demoted—or our careers will flat-line, and we won’t reach our innate potential.

In The Right—and Wrong—Stuff, Carter Cast shares with us the turning point in his career at PepsiCo. Blissfully unaware of how negative perceptions were shaped, he was stunned when called into his boss’s office, and told he was “unpromotable” because he was obstinate,” “resistant,” and “insubordinate.”

More often than not, people get fired, demoted, or plateau not because they lack the “right stuff,” but because they let the “wrong stuff” act out. Cast’s research led him to five defining archetypes. These archetypes are present across all organizations, genders, and levels of seniority.

Captain Fantastic

Captain FantasticThese people are human wrecking balls known for being insensitive, arrogant, dismissive and emotionally volatile. This archetype gets more people into trouble than any other. Captain Fantastic’s poor ego management results in behavior that is a combination of defensiveness, arrogance, lack of composure, being distrustful, being mischievous and colorful, and being passive. In short, they lack interpersonal skills. Cast relates a conversation he had with Stuart Kaplan, the director of leadership recruiting at Google to make this point:
As you progress [in your career], your relationship with others is more important than your knowledge of and relationship with data. This need kicks in as you move into middle and upper management. It’s a mindset change. You have to suppress your ego, let go of having the answer and embrace the relational world. It becomes less about having competencies and more about engendering trust.

The Solo Flier

Solo FlierThe Solo Flier is a strong individual contributor, but they have difficulty building and leading teams. They create problems for themselves by overmanaging which makes it difficult to build and lead an effective team. They communicate with others either verbally or nonverbally, “Step aside. I’ve got this.”

For many talented people “skilled in and rewarded for ‘doing,’ the shift to manager and leader is a hard one. We’re required to operate differently, getting work done through others, moving from athlete to coach. We need to move from ‘me’ to ‘we.’”

Version 1.0

Version 1These people are highly skeptical of change. “The second most common career stopper right behind poor interpersonal skills is difficulty adapting to change. Some research studies state that it affects over half of managers who derailed.” This can happen due to a simple fear of change or an inability to adjust to changes that have been made, or because they possess a rigid belief system. A Version 1.0 can think they are traditionalists when really they are closed-minded.

Version 1.0’s resist learning new experiences. They lack curiosity preferring the status quo. Agility in your personal learning is the “subtle skill of picking up on cues and changing one’s behavior quickly.” Cast recommends that Version 1.0’s become more approachable. “Some people’s fear of change can be masked as assured arrogance or by being a contrarian. They protect themselves by being rigid and aloof and acting with complete assurance. Then, when challenged with a contrary point of view, they become combative and aggressive, like Captain Fantastic.”

The One-Trick Pony

One Trick PonyOne-Trick Ponies are good at what they are good at becoming over time “one-dimensional and unpromotable.” They have become overspecialized thereby limiting their careers. They get “mired in the details associated with their signature skill area and have trouble seeing the big picture beyond their area of expertise.”

This archetype is not strategic. That is, they lack a holistic understanding of the organization. “People with a strong strategic orientation approach problems from an ‘outside-in’ perspective.”

The Whirling Dervish

Whirling DirvishThese people are out of time. They just don’t seem to have enough time. They struggle with converting ideas into action. They lack good planning, organizational and task management skills and therefore don’t deliver on promises. This can also be because they have a problem saying “no.”

Whirling Dirvish’s need to be in tune with the steps in “the work flow process—their proper sequence, how long each will take to complete, and whom to include along the way.” This includes being able to plan and prioritize tasks before a project is started. Say no when you have to and delegate task to keep things moving.

Having the Right Stuff

To avoid derailing, you must learn to lead yourself first. We all come close to derailing from time to time, but having the right stuff means that you have the “ability to bounce back, to learn from your mistakes, make adjustments, take corrective actions, and get back on track.”

Cast finds that people with the right stuff act on their own initiative, they have emotional intelligence, and have tremendous perseverance and drive for results. And of the three, taking the initiative is the most important. “High performers with the right stuff accelerate their personal and professional development be having a ‘learning orientation’—a curiosity to constantly learn and improve.

Avoiding derailing requires that you continuously reflect on your performance. Know where you want to go and understand where you are. Then take steps to bridge the gaps. Cast provides abundant examples of the archetypes and corrective measures for each. We are all a work-in-progress.

Carter Cast provides an assessment on his website to find out where your career is vulnerable.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:17 PM
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