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How to NOT derail your corporate or organizational career

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How to NOT derail your corporate or organizational career

corporate_ladderI always like this quote from major league baseball player and manager Yogi Berra – “You can see a lot just by observing.”

Lack of Self-Awareness and Self-Assessment

The really great thing about human nature is the lack of self-awareness.  That is, the inability to see ourselves the way other people see us.  As one moves up the corporate ladder, self-awareness becomes more and more important.

To the extent that folks lack this self-awareness and self-assessment of where they are in relation to where you want to be then they will fail.

The Leadership Pipeline

And remember, if you want to climb the corporate ladder then to be successful you need to follow other peoples rules.  For mature organizations those rules are generally encoded in management and leadership development programs.

Check out our related posting on The Leadership Pipeline along with the book recommendations and other assets in the Resources section.

There are many opportunities to fail

There are many opportunities for one to derail their corporate careers

You can think of a corporate career as a transition from Individual Contributor, to Manager, to Leader.  At each stage you can get derailed if you don’t understand what is expected at each stage.

Some dreams deserve to be crushed

In fact, if you do get derailed at a certain point in your career, then good!  Not good for you – but good for your company.  Companies becomes dysfunctional to the extent that people get promoted to levels for which they are not ready.

Ten Fatal Flaws That Derail Leaders

There is a bit of research on this topic of career failure in the June 2009 issue of Harvard Business Review.  A couple of researchers took a look at feedback on 11,000 leaders including 450 executives from Fortune 500 companies.  Combining the data for those leaders who were considered “least ineffective” and those that were fired they came up with Ten Fatal Flaws of leadership.

“You can see a lot just by observing.” – Yogi Berra

So, as some proactive advice, you might want to take a look at the results of this study.

For your own corporate career see if you can see these flaws in yourself.  For entertainment, look within your own organization and see if you can observe these flaws in others.

These flaws represent career derailers.  Meaning that the opposite of these flaws are good leadership traits.

As a good experiment to understand why some folks never get promoted beyond a certain level, think about how many of these career derailers exist at the level of folks that you know that are in Individual Contributor or Manger roles.  The presence of these leadership flaws is why these folks never make it to the executive suite.

From the June 2009 Harvard Business Review

Ten Fatal Flaws That Derail Leaders

by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman

Poor leadership in good times can be hidden, but poor leadership in bad times is a recipe for disaster. To find out why leaders fail, we scrutinized results from two studies: In one, we collected 360-degree feedback data on more than 450 Fortune 500 executives and then teased out the common characteristics of the 31 who were fired over the next three years. In the second, we analyzed 360-degree feedback data from more than 11,000 leaders and identified the 10% who were considered least effective. We then compared the ineffective leaders with the fired leaders to come up with the 10 most common leadership shortcomings.

Every bad leader had at least one, and most had several.

  1. Lack clear vision and direction. They believe their only job is to execute. Like a hiker who sticks close to the trail, they’re fine until they come to a fork.
  2. Don’t collaborate. They avoid peers, act independently, and view other leaders as competitors. As a result, they are set adrift by the very people whose insights and support they need.
  3. Have poor judgment. They make decisions that colleagues and subordinates consider to be not in the organization’s best interests.
  4. Resist new ideas. They reject suggestions from subordinates and peers. Good ideas aren’t implemented, and the organization gets stuck.
  5. Don’t learn from mistakes. They may make no more mistakes than their peers, but they fail to use setbacks as opportunities for improvement, hiding their errors and brooding about them instead.
  6. Lack interpersonal skills. They make sins of both commission (they’re abrasive and bullying) and omission (they’re aloof, unavailable, and reluctant to praise).
  7. Fail to develop others. They focus on themselves to the exclusion of developing subordinates, causing individuals and teams to disengage.
  8. Accept their own mediocre performance. They overstate the difficulty of reaching targets so that they look good when they achieve them. They live by the mantra\ “Underpromise and overdeliver.”
  9. Lack energy and enthusiasm. They see new initiatives as a burden, rarely volunteer, and fear being overwhelmed. One such leader was described as having the ability to “suck all the energy out of any room.”
  10. Don’t walk the talk.  They set standards of behavior or expectations of performance and then violate them. They’re perceived as lacking integrity.


These sound like obvious flaws that any leader would try to fix. But the ineffective leaders we studied were often unaware that they exhibited these behaviors. In fact, those who were rated most negatively rated themselves substantially more positively. Leaders should take a very hard look at themselves and ask for candid feedback on performance in these specific areas. Their jobs may depend on it.

Who are the authors
Jack Zenger is the CEO and Joseph Folkman is the president of Zenger/Folkman, a leadership development consultancy. They are the authors, with Scott K. Edinger, of The Inspiring Leader: Unlocking the Secrets of How Extraordinary Leaders Motivate (McGraw-Hill, 2009).

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Written by frrl

July 18, 2009 at 5:48 pm

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