A Speed Round:
10 Things That Can Kill Your Career
These career killers have nothing to do with
your skills, abilities, or actual performance.
That makes them all the more deadly.
I'm always surprised when a client says they're doing great at work, but they're not getting ahead. No one appreciates them. They're doing all the right things - everything that's been asked of them - but it just isn't enough. Their company stinks. When I start asking questions, the picture becomes a bit clearer.
Maybe the company really does stink, but maybe it's more about us than we'd like to think. Sometimes when we're not feeling successful or satisfied at work, it's our own fault. We want to believe that if we're smart and we do good work, that's enough. More and more these days, it's not.
Click below for a speed round, highlighting ten things that can kill your career - even if you're doing great work.
Quick Context: Then vs. Now
As you read my list of ten career killers, I'm pretty sure you'll look around and see "successful" people in your organization doing many of these things. It may make you question just how killer these traits and behaviors can possibly be. After all, you've seen them rewarded.
Here's the thing. The tide is changing in business. People who have gotten away with bad behavior in the past - especially leaders - are being given new direction. That direction is to stop behaving badly. Companies are spending big money to help their leaders engage with employees in new ways and to model behavior that's appropriate and productive.
I wish I could say it's always for the right reasons. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. The goal may be just to retain the workforce to keep costs down. Or it may be to avoid lawsuits. The end result is the same. Less tolerance for bad behavior. Leaders are being assigned coaches, going to executive seminars, and being asked to read books on how to demonstrate "worthy" and admirable traits.
So what does this mean for you? Senior leaders may still get away with nonsense now and then, but it's becoming harder and harder for everyone else. Anything that causes disharmony, disruption, or puts business performance at risk is problematic. When it's time to downsize, reorganize, or otherwise consider who stays long-term... poor behavior isn't rewarded. If this evolution hasn't started to occur in your organization, it will soon.
If you want sustained success and satisfaction at work, avoid these ten career killers.
Ten Career Killers
Usually I share my thoughts on what to do. Sometimes though, it's helpful to get a dose of what "not to do." These traits and behaviors sneak up on us if we're not careful. Here's my top 10 list of what not to do.
If you search for "authenticity at work"online, you'll find 51 million articles. We make this much harder than it has to be. It's really pretty simple. People have a hard time connecting with others who don't keep it real. When we pose as someone else, or pretend to be something we're not, we come across as less than genuine, untrustworthy, and a little skeevy. People can sense when others are being fake. No one likes it.
Know yourself. Identify your strengths. Demonstrate the traits that are most important to you. Don't waiver. Don't pretend to be something you're not. You have to buy in to who you are or no one else will buy in either.
(Don't) Focus on noise.
It's so easy to get distracted at work by all kinds of things that demand our attention. People who have sustained success in their careers focus on what matters. Too often, we waste enormous time and energy on things that don't impact the success of the organization (or our own) one bit. Ever had a day where you were busy like crazy and didn't accomplish anything of substance? Me too. We have to limit those.
Focus on what matters. If you have to spend time on noise, recognize it for what it is and knock it out as quickly as you can. Then get back to more important work that matters.
(Don't) Act with self-interest.
Every single person in your organization probably has more to do than he or she can possibly get done. It's really common for us to dig into our own priorities. (I've been guilty of this.) Problem is, it's not good for the organization. We need to pop up every now and then, and reconnect to the broader picture. It's never about one person's success.
Practice a little give and take. Don't ignore the broader sense of what's happening around you. Contribute across boundaries. Add to the company's overall success, not just your own.
(Don't) Pick dumb fights.
I've written before about our subtle addiction to being right. Sometimes we have to stand up for certain decisions or outcomes because the stakes are high. Too often, we pick fights (or give into others who pick fights) where the outcomes don't even matter. It becomes a battle of wills or ego or power. Once you start, it's hard to back down. It's dumb to fight about things that don't matter. If we find ourselves doing it, we have to have the discipline to stop.
Stand up for what you believe is right. Argue your point when your voice needs to be heard. Practice how to influence others. But don't pick dumb fights just to celebrate a win.
(Don't) Stroke your ego.
No one likes an egotistical person. We like confidence. Sometimes we have to tolerate ego in others to get confidence, but no one likes it. If we're egotistical, we think the world revolves around us. Others know that we'll put ourselves first, we'll take credit, and we'll act with self-interest to feed our egos. Who wants to be around that type of person? Answer - no one.
Have confidence. Have swagger even. But don't tip the line, to stroke and fondle your own ego at every opportunity. People won't like you, they won't trust you, and they won't support you.
(Don't) Take things personally.
It's hard not to take things personally when it comes to our careers. This is about our livelihoods. It's serious business. When we're judged, criticized, or belittled by another it feels personal. When we lose an important argument, get passed over for a promotion, or can't influence outcomes it feels personal. Taking situations at work personally sparks an emotional vs. rational response. If we let our emotions run rampant, we question our value and we behave poorly in response every time.
Keep perspective. Stand confidently in the face of difficulties. Don't respond emotionally when you feel wronged. Listen, learn, grow and do better the next time.
Always address interpersonal challenges with calm, focused steps to resolution vs. emotional sputtering. More on this topic here and here.
(Don't) Bitch, moan, or whine.
We all have our moments where we just have to vent. Bitch, moan, whine, complain, splather about, and feel sorry for our situation. Sometimes we can't NOT do this. The difference between successful people and everyone else is that they do it (judiciously) and get over it. Keeping our frustrations inside isn't the right answer; we all need that occasional release of negativity with someone who knows what we're experiencing. The trick? Knowing when to move on.
Be productive. Have a moment of venting when you need it, but use caution about the who, how, where, and when. And then quickly get back in the game of doing great work. Being unhappy is a choice.
(Don't) Act entitled. To anything.
You work hard. You give a lot. You make a ton of sacrifices for your company. You go above and beyond. You deserve (fill in the blank). This is the hardest of hard truths to accept, for all of us: No, you don't deserve it. Should a company be generous with hard-working and committed employees? Yes. Can they choose to do otherwise? Yes.
Assuming that no laws are being broken, your company can ask a lot of you. They can treat you poorly, abuse their privilege and take advantage. They pay you to work there with salary and in many other ways. If you don't like the terms of your trade, you should consider going somewhere else. Wanting more and asking for more? Great. Feeling and acting like you "deserve" more? Not great.
Be appreciative of what you're given. If you're not given enough (in your opinion), ask for more in a gracious and factual manner. If you don't get it, you have to either get over it or move on. Holding onto entitlement in words or actions will diminish your success.
(Don't) Be apathetic.
The worst thing that can happen to a company is to have an apathetic workforce. If you don't care about your company, your clients, and your work... you're a cancer to the organization. It doesn't matter how smart you are or how hard you work. If you don't care, you won't bring that special magic that's so needed for a business to be truly successful.
The company has a role to play to be sure - to inspire you to care. Maybe they do it well, maybe poorly. Either way, if you find yourself being apathetic, don't expect to be successful. Apathy crushes any possibility of success or satisfaction.
Care about your job. Do your best work. Be a positive force for change. Don't let yourself fall into the apathy trap. Doing the bare minimum to keep your job is a sure recipe to lose it.
(Don't) Rest on your history.
Almost everyone has done something really great in their educational or professional career. Achieved something impressive. Accomplished a tough goal. Our big achievements may have been with a previous company or our current employer. Either way, we can't rely too long on our history to tell the story of our success. We have to continue to earn both respect and success over time.
Deliver results consistently. Don't expect anyone to care what you did last year, last quarter or last week. It's harsh, I know. "That was great, but what have you done for me lately?" You have to keep bringing it.
Over the course of our careers, we fall into bad habits. It happens to everyone. We lose a bit of who we are as we adapt to get along in our company. We let people get to us and we lose perspective. We become apathetic about our work and blame the leadership for not inspiring us to do more or better.
We act in self-interest with an every-man-for-himself approach to winning. We find ourselves in dumb disagreements -about dumb things - with other people acting dumb. We find ourselves overwhelmed with expectation, trying to pose, posture, and position our way to good feedback.
Losing what makes us special by trying to conform isn't good for anyone involved. Picking up bad habits and letting them take hold doesn't serve us well. When we're not as successful or satisfied as we want to be, it's easy to look to what others have or have not done. It's harder to look at our own situation and see how far we've strayed from our true authentic nature as a human.
I often ask my clients and readers to think about someone they truly admire and respect. How would that person view your workplace personality, actions, words, and interactions? Would you be proud to have them see how you behave at work? I've been stopped dead in my tracks more than once by doing that exercise myself.
Give it a try this week. For the next few days, ask yourself every hour or so if your behavior is on track. You may just find a few tweaks that will add to your success and satisfaction at work. The bonus? You'll also be much less likely to feel like you're eating your soul for breakfast every morning.
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