How Brilliant Careers Are Made and Unmade

career derailers

The Right and Wrong Stuff

Most people don’t realize how easy it is to derail a career or to lose a job. Adding to the problem is that it is possible that your career has stalled without your knowledge, an unexpected plateau because of something you don’t know about. Maybe it’s because you’ve been labeled impulsive or not seen as a team player.

Whatever the reason, it’s important to pause and assess where you are so you can get back on track.

Carter Cast knows this firsthand. In a terrific new book, The Right and Wrong Stuff: How Brilliant Careers Are Made and Unmade, Carter sheds light on what causes careers to derail and others to soar. His advice is practical and actionable. Carter is a professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, a former CEO, and a venture capitalist. I recently asked him to share some of his perspective.

 

Korn Ferry Research: people who overstate their abilities in 360-degree assessments are 6.2 times more likely to derail than those with accurate self-awareness

 

Would you share your own story of career derailment?

Back when Bill Clinton was president and I was a marketing manager within PepsiCo’s Frito Lay division, I found myself sitting in my boss Mike’s office for my annual performance review. I worried as he started the preamble, which was along the lines of, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” Mike didn’t bury the lead for long—soon he came right out and told me that senior management considered me unpromotable, which meant I was no longer on the fast track at Frito-Lay. He laid out a list of my offenses, littering his examples with words like “uncooperative,” “resistant to feedback from authority figures,” and “unmanageable.” He described my behavior in various situations, repeatedly pointing out times I circumnavigated the established processes and procedures and ignored the chain of command for the sake of expediency, or the times I quietly ignored his feedback and chose to do things my own way.

Thirty painful minutes later, as he was wrapping up, when Mike asked if I had anything to say for myself, I simply asked if I was being fired. (It sure felt like it.) He said, “No, but I don’t want you to work in my group any longer. You’ll need to look for another marketing position within the company.”

Eventually I found another boss and team to work with, but it was a humbling experience because as I talked to prospective bosses, I learned that I had a reputation problem. I was considered “difficult to manage.” I realized I lacked the self-awareness needed to change my behavior right away, so I went about doing so. I identified the circumstances that triggered my disruptive behavior (e.g. sitting in ponderous process meetings; being managed tightly by a very “participative” boss; being talked at by a verbose senior manager), and I steadily began to develop practical methods to better self-regulate and curb my tendency toward stupid, unnecessary insubordination. Over time, I was again considered to be a promotable employee, but it took a couple years to climb out of hole I’d dug for myself.

 

Career Fact: half to two-thirds of all managers will be fired, demoted, or plateau at some point.

 

Use Negative Feedback to Propel You Forward

Your story highlights negative feedback, and I was intrigued that you actually called your boss and had him give it to you again! How do you coach individuals to hear negative feedback and use it in the best way possible?

I must be a glutton for punishment. (I was a swimmer, so I’m fairly certain.) Yes, twenty years later, I called my old boss Mike to get some quotes for the book. And he gave them to me. Yikes. Even after all these years, when he spoke to me, about me circa 1995, I felt a wave of queasiness! Thirty-three year old Carter needed some tough love.

How Great Leaders Bring Out the Best in Others

influence

Bring Out the Best

As leaders, we are often wondering what the best way is to bring out the best in our organizations. We want to help people exceed all expectations and accomplish more than they thought possible.

Yet, the current feedback mechanisms and performance appraisal processes in our organizations often don’t work toward that goal. In fact, Tim Irwin, author of Extraordinary Influence: How Great Leaders Bring Out the Best in Others, argues that they do just the opposite. Tim Irwin, PhD is an author, speaker, and leading authority on leadership.

I recently asked Tim to share his perspective on negativity and criticism at work.

 

“Leadership is influence-nothing more, nothing less.” -John Maxwell

 

What are a few things we often get wrong with criticism in the workplace?

Our brains are hardwired to detect anything that threatens our physical or emotional safety. When a person senses criticism, it engages a “negativity bias” in our brains and generally shuts down the parts of our brains responsible for creativity and problem solving. This is just one reason the often-used term “constructive criticism” is such an oxymoron.

 

Research: Science has revealed that affirmation sets in motion huge positive changes in the brain.

 

Avoid Words of Death

What are Words of Death?

The workplace, and society in general, are filled with critical words and phrases. For example, in some organizations, the phrase “One Throat to Choke” is used to describe the need for accountability on a project or other initiative. While maybe colorful and entertaining at some level, the use of these words and many others diminish us, at least at an unconscious level. Leaders routinely use statements such as, “I’m going to hold your feet to the fire,” (a torture method in the middle ages) to motivate employees and presumably to get them to work harder. Our brains thrive on affirmation not threats.

 

Research: Affirmation activates areas of the brain associated with calmness and openness to new ideas.

 

If we are on the receiving end of them, what can we do to limit their impact on us?

If it’s our present boss, we may learn some valuable lessons about how not to lead and motivate others. If a “Words of Death” culture prevails in our organization, we may need to consider, “Do I want to spend 40 to 60 hours a week or more in such a toxic environment?”

 

Share an example of “alliance feedback” that works to bring out someone’s highest potential.influence

Recently I met with a senior officer of a company who had some significant deficits in “Emotional Intelligence.” I could have said, “You have the empathy of a fence post, and no one trusts you.” Those were actually true statements. Would he have heard my feedback and acted on it in a conscientious manner? Doubtful. Instead, I said, “I know you aspire to a larger role in your company, and I think that is a worthwhile and achievable goal. In order to realize that aspiration, I recommend you work on collaborating with your peers more effectively by appreciating the challenges they face in reaching important goals.” What ensued was a very productive conversation about specific actions he could take to collaborate more effectively. He was eager to learn and not defensive in the slightest. The research is compelling that connecting feedback to personal hopes and aspirations bypasses the part of our brain that stays in hyper defense mode.

 

3 Faces of a Leader

How Mirror Moments Can Improve Your Leadership Effectiveness

mirror moment

Lead Your Career

Mike Rognlien is the founder of Multiple Hats Management, a leadership consultancy. Prior to founding his company, Mike spent fifteen years learning while working at Facebook, as a consultant to Microsoft, and at numerous other companies. In fact, he was one of the founding members of the L&D team at Facebook. After reading his new book, This Is Now Your Company, I reached out to him to continue the conversation.

 

“Culture is the sum total of all the things that every person in the organization says or does in the process of getting things done.” -Mike Rognlien

 

Your book about the Facebook culture was released right after Facebook was in the news for its questionable privacy practices. The question many may ask now: Is Facebook really a culture to emulate? Why?

It’s a fair question, but I’d start by saying it’s about much more than any one company’s culture – it’s about the individual’s role in their organization’s culture and how they can really own it. That said, I think that every company makes mistakes, and every company is going to face challenges based on real or perceived issues. Being on the outside of the company now I can say that I was really proud of how Mark and other senior leaders from Facebook handled themselves and continue to handle themselves. They apologized, accepted responsibility for mistakes, directly confronted misunderstandings or incorrect assumptions and have already made some pretty sweeping changes to how the platform operates. I’ve done leadership development work for a long time and think that this is what we want leaders and their companies to do when they mess up.

 

“You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul.” -George Bernard Shaw

 

Improve Performance with Mirror Moments

What’s a mirror moment and how can they be used to improve our performance?

One of the things that is consistent in the learning field is the push to reflect – and rightfully so. It’s a powerful development tool that we all have available to us at all times. In a 24/7 news cycle / instant meme-ification culture, I think it’s become even MORE important to do this because we are constantly getting so much outward signal (likes, comments, engagements, etc.) on how others see us that we can forget that it’s really important to know how we see ourselves. In so many programs I’ve developed or led over the years – on hard conversations, on bias, on leadership – much of my time and energy has been getting people to stop looking outside of themselves for approval and validation (or blame when things go wrong) and to instead constantly look inward to understand how what they’re saying and doing is impacting the results they’re generating. We need feedback from other people, absolutely, but we can make that process so much easier if we’re willing to have that first hard or reflective moment with ourselves.

 

How prevalent is Organizational Stockholm Syndrome? What can be done to reverse it?

Strategies to Accelerate the Growth of Your Leaders

When You Need Leaders Fast

Talent.

Most of us leading organizations are thinking about it all the time. Great strategy means nothing if you don’t have the people to make it happen.

If you want to lead, if you want to accelerate your growth, if you want to energize your company, you need to have a talent management system that produces leaders.

In Leaders Ready Now: Accelerating Growth in a Faster World, authors Matthew Paese, Ph.D., Audrey B. Smith, Ph.D., and William C. Byham, Ph.D. share their collective wisdom about talent and leadership. All three authors are employed by DDI helping organizations grow their own leaders.

I recently spoke with Matt about the new book and the extensive research on talent and growing leaders in organizations.

 

Study: Leadership readiness is stagnant even among companies with leadership programs.

 

Managing Talent in Your Organization

What’s working and not working with today’s talent management systems?
What’s working is that we know how to build processes, tools, and technology to help leaders learn.  What’s not working is that all this “stuff” fails to generate the energy that fuels real growth.  In fact, more often than not, the initiatives that are put in place to accelerate the growth of talent drain energy instead of creating it.

The learning experiences that leaders describe as the most beneficial are not necessarily the ones that we design for them. They tend to be the ones that happen on the fly. So we have to find ways to make the tools, technology and learning experiences that we design more useful and powerful on a day-to-day basis.

 

Potential is not performance. Potential is not readiness.

 

Make Leadership Development A Top Priority

With the increasing pressure to deliver immediate financial results, some leaders may discount leadership development. How do you make it a top business priority and keep it there where it belongs even in tough times?

There is a simple answer to this one: keep score or don’t play.  But you can’t just keep score of anything. When we say ‘keep score,’ we mean something very specific. Frankly, this is where many companies get it wrong.  It’s important to remember that most organizations invest in development so that they can create more capability, and they need it now, but they don’t keep score that way.  It’s routine to see organizations declare growth-focused objectives while they only keep score of learning activity, engagement, or retention. It’s like scoring a basketball game by keeping track of how many players are on the court. It’s just not the right metric. Eventually people lose interest and frustration sets in, so programs become difficult to sustain.

A classic example of keeping score of the wrong thing is tracking how many people have development plans or how many people were satisfied with a learning initiative. Those may be interesting metrics, but they don’t say much about what happened to leadership capability as a result of the effort.

 

“Each time you give up on a leader, you drain energy from your acceleration system.”

 

A measure of growth tracks the application of what has been learned or may keep track of changes in leadership readiness. For example, some organizations have begun scoring ‘conversions,’ which involve converting a leader from ‘not ready’ to ‘ready now.’ If you set targets against conversions (instead of learning activity or engagement) and establish clear accountability for who is responsible for generating them, the dynamics of a leadership acceleration system change dramatically, and management becomes much more competitive (in a good way) about growing talent.

 

Accelerating Talent Growth

1: Commit: adopt acceleration as a business priority.

2: Aim: define leadership success for your business context.

3: Identify: make efficient, accurate decisions about whom to accelerate.

4: Assess: accurately evaluate readiness gaps and give great feedback.

5: Grow: make the right development happen.

6: Sustain: aggressively manufacture the energy for growth.

 

Talk about leadership context and why it matters to leadership development.

In today’s environment, business context means constant change. This means that development needs to move at the speed of change. Learning content, and the tools, support, and technology that leaders need to apply it, must be directly applicable to their most pressing challenges. They simply don’t have time or mindshare to engage in the sort of extracurricular development that traditionally characterized leadership development.

If formal learning is to make a positive business difference, it must be supported by readily available and easy-to-use tools, job aids, technology, networks, and management support. Organizing these assets isn’t rocket science, but when it’s done right, the results show it.  Decades of experience and research have generated big data that now shows convincingly that a handful of the right principles and practices make a profound difference in the outcomes of leadership development that is built to be context-specific.

 

“Leadership is not a task. it is a role.”

 

Rethink Feedback

How Women in Leadership Can Create Win-Wins

Creating Win-Wins for Companies and Women

In many companies, women are not advancing. This is despite the extensive research showing that more women in leadership positions equals higher company profits and a more competitive organization. At each level of an organization, women dwindle in numbers, leading to a lack of gender balance on top leadership teams.

 

If women make up less than 25% of an applicant pool, they are more likely to be negatively evaluated.

 

As a CEO who advocates and appreciates diversity, a new book by Joelle K. Jay and Howard Morgan intrigued me. The New Advantage: How Women in Leadership Can Create Win-Wins for Their Companies and Themselves doesn’t just talk about the challenge but also provides women ideas and tools to advance. Their research is based on interviews with hundreds of senior executives.

I recently spoke with the authors about their work in creating win-win situations for companies and women.

 

“Executive presence is the degree to which others perceive you to be a leader.” –Morgan & Jay

 

Howard J. Morgan and Joelle K. Jay, PhD, of the Leadership Research Institute (LRI) are co-authors of THE NEW ADVANTAGE:  How Women in Leadership Can Create Win-Wins for Their Companies and Themselves (Praeger / 2016).  LRI is a global consulting firm specializing in leadership and organizational development.  Morgan has worked with over 1,000 CEO and executive team members of the world’s largest organizations on improving corporate and executive performance.  Jay is an executive coach and keynote speaker and specializes in the advancement of executive women.

 

The Unique Problems Women Face in Leaders

What are some of the problems women uniquely face in the workforce?

We have worked with some of the largest organizations in the world. Based on our experience, and several major reports, companies with the highest representation of women in senior management positions are shown to perform the best. Research reports that companies with more women:

  • Are more profitable (18-69%)
  • Are more competitive (25%)
  • Are more effective because they demographically reflect the market (83%).

In balanced leadership teams of men and women, women tend to bring fresh perspectives and ideas, talent and experience, and that leads to better decision-making.

The problem is despite all of those advantages, we found they are persistently underrepresented in senior levels of leadership. Women currently hold only 4.0% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies, according to the Catalyst research organization Catalyst.

 

Research: Companies with women are up to 69% more profitable.

 

Companies Benefit When Women Are in Leadership

What are some of the advantages companies experience when more women are represented in leadership? 

Companies that attract and develop executive women gain amazing benefits related to profitability, productivity and performance. Some areas include increased revenues, greater innovation, increased employee engagement, higher productivity, better financial performance, global competitive advantage, and stronger leadership.

Companies benefit from the increased financial performance associated with a balanced leadership team, beating their competition by up to a third.

 

Research: Companies with a balanced leadership team beat the competition by up to a third.

 

What barriers do women face today?

The New AdvantageThe women we’ve spoken with and worked with report a wide range of issues. Perhaps the biggest barrier is a lack of awareness on the part of their companies about what stops women from advancing and how to increase the number of women in senior level and executive leadership positions.

There are a number of obstacles that have prevented the integration of women into the highest levels of leadership. First, change takes time. Second, few role models exist for women at the top. Third, we are still learning about the barriers that prevent women from breaking into C-level leadership. Two of the biggest breakthroughs in recent research for the advancement of women to leadership positions are executive presence and sponsorship. These have only become prevalent topics of research in recent years. And in reality, until recently the business culture has evolved around a predominance of men as leaders, and characteristics associated with successful leadership are still aligned with more masculine traits.

 

“Women who want to succeed to higher levels of leadership have to take the lead.” –Morgan & Jay

 

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