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.

Leadership from the Inside Out

Grow the Whole Person to Grow the Whole Leader

I first read Leadership From the Inside Out years ago. It is one of the books that helps build a foundation of knowledge for leaders. That’s why I was excited to see that it is now out in a new version with updated chapters, new case studies and stories, and even more practical exercises to help everyone achieve their leadership potential.

Author Kevin Cashman is the Global Leader of CEO & Executive Development at Korn Ferry. He has advised thousands of senior leaders across almost every industry.

We recently talked about his updated book and his leadership views.

 

“While spreadsheets are the language of management information, stories are the language of leadership inspiration.” -Kevin Cashman

 

You’re just out with a new version of Leadership From the Inside Out, a classic must-read in leadership circles. What prompted you to update it, and what’s new?

Well, thank you for endorsing it as a “must-read.”  It has been humbling and fulfilling to witness the success of each edition. Twenty years ago, when the first edition came out, it was one of the first books to deeply connect personal growth to leadership effectiveness using timeless, enduring principles of human development. We had been seeing how this “grow the whole person to grow the whole leader” approach resonated in our practice with CEOs, CEO successors and executives, but at that time, there was little or no research on these principles—authenticity, self-awareness, courage, character, purpose—and their impact on results. We did the second edition in 2008 to share new stories and case studies, but also to share some of the mounting research from independent sources that was catching up with what we were seeing in the trenches. For this third edition, we felt compelled to share more abundant recent research, including a study that directly connects top leader self-awareness with organizational financial performance, a study on the results of purpose-driven leadership’s significant impact on financial growth, and more. The book is still framed in areas of mastery, but we’ve added Story Mastery and Coaching Mastery, both taking leaders to deeper levels of awareness to enhance their influence and multiply it. We updated stories and case studies and added and revised exercises and practices to sharpen relevance. This third edition is an even deeper, integrative growth experience.

 

“The Character-driven leader tends to emphasize service over self.” -Kevin Cashman

 

Why Character is Central to Leadership

I’m a passionate believer in character, and your book was early to focus on this aspect of leadership. Would you comment on the centrality of character?

Leading in Character is foundational, or to use your word, “central” to Personal Mastery, which is the ongoing growth of authenticity, courage, and influence that has enduring value. It is at the heart of transformative impact and servant leadership. Both Character and Coping are present in most leadership situations. However, we need to ask ourselves, “Which one is my master, and which one is my servant?”  When we are self-aware and make Character the master of our leadership and Coping the servant, we move toward better relationships with team members, customers, employees, all our stakeholders and the greater marketplace. And, we create more sustainable value. As leaders, it is essential to learn how to build our awareness of when we are being guided by Character and when we are being pushed by Coping. One CEO we worked with in our Chief Executive Institute told us that learning how to pause to make sure that values are on the table and that she and her team were leading with character has really stayed with her and been significant. She developed a systematic process of asking her team for their expert opinions, probing them to explain how they came to that opinion and whatever concerns they had. She explained that when a problem or a crisis comes along “stepping through it is grounding and everyone has the same fact base. It encourages synthesis and congruence with values.” That’s leading with Character and Authenticity.

 

“Purpose elevates teams to move from short-term success to long-term significance.” -Kevin Cashman

 

Meditation and Leadership