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 to Recruit Rockstars

rock stars

Recruit the Best

Jeff Hyman has hired more than 3,000 people over the course of his career as a top-tier executive recruiter. Jeff’s new book, Recruit Rockstars: The 10 Step Playbook to Find the Winners and Ignite Your Business, reveals his method for landing the very best talent.

I recently spoke with Jeff about his book and work. Here are a few ideas that will help you assemble a team of rock stars.

 

“90% of business problems are actually people problems in disguise.” -Jeff Hyman

 

Recruiting Mistakes

What percentage of business problems do you attribute to recruiting mishaps?

  • 90% of business problems are actually people problems in disguise.
  • Hiring B and C Players can cause more problems than staffing these roles solve
    • They may do the job, but do they do it well? And if they don’t do it well, that’s another problem to fix.
    • B and C Players need to be micromanaged, which distracts the leader’s time from improving the company’s performance.
  • By investing in hiring Rockstars, you can take time away from micromanaging and fixing the problems of B and C Players

 

“Hiring the best is your most important task.” -Steve Jobs

 

Improve Recruiting Accuracy

The #1 Thing that Should Keep Leaders Up at Night

leaders up at night

Find the Katherines

 

Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson turns 100 years young on August 26th, 2018.

That’s right. She was born August 26, 1918. Her life has been nothing short of extraordinary. No one could have predicted her success when she born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, the youngest of four children. Her father worked various jobs at the Greenbrier Hotel. Her mother was a teacher. As a young girl, she loved to count and showed a strong interest in math. Her abilities were recognized, and she entered college at fifteen and graduated at eighteen.

Starting her career as a teacher, she later moved to work at the Langley Memorial Laboratory at NASA.

As an African American woman in the early 1950s, she began to break one barrier after another. She overcame considerable sexism and racism, distinguishing herself through her work ethic and genius in the field of analytic geometry.

Her early work led to the discovery that larger planes disrupt air currents and can cause smaller aircraft to crash long afterwards, bringing a change to flight patterns and saving lives. She famously worked on the calculations that helped bring Senator John Glenn back from the first American orbital mission.

Senator Glenn trusted her over the first IBM mainframe computers. He wouldn’t okay the mission until Katherine okayed the math.

From the moon landing to the Space Shuttle program, Katherine was there, making an impact on it all.

All this extraordinary history, and Katherine’s struggles and triumphs, is beautifully told in Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, a book by Margot Lee Shetterly. (If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, put them on your must-read and watch list! It documents a shameful period in history, but one that must be remembered. I found it incredibly inspiring to demonstrate the inherent evil, bias and prejudice we must always fight against.)

 

“The greatest talents often lie buried out of sight.” -Plautus

 

Learn from Katherine’s Extraordinary Career

So, on her 99th birthday, we can learn many lessons from her career success:

  • She learned continuously.
  • She cultivated her unique gifts.
  • She lived on the edge of her comfort zone.
  • She demonstrated courage in the face of racism and sexism.
  • She overcame others’ false, negative perceptions.
  • She trail-blazed thinking and challenged tradition.
  • She broke barriers mathematically, socially, and academically.

No wonder she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. She not only contributed to the USA’s success in space, but her courage, tenacity, and determination changed people, perceptions, and processes all along the way.

Amazing.

 

 

“Katherine knew: once you took the first step, anything was possible.” –Margot Lee Shetterly

 

The Leadership Lesson Behind the Story

But there’s something else that strikes me as I reflect on her lifetime of achievement. It’s something that, as a leader, no one tells you about in school or in classes. It’s something that, as a business leader and CEO, I ponder quite a bit.

What a Coaching Conversation Should Look Like

This is a guest post by Gregg Thompson. Gregg is the author of THE MASTER COACH:  Leading with Character, Building Connections, and Engaging in Extraordinary Conversations and President of Bluepoint Leadership Development.

(Note: in this article, Talent refers to the person being coached.)

Be A Great Coach

At the risk of sounding too idealistic, there are few things in life that are more rewarding or more meaningful than being instrumental in helping others have better lives. I often refer to coaching as a calling or mission because I believe there is something inside each of us that comes alive when we have an opportunity to be of real service to others. One of the key foundation stones upon which successful coaching is built is conversation – the dialogue you have with the people you are coaching.

But this conversation involves much more than just talking with others about their goals and dreams. As a coach, your job is to create a space in which other people will regularly have conversations that not only uncover new ideas and generate innovative solutions, but that result in entirely new attitudes and behaviors, and that forge commitments to make significant, sustained personal changes.

However, while rich dialogue can uncover new ideas and generate innovative solutions, this kind of interaction alone is not coaching. Where dialogue pursues new ideas, coaching pursues entirely new attitudes and behaviors. Dialogue is the talk; coaching is the walk. How many conversations do you have during an average day? How many of them really matter? The great coach understands why some conversations matter and some conversations do not. Most on-the-job conversations involve the exchange of information, instructions, advice, and opinions and have relatively predictable outcomes. While these conversations are quite suitable for normal business transactions, they are quite ineffectual in the coaching process.

 

“A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.” -John Wooden

 

Elements of a Great Coaching Conversation

Become a Master Coach

Unlock the Talent in Your Team

When I think about a great leader, I inevitably think about someone who is a great coach, understanding my weaknesses, but helping me play to my strengths. From John Wooden to my favorite manager, a coach is someone who unlocks talent.

Gregg Thompson wants to help leaders throughout organizations become great coaches. THE MASTER COACH:  Leading with Character, Building Connections, and Engaging in Extraordinary Conversations is his new book, written to help make coaching the part of your culture. He’s the President of Bluepoint Leadership Development and has coached senior leaders in many Fortune 100 companies. I recently talked with Gregg about becoming a master coach.

 

Share with us the Gregg Thompson definition of a master coach.

A Master Coach is someone who, through their conversations, helps others accelerate their learning and increase their performance. The Master Coach is not an advisor but, rather, a catalyst for sustained personal change in individuals. The Master Coach is a positive and creative force that challenges the person being coached to move from intention to action and holds the person accountable to do that. The Master Coach has highly-tuned interpersonal skills but is much more recognizable by who they are rather than what they do. They are men and women of exceptional integrity, sincere humility, noble intention, and a high degree of emotional intelligence. They take people into uncharted territories, challenge them to consider new perspectives, and help them plot significantly more fruitful paths forward.

 

“The Master Coach is a catalyst for sustained personal change in individuals.” -Gregg Thompson

 

Become a Great Coach

What do people get wrong when they think of a great coach?

People often think of the great coach as someone with the expertise and experience to provide great advice and sage wisdom. While occasionally coaches will have valuable perspectives and insights to share with those they coach, this is not their prime role. Their prime role is to help others find their best answers, solutions, and action plans. Some people also make the assumption that a coach is a counselor. Coaching and counseling, both powerful processes that can help to improve lives, are deeply different. Coaching is dedicating time and attention to help the person being coached to be the best version of themselves going forward while counseling usually involves resolving past difficulties and issues.

 

“The primary role of a coach is to help others find their best answers, solutions, and action plans.” -Gregg Thompson

 

What’s the difference between a coach and a mentor? 

A mentor can function in a coach-like manner, but their role is more of a career advisor than a coach. The mentor is usually someone with deep knowledge and expertise in a particular field and uses this to help more junior individuals accelerate their development and career growth.  Coaching, on the other hand, requires no expertise in the discipline of the person being coached. In short, anyone can coach anyone.

 

“Leadership happens one conversation at a time.” -Gregg Thompson

 

7 Characteristics of a Coaching Culture