Avoid Derailing Your Own Career

By Dori Meinert Oct 12, 2015
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SAN ANTONIO—You were once rising quickly up the career ladder, but now seem stuck. While it might be tempting to blame others, it’s possible that you’re derailing your own career.

“Sometimes we limit our own success,” consultant Carlann Fergusson told attendees of the Society for Human Resource Management’s Emerging LEAD(HR) Conference on Oct. 9, 2015.

When determining who to invite to apply for a high-potential program, company leaders note that most employees usually have similar levels of knowledge, skills and experience. What distinguishes high-potential candidates is their behavior, said Fergusson. She spent 30 years in HR, including time as senior global director for organizational and leadership development. She’s now chief executive officer of Propel Forward, a consultancy based in Indian Harbour Beach, Fla.

The candidates who stand out have zeal, she said. “It’s that energy that someone brings,” she said.

Unfortunately, those who aren’t chosen seldom find out why. Corporate leaders often avoid the uncomfortable conversations or fear legal risk in having them. So it’s up the employee to seek out constructive criticism and use it for self-examination, she said.

For example, think of a word that you would hate to be called, such as manipulative, careless, pessimistic or untrustworthy. Often the very traits that we abhor in others are the traits we don’t like about ourselves, she said.

“What we don’t like about ourselves, we project on others,” she said. When you point a finger at someone else, “there are three fingers pointing back at you.”

Another way to detect self-defeating behaviors is to compare yourself to the TV character the Incredible Hulk. You have this incredible strength, which is a gift, but it can be destructive when it’s out of control. So, ask yourself: What is your overused gift?

If your strength is in If your strength is in If your strength is in critical evaluation, you can appear overly negative and find yourself invited to fewer meetings. “You don’t have to point out all the flaws in a plan at the outset,” she said. “You can ask questions to let others discover the problems.”

Many great leaders are born out of adversity. What difficult life challenges caused you to develop your overused strength? Understand how the trait helped you through that difficult period of your life, but realize that it’s no longer helping you, she said.

Three mistakes that many high-potentials make include:

  • Believing that their work speaks for itself. You must be willing to put yourself out there.
  • Staying immersed in their work. Again, you won’t be noticed if you stay hidden away at your desk.
  • Keeping their desires secret. Don’t be afraid to let someone know you’re interested in that new role.

Fergusson said she has worked with many leaders who have lost their passion in this age of “doing more with less.” She suggests raising your energy levels by hanging around positive people and eating and sleeping well.

Each day, make a mental list of the things for which you are grateful.

“Love and thankfulness are the highest energy creators,” she said.

Dori Meinert is senior writer/editor for HR Magazine.

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