Tag Archives: Derailment

Think Your Job Is Secure? Think Again. PLEASE.

Recruitment or Employment Issues Chalk Drawing

Think They Can’t Do Without You?

There are lots of reasons that we think we are indispensable at work.  We know more than anyone else.  We’ve been there longer.  We have a close interdependent relationship with the boss.  We’re way better than others who have been there forever.  Whatever it is that you think about why you are indispensable, you are wrong.  NO ONE is indispensable, not even you.  Think about it:

  • The boss who thinks you are the best thing since sliced bread could be gone tomorrow.  It is unlikely that the new boss will instantly see your worth and if you were a favorite, it is likely that your peers aren’t feeling all that warm and fuzzy about you.
  • You might have been the best of the best at one time, but does that still apply?
  • How expensive are you?  Are there new people (maybe straight out of school with more developed technical skills?) who are as good or almost as good?
  • Do your peers sing your praises?  Or do they try to scuttle your high horse?
  • Have you consistently over delivered incredible results . . . except for the last 6 months-or even worse-the last year?
  • Is the organization shifting its priorities away from your area of expertise?
  • Do you have a reputation of being negative? Or a diva? Or high maintenance?

They CAN Do Without You!

There are all kinds of reasons that organizations decide to part company with people.  SO MANY of those people are shocked because in their own eyes and mind they were indispensable.  The water closes over you head as you leave with barely a ripple.  People remember you and speak of you occasionally, BUT THEY GO ON WITH THEIR JOB.  They figure out workarounds to close the gap left in your absence.  And those gaps close pretty quickly.

So Why Am I Telling You This?

I’m telling you this so that you will come out of your delusion and will do what it takes to either prevent this situation or be able to deal with it if it happens.  I’m telling you this to get your attention before you find yourself on the outside looking in with total disbelief.

Do you remember what it was like when you started your first job, or your latest new job?  Do you remember how focused you were on understanding everything you needed to know.  Do you remember how careful you were in understanding what your boss wanted and in trying to deliver it?  Do you remember how much you tried to understand the unwritten rules of your organization? If you can re-achieve that heightened level of awareness and attentiveness, then you are much more likely not to take your situation for granted.  You are much more likely to escape being marginalized and finding yourself out the door.

What Should You Do?

Every week (yes, EVERY week):

  • Remind yourself to treat your boss the way you did in your first week in this job
  • Remind yourself that your peers can take you out faster than your boss. How are you helping them?  How do they perceive you?  What can you do to further their agendas?
  • Do something to build your network, both inside and outside the organization.  Who at the top of the organization outside your own management chain knows you?  Who do you know at other organizations that interest you?
  • Keep your skills current.  Get certificates.  Go to school.  Know the latest technology. Stay up to date on what is going on in your industry/field.
  • Ask yourself what you’ve done to add value THIS week.

And maybe then you’ll be indispensable:-)


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Filed under Bosses, Career Development, Derailment, Executive Development, Networking, Personal Change, Recession Proof, Reframe

Are They Discriminating Against You? Probably.



Not only is it likely that someone (or several someones) are discriminating against you, it is also likely that you are discriminating against someone (or several someones).  It is human nature that we like/trust/believe in/select those who are like us more than those who are different from us.  So . . . Europeans choose Europeans, Americans choose Americans, young people choose young people.  Then there is the problem of stereotypes.  We believe them–without even being aware of them for the most part.  We believe that ‘old’ people aren’t as capable as people our age. We believe that young people aren’t ambitious (at least the latest generation).  Asian people are smart at math.  Women aren’t ambitious because they’re going to go have babies. White men are more ambitious than black men.  And on and on and on.  These stereotypes cause us to discriminate, sometimes without our even being aware of it.  Stereotypes are as  wrong as they are right.  In fact, those of us who are the subject of the stereotypes usually believe they are wrong–period.  I say all of this to acknowledge that discrimination is alive and well in all of our behaviors.   I’m not in any way defending it, just acknowledging it.

So what?

There are laws against discrimination.  There are rules against discrimination.  There are lots of reasons for all of us to struggle against discrimination by others and ourselves.  There are people whose whole existence is focused on the struggle against discrimination.

Can you wait?  Can you wait until everyone stops discriminating against you?  I can’t.  I think it’s time to take the battle on directly.  I think it’s time to work around/through/over and under discrimination.  Just because the decision makers at your organization think you are too old or too young, that doesn’t mean that that is the case at other organizations.  You have a responsibility to yourself to find a place to work that values you for who you are and what you bring to the table.  You need to find a way to make a living that values who and what  you are.

I talk to people who are absolutely sure that they are being discriminated against.  That makes them feel like there is nothing that they can do about it.  They are the age they are.  They are born black or Hispanic or Asian or female, and nothing can change that. True.  There are places, organizations, friends, decision makers, and opportunities where it doesn’t matter.  Go find them.  You are not sentenced to the status quo.  You choose it.

Do something different.

You are not stuck.  When you graduated from high school you didn’t think about this the way you do now (unless, of course, you just graduated from high school).  Life and your experiences have made you believe that people are discriminating against you.  Wipe all that experience off your radar and ASSUME that someone out there can and will believe in you and what you can do.  Go FIND them!  Where are they?  Make people prove that they don’t believe in you instead of assuming that they don’t.  To be clear, I’m not saying they AREN’T discriminating.  I’m saying, don’t let that rule your life.  Go work someplace else.  Go work for a different boss.  Find a way to make a living (including working for yourself) that doesn’t let those who discriminate against you prevent you from doing/being/having what you deserve.  I know that it might be hard.  I know that it would be a lot easier for all of us if discrimination wasn’t a factor.  Don’t let it prevent you from living your life, making a living, being successful.

And then focus on your own discriminatory behavior.

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Filed under Derailment, Diversity, Executive Development, Inclusion, Job Hunt, New Job

Who Are You And How Did You Get That Way?

In the mirror

Understand Yourself

One of the most important tasks of becoming a great leader and a successful Executive (and those things are not necessarily the same thing) is to REALLY understand yourself.  You need to understand what makes you tick–what motivates you, what slows you down, what scares you and what gets in your way.  You need to understand how others see you.  You also need to understand that what goes on in your head is absolutely invisible to those around you.  They don’t know why you do what you do and they certainly don’t know what you are thinking.  You need to understand your strengths and your weaknesses, your learning style and your interpersonal style.  And then you need to show enough of your internal workings and motivations to help others understand you.

We all think we know ourselves.  We are mostly wrong.  That is why it is really good to get feedback from others.  I highly recommend getting 360 assessments done–pretty regularly.  These are assessments that get feedback from you, your boss and your subordinates.  When you look at your opinion of yourself against that of your boss and your subordinates, you frequently get a surprise.   If your boss doesn’t agree with your opinion of yourself, then it’s important to note the differences.  If your subordinates don’t agree with you and your boss about your strengths–another important factor.  These instruments just measure behaviors, though–what can actually be seen.  When you get feedback that indicates behaviors that can derail your career, it is important that you CHANGE that behavior.  It is possible for you to change your behavior without understanding how and why you do what you do.  You just change.  Right?  Most of us can’t do that.

The Why of Your Behavior

When I identify that I need to change a behavior–interpersonal interactions, eating, exercising, time management–it really helps me to understand WHY I do (or don’t do) what I do.  For example, I used to get feedback that I was “unreadable.”  As I tried to figure out why people thought that, I also tried to figure out WHY I was unreadable.  What did they mean that I was unreadable?  I started asking people (not the one’s who had given the feedback, but others):  “What does it mean when people say I’m unreadable?  Why do they care? What could I do differently?”  The answers surprised me.  It turns out that I used few happy facial expressions.  I wasn’t aware of this.  Whether I was happy, pissed or someplace in between, I was using the same facial expressions. I had very neutral (or so I thought) facial expressions.   I really wasn’t aware of this.  When I thought long and hard about it,  I realized that some things had happened in my childhood that made me very guarded about my thoughts and feelings.  OK.  That was legitimate.  Then.  Those things no longer existed.  And not only that, it was interfering with my effectiveness as a leader because when left to their own imagination, people frequently assume the worse (that I’m pissed AT THEM).  I was able to (deliberately) change this because I was made aware of it, I asked about it to understand it, and then I could persuade myself that the coping behavior from my childhood was no longer necessary.  I was able to change more easily with this realization.

Some of the things that can impact the way your are and can shape your behaviors as a leader are:

  • Your birth order and your relationships with your siblings
  • Your relationships with your parents
  • Your beliefs about how things work (your mental models)
  • Your beliefs about the “rules” of organizations
  • What you believe about hierarchy and how that fits with your organization, your boss and your subordinates
  • Your beliefs about what makes people tick (Theory X, Theory Y)
  • What you believe about people’s responsibility to the organization and the organization’s responsibility to people

Start With Feedback

It all starts with feedback, though.  You can’t know what behaviors are really working and not working unless people tell you.  They probably won’t tell you unless you ask them.  Once you know the behaviors that you should address, think long and hard about where those behaviors come from.  Then do something about it.

Then Change

Sooner rather than later.


Filed under Career Development, Career Goals, Derailment, Executive Development, Feedback, Personal Change

Are You Stuck?

Image converted using ifftoany

Have you noticed that you’re not moving up in your organization any more?  Have your last couple of job changes been laterals?  Have your last couple of reviews been ho-hum? Are you starting to get the message that you’re stuck in your career trajectory?  There are some common causes and, believe it or not, some things that YOU can do about it.

Are You Bored?

Do you find yourself finding other things to do (other than your job) at work?  Are you consistently late for work and early to leave? Do you think you can do your job in your sleep? Have you done it and done it and done it and don’t want to do it anymore? Do you remember when you were challenged by the tasks of your job, but that was a long time ago?  Boredom is a common cause of burnout and demotivation in a job.  And it shows.  You may be the most experienced, the one with the longest tenure, but if you aren’t engaged with your job, it shows.  People who aren’t engaged don’t get promoted.  People who are bored are obvious about being bored.  People who are bored don’t get promoted.

Are You Under-Performing?

Have you noticed that people are passing you up?  Are they getting promoted (or appreciated and recognized) when you sit there like chopped liver?  This is the time to be really honest with yourself.  Are you really performing as well as them?  I know you’ve been telling yourself that you are, but are you really?  Are you making deadlines?  Are you over-delivering?  Are you looking for ways to improve what you do?  Are you looking at what you boss (and her boss) needs and trying to figure out how to get that done in addition to what you’re supposed to work on?  If your peers are over-performing, then you aren’t making the cut if you are merely performing.

Do You Have an “Attitude”?  That Shows?

Are you pissed?  Are you aware that you’ve been treated unfairly, badly, been ‘wronged’?  If so it shows.  No matter how much you try to keep it under wraps, it shows.  If it shows, people back off from you.  They can ‘feel’ your anger.  They certainly don’t promote angry people-even people who are out-performing others.

Are You Falling Behind?

We are constantly barraged by new systems, new tools, new processes at work.  Are you up-to-date on all of them?  Even the ones that you don’t need to use very often?  These tools, systems and processes change the way our minds work.  If you’re not keeping up, then you mind is not in sync with your co-workers’ minds.  Or your bosses.  People who can’t do the latest systems and tools rationalize it–I can do the same thing–the old way.  That may be true.  For a while.  Then others can take it to the next level and then the level beyond that.  And you can’t go there with the old way.  You may not even know what you can’t do if you don’t understand the new way.  Think about the things that you don’t do.  Texting?  Excel Pivot tables? Macs? Photoshop? Prezi? Dropbox?  Get with it. Do it.  Keep up.

Are You Being Rigid?

This is somewhat related to the item above, but that is more about tools and systems.  This is more about the way you think.  Are you open to new ideas?  I do organizational change management for major organizational changes.  I do a lot of ‘readiness’ workshops.  I see the rigid ones.  They are hard to get to the sessions.  They sit in the back and glare.  They bring up all the ways/reasons/causes that this won’t work.  My personal favorite, “We tried this before.”  Everyone resists some changes–that is completely normal.  If you resist all changes, if you are the one who knows all the ways and reasons this won’t work, then you aren’t fun to have around.  You certainly aren’t likely to be promoted.

Are You Not A Good Fit For Your Organization Anymore?

Organizations change.  People change.  Just like with marriages, sometimes you’ve grown apart.  Sometimes it’s time to move on.  The hard part is knowing when.  I used to work for an organization that was fairly small when I started and very large when I left.  It was a midwestern company when I started and an European conglomerate when I left.  It had one kind of product when I started and lots of kinds of products when I left.  Over the course of time from when I started and when I left there was an ebb and flow to the ‘fit’ for me.  Some management changes made it worse and some made it better.  Some positions were good fits for me and some were lousy.  In the end, it was me who had changed the most.  It was me who figured out what I liked about the work I had done for this company and figured out that I could find more of that kind of work as a consultant than as an employee at that company. It was a gradual evolutionary change in the relationship.  It happens.  It takes considerable thought and analysis to figure out whether it is a normal ebb and flow in the relationship or time to move on.  When it is time, either for you or the organization, then it isn’t likely that you will keep moving up.

What Do You Do?

Even if you decide that the fit isn’t right, there are things you can do in the mean time.  You have to really be honest with yourself.

  • If you’re bored, figure out how you can start to out-perform your peers.
  • Figure out how you can over-deliver.  Figure out how, in addition to your normal responsibilities, how to deliver something that your boss really needs.
  • If you’re angry, get some professional help to understand where it is coming from and to decide what to do about it.
  • If you are behind on the technology or systems or processes in your organization, then dedicate yourself to catching up and becoming an expert.
  • If you’re rigid, start to experiment with loosening up.  If you find yourself having a negative reaction to an idea, explore–privately at first–what would actually be the worst thing that could happen if the event took place.  Little steps can take you a long way to letting go of your rigidity.  Once you’re comfortable with letting go a little, then start to be more vocal about that openness.
  • If you are not a good fit for your organization, figure out why not, what you need in an organization and then GO FIND IT.
  • Any and all of these will relieve your boredom.  When you are experimenting with new behavior and thinking, it is really hard to be bored.

When your boss and peers see changes in you, it is highly likely that your upward trajectory will restart.

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Filed under Career Development, Career Goals, Derailment, Personal Change, Success, Uncategorized

Take Feedback, Especially Bad Feedback, As a Gift

My “Bad” Feedback

I remember the first time that feedback got my attention.  It didn’t get enough attention, but I kept thinking about it—for a really long time.  My mentor told me, “Well, you didn’t get where you are on your looks or your charm, but on your hard work.”  I took it as a compliment.  And it was, but there was a message underneath that I ignored.  The next time that I got feedback that I should have paid more attention to was a couple of years later, when my CEO said, “You should smile more.”  My reaction was that smiling or not smiling didn’t affect the quality of my work—which in my opinion was quite good.    Let me run that by you again.  My CEO told me that I should smile more and I felt completely justified in totally ignoring his feedback.   Not only could I not see the connection between the quality of my work and how I came across to people (by not smiling), I didn’t even get how ridiculous it was that I was ignoring feedback from my CEO!  Looking back on it, I’m surprised he didn’t fire me on the spot.

Even More “Bad” Feedback

My company had a process that it called “New Manager Assimilation,” that was an onboarding process for new managers.  I moved around the organization quite a bit (usually being selected to go “fix” an organization with process redesign and continuous improvement), and therefore, I went through new Manager Assimilation several times.  I got the same feedback, over and over.  My new employees had difficulty reading me and wanted to know more of what was going through my head.  Again, my reaction was that it wasn’t necessary for them to “read” me.  From my perspective, what they saw was what they got.  I told them that I had 2 speeds: neutral or pissed.  It was clear when I pissed, so they could assume if I wasn’t then everything was OK.  I really thought I was providing them helpful information about me.  In one of my organizations, my direct reports got together and gave me the top knob on a gear shift and told me that they wanted more speeds.  I FINALLY got it.  My failure to be openly expressive made it difficult to work for me.  What was going on in my head was so different from that.  Everything was OK.  I wasn’t mad or unhappy unless I expressed that.  What was in my head didn’t count AT ALL.  People needed me to smile and have open expressions to be comfortable around me.   People assumed the worse when they couldn’t read me.

I heard variations on a theme—lack of charm, smile more, unreadable—repeatedly.  I discounted it.  I didn’t believe it.  I looked at it from inside my head—from my perspective—rather than from the perspective of the people who were giving it.  So I didn’t act on it, until they got my attention with a symbol.  Once I “got” it,  I started acting on it immediately.  It took me a long time, but I finally figured out how to be more openly expressive.  And my job got a lot easier.  I became much more effective.  I got promotions (and raises  :-)).

Feedback is a GiftFeedback as a Gift

Chances are really good that you’ve gotten feedback that is equally important.  Chances are that you discounted it the way I did.  “It doesn’t really matter.”  “It isn’t important in getting my job done.”  OR “I couldn’t get my job done if I weren’t like that/didn’t do that.  You may think that the people who count don’t think that or that the good things you do outweigh the negatives.  This last is probably true.  Until it isn’t true.  At a certain point in your career, the things that have been tolerated become too important/irritating/in-the-way to be tolerated any longer.

This feedback is a gift.  Do yourself a favor.  “Get” that it is a gift earlier than I did.  Remember that the perception of others regarding your performance is probably more important (and probably more accurate) than your own opinion.  Sure you have to be confident and believe in yourself.  BUT you also have to be open to feedback and able to change your behavior to be more effective.

What Do You Do?

First, think about the patterns.  What have you heard repeatedly?  Think about why it keeps coming up.  Think also about what your reaction is to the feedback.  If you blow it off or make excuses about it, pay especially close attention to that.

Second, think about what you would do if it is accurate and you need to change.  Even if you don’t think it’s important or accurate—what would you do.  What would you change? How would you change?  Try little changes (they’re easier).  Experiment.

Finally, get more feedback.  Ask people you trust about their opinion.  Don’t ask them if it’s important or right; ask them if they can see why people say what they do.  Have them explain it to you.  DO NOT ARGUE!!! Feedback is a GIFT!   When someone gives you a gift you don’t tell them why blue is the wrong color.  You thank them.  Ask questions.  Make yourself pay attention and stop thinking about why it’s wrong.

Then go away and think about it.  Repeat the second step above.  Then repeat again.


Filed under Career Development, Communication, Derailment, Personal Change

Are You On Your Way to Failure?


Executive coaches call it “derailment.”  Derailment happens when the organization has made an assessment of you that basically takes you off the planned (yours or the organization’s) trajectory of your career.  Derailment is usually talked about from the perspective of the organization–you’re not living up to expectations.  From your perspective, you feel that you’re stuck.  You are not moving up anymore.  The new jobs, promotions, or opportunities have dried up.  This might take a while to notice.  It usually is noticed by the organization much sooner than you notice it.

Evidence of Being “Stuck”

The evidence is easy to miss at first.  The  way most people notice it is that things are just not going the way they used to go.  It’s longer between promotions.  Someone else is asked to do the special project (or in some organizations, you are the ONLY one asked to do the special projects.)  Your boss doesn’t ask your opinion as much.  You feel shunted aside.

Being Able to See That You’re Stuck is a Lucky Break

Ironically, one of the things most likely to cause you to get off your career track is what has helped you succeed so far.  In other words, as you move up levels in organizations, your strengths become weaknesses.  Just like the things that worked for you in 5th grade, didn’t work for you in high school;  the things that make you an outstanding individual contributor don’t make you a great team leader. If you are highly technical or detail oriented, and you’ve been praised for your tactical implementations, the next level may require you to let go of some of the details and to see the big picture.  If you have been a heads down technology star and got promoted to be a manager, you need to pull your head up and learn how to deal with interpersonal issues.  If you have always been the smartest one in the room, but a little abrasive, and you suddenly are leading a team, that abrasiveness will cause you real problems.   If you are the boss’ favorite and suddenly that boss is gone, you’re in trouble.

The sooner you see that there is an issue, the sooner you can start working on it and the sooner you can get back on track.  It’s possible to re-energize your career, even at the same company.  The first step is to understand what it is that is in your way.

Most Common Causes of Derailment

Lois Frankel lists common reasons for derailment in her book, Overcoming Your Strengths, Harmony Books (New York 1997):

  • Poor People Skills
  • Inability to Work As Part of a Team
  • Inattention to Image and Communication Style
  • Insensitive to One’s Effect on Others
  • Difficulty Working with Others
  • Too Broad or Too Narrow a Vision
  • Lack of Concern for Customer or Client  Needs
  • Works in Isolation.

The Center for Creative Leadership includes others based on their research:

  • Too loyal to a boss or organization
  • Too personable–relies on relationships to get things done
  • Inability to adapt
  • Failure to deliver results

But None of Those Are True of Me

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to admit any of those are true of me.  The easiest way to be able to see the “off-ness” of your behavior is to frame your observations as if you just started this job, instead of finishing up your 15th year with the organization.  When you are new to an organization, you are MUCH more open to reading the signs that people are putting out.  You are much more able to assess your performance in the eyes of the people who matter.

If you feel “stuck,” start paying attention to how you interact with the organization.  Ask someone you trust to tell you the truth.  (Remember telling the truth in this situation is very hard).  Listen, and thank the person.  Then leave.  Don’t get defensive.  Don’t debate.  Leave.  Think about it.  The person might not be right, but s/he is giving you important information–a perception about you.  You know they say perception is reality.  You can’t deal with it if you don’t know it.  You need to spend some time thinking about it.  And maybe getting some more feedback.  And maybe observing yourself in the organization as if you were a new employee.

Expect Emotions

This is not easy.  Expect to be unhappy about it.  That’s ok.  Give it some time.  It’s better to feel it now than when they fire you.  You’ll get over it.  Once you can be more rational about it, figure out what you are going to do about it.

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Filed under Career Development, Derailment, Executive Development, Personal Change

Get Ready to Lose Your Job

I hope you never need this advice. Chances are good, though, that you will–even if you are a high potential, can’t-do-anything-wrong super dooper employee. Most of us end up out on the job hunt street in our career.

The number one thing that you can work on right now to prepare for that day is to build your network. When clients end up on my coaching doorstep after a recent job loss, their number one regret is that they didn’t keep their network current. Ask yourself: if you lost your job next Monday, how many people in your network are familiar enough with what you do to be able to start referring you for job leads immediately? How many of them would want to? How many of them have you had contact with in the last month? year? five years? How many of them do you have current contact info on? When someone starts a job search, it usually takes months to rebuild a network. Months! How can I get your attention about this?

Yeah, I know. You don’t have time. You have to do (keep) your current job, take the kids to soccer, re-do the house.
If you lost your job, you would find the time. And you would wish you had done it sooner.

So what do you do? Start with two things:

1) Join, attend and volunteer for the appropriate professional groups. The people who do jobs like yours belong to these groups. They are also the first to know of the job openings in their own companies. There is a reason that the leadership of these professional groups (PMI, SHRM, ASTD) move easily from company to company. They know people.

2) Join/update/participate in LinkedIn. LinkedIn is becoming the largest recruiting tool in many professions. Join groups that interest you. Post answers/questions when appropriate (but don’t spam people with it).  Set your LinkedIn account up so that you get an email update of changes in your network.  Reach out to those who have had a change.  It doesn’t take much time, but it keeps that contact warm.  Post things of interest periodically.

Approximately 75% of jobs are landed through knowing someone who has some connection to the job (in the same company, referral, etc). 75%!  Make sure you are ready if you ever need it.

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Filed under Executive Development, Job Hunt, Networking