Want to Succeed in Your Career?
BY Mark Goulston
Get out of your own way. Here are eight sure-fire steps.
People who have an addiction problem with drugs or alcohol have a much greater chance of success in beating the habit when they recognize, admit, accept and correct their self-defeating behavior. You can’t move forward or achieve your goals if you become sidetracked by self-defeating behavior.
Repetitive behaviors that block your efforts to accomplish your long-term objectives are self-defeating. And, while you’re losing your competitive edge by always meeting challenges in a self-defeating fashion, your competition confronts and masters stressful situations head-on.
Here are common behaviors that may not be as self-destructive as an addiction, but are every bit as self-defeating if you don’t overcome them:
A perfectionist graphic designer kept turning his work in late, not appreciating that his timeliness was every bit as important as the quality of his work product. One person’s work sometimes cannot begin until someone else gets his or her job done first. If you’re always late on completing things, people stop relying on you, start resenting you and begin to bypass you.
2. Not preparing well enough.
The belief that what you want to sell is what people want to buy is a sure road to disaster unless you’ve thoroughly researched the market. A well-made buggy whip is a thing of beauty and it sure is nice to hang in your den. Just don’t hang your hat on it if your customers don’t share your love for a horse and carriage.
3. Not following through.
A manager of a moderately successful fitness club told me he no longer goes to seminars on managing. He said that the information is always great, but implementing the suggestions and trying to convert his employees to the new approach seldom works. If something new is important enough to learn, it’s important enough to schedule company time to devote to the purpose of planning how to implement it.
4. Not learning from your mistakes.
It’s not that successful people make fewer mistakes than unsuccessful people — they repeat fewer mistakes. Truth be told, we learn more from mistakes than from our successes, and it’s a shame to miss out on this valuable education by not owning up to your errors. Unfortunately, you need to admit you have made a mistake before you can learn from it.
5. Being competent, but uncharming.
Know-it-alls who don’t know what they’re talking about are jerks; know-it-alls who do know what they’re talking about are merely asses. As people get older, they prefer to deal with capable but affable people rather than the brilliant but obnoxious. One of the brightest management consultants I know was resentful that his poor interpersonal skills had cost him so much success. He kept ranting and raving: “Judge me by my results, not by my bedside manner. I’m not one of those brown-nosing game-players.” He missed the point that charm is about putting people at ease, not about being phony and obsequious. He also missed the boat when it came to the success his competence and talent truly did deserve.
6. Saying yes when you want to say no.
If you sacrifice respect in order to be liked by saying yes all the time, you won’t be respected or liked. It’s difficult to continue to like someone when you lose respect for him or her. At times, commanding respect starts with saying no to something with whom you disagree, and then being flexible enough to work through the issue together. I know a headhunter who says “no” to prospective job applicants because finding out how they respond to “no” reveals much about their ability to cooperate and be a team player.
7. Having unrealistic expectations.
When you confuse what is reasonable with what is realistic, you set yourself up to fail. It’s reasonable to re-engineer your business; it’s unrealistic to do so all at once. A stationery supply store in Los Angeles decided to revamp its sales, operations and compensation policies (all of which were in need of modification) at the same time. In six months, it filed for Chapter 11.
8. Getting involved with the wrong people.
A “nice guy” chief executive of a hardware chain hired a chief operating officer he thought was strong and tough. His grave error was to confuse stubbornness and rigidity for strength. By the time the timid CEO galvanized enough courage to remove the difficult COO, it cost him several valued employees. Yes, there are bad people in the world. If you keep giving them the benefit of the doubt, you’ll be the one who has to clean up the mess.
Mark Goulston, M.D., heads the executive coaching and teambuilding practices at Sherwood Partners, and is the author of Get Out Of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior (Perigee Books). Contact Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.