After working in business for the past 25 years, not much surprises me. However one of the things that still gets me at times is how few people are aware of what their derailment factors are. If you know my work and my writing, you know that I'm well-grounded in positive psychology and have a hearty focus on what's working well and how we can amplify it. Strengths, purpose, passion, intentional career planning and all that good stuff. But I'm also a realist and there are certain things in our careers that we simply must be pragmatic about to create the kind of success we are working towards (however you define it). So when I ask people the question about what they think their derailment factors are, and I get a big blank stare, it leaves me feeling a little perplexed. And more than a little concerned.
Derailment factors are the things that can undermine your success, and potentially derail your career if you are not aware of them and don't manage them effectively. The list of possible factors could potentially be endless, but let's focus on the top twelve that are the most common ones I see, especially for professional women. In part one this week, we look at the first 6.
1. Not effectively building relationships
In any professional situation, irrespective of what you do or which stage you're at, the ability to build effective relationships is absolutely critical. It sounds so simple and obvious, but I've seen so many careers derailed because people just don't know how to do it. It can show up in different ways, some subtle or unconscious, and others, well, not so much; the inability to collaborate, being too dependent on the people around you or the opposite, working too independently, the inability to build rapport, being too self serving, or even undermining other people at work. If you can't build effective relationships, you will limit your success at some point, if you haven't already. Take a close look at the relationships you have with your colleagues, team members if you have them, boss, upline leaders, and external or internal stakeholders that matter. Where is the strength in these relationships? Where are any risks that you need to mitigate? Do you have a pattern that is showing up, that is potentially hindering your ability to build relationships that matter? Get real and get clear, and look for any derailment signs here.
2. Lack of leadership competence
I see so many women coming up through the ranks or moving from a management to a leadership position, and not being able to effectively lead. Leadership has many different components as we know. Where could you be stronger? In the ability to inspire your team, or create vision for where you are going in your business? Leading effectively by setting the direction, then getting out of your people's way and enabling them to do their job? Perhaps it's delegation that you struggle with? We often have this thought of, "I can do it. It'll be quicker for me to just do it myself." Or "My team is so busy, I don't want to burden them with more work." That may be fine in some situations, or at certain levels, but once you get into a leadership role, you have to learn how to delegate. You need to be able to set a vision for your people and enable them to get there. And you need to really understand the difference between managing your people and your work, and showing up as a true leader. Your inability to lead effectively is a derailment factor. Think about how well placed you are to do it, no matter where you might be currently sitting. It's never too early (or too late) to build your leadership capability.
3. Using behaviors that don't serve you
Are your behaviors serving you or stopping you? I've experienced this one personally, and it's an area where having the right mentors or sponsors in place to check your behavior can be career saving. At certain points in my career, mentors, sponsors or managers have pointed out to me behaviors I was exhibiting that could have absolutely been derailment factors had I not gotten a hold of them. There is an endless list of limiting behaviors you could think about, but here are a couple of common ones that get people unstuck: being abrasive, being rude, being disrespectful, being insensitive, behaving as if you are above certain pieces of work or above certain people in your organization, being short with people, focusing on the task and not the relationship. Notice I didn't add in here too aggressive, or too nice, which are complaints often aimed at women in the workplace when they show up as themselves. This is not about gender norms at work or the double bind. It's about real behaviors that can harm you. Check yourself. Which behaviors are serving you and which ones could be potentially undermining your goals and dreams for your career? Have a mentoring conversation with someone who supports you, sees the authentic you and wants to help through honest feedback. And particularly watch how you show up in times of stress and deadlines -- often it's when any derailment worthy behavior will rear its ugly head.
4. Inability or unwillingness to manage up
There's many things you have to be responsible for in a career, irrespective of whether you're in your own business with clients, in a corporate or any other form of organizational structure and regardless of level. But one of the most important factors, whether we like it or hate it, is the ability and willingness to manage up. Now, that up could be your boss. It could be your board. It could be other stakeholders within your reporting line or within your project line for what you're currently working on. But you have to know how to manage upwards, as well as outwards, downwards and everywhere else. It is absolutely a factor that can undermine your career if you can't do that effectively. Look at the relationships that you have to manage. What do each of your stakeholders need from you? What are their agendas? How are you meeting those needs through your work? How about your boss, and your boss's boss? Being crystal clear on this, and making it apparent how you are serving each of your stakeholders, is core to managing up and key to your career. You may not like that fact, but it's a reality that everyone from Sheryl Sandberg to Hillary Clinton has to deal with. At least you're in good company.
5. Making it all about the work
One of the reasons some women don't manage up effectively, don't promote and communicate our work, and don't state clearly what our next ideal role is, is because we have a thought pattern in our heads that goes something like this: "If I just do the work, the work will take care of itself, and the work will get noticed, the team will get noticed, and I will get promoted, then I'll get the bonus, I'll get the next top project, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera." Sound familiar? Unfortunately, whether we like it or not, it's just not the typical case. In very rare careers or situations the work does take care of itself, and all of those wonderful things come (you know, meritocracy, the work speaks for itself and all that good stuff, cough cough). In most situations however, it's not enough. You have to be able to communicate what you're doing, the results that you are seeing, why those results matter, and how that impacts the organization's results and goals. You don't have to be arrogant or even loud about it. Look for the openings to share the work you are doing. Seek out opportunities to present at the next management meeting. Put your head up above your computer screen and connect with people in the office, and actually talk about what you're working on and the impacts it's having. And make it clear what types of special projects, roles, assignments or hot jobs you are interested in so people are aware and can support you to get them. Bosses usually aren't mind readers. It is about the work, and it's also about much more. Don't be afraid to communicate your worth.
6. Not adapting to change
This one is pretty simple. Change is a constant. It's maybe the only constant that we have. If you're one of those people who sits in a business and digs their heels in at the slight waft of change coming on a breeze, then that is a derailment factor. You need to be very conscious of where the change is in your workplace and ask yourself these questions; how do I gear myself up to take advantage of that change? How do I help accelerate the change if that's what's required? How do I use this change to my advantage as opposed to pretending that it's not there? And what will the change mean for my role/business/team down the track? Having been previously responsible for business strategy as well as organizational culture and change in a 5 Billion dollar business, I have seen too many careers to mention be derailed because people had their heads in the sand and didn't see, acknowledge or get on board, when the wave of change came their way. Please don't be one of those people.
There are the first six things to think about when it comes to potential derailment factors for your career. In my next post I will bring you the next six factors (and there are some good ones in there I promise!)
In the meantime, have a really close look at these, and if you need some more help or support in your career, don't forget to grab your free career planning pack with video, written guide and coaching workbook for more inspiration.