Signs of Derailment, Take Charge of Your Career & Life, Part I

Clyde C. Lowstuter
President & CEO, Robertson Lowstuter

The turmoil and churn in the executive ranks in America and abroad is constant and increasing. From Robertson Lowstuter’s experience, career longevity for executives is a startling 3 years or less. What is driving this executive turnover?  Massive downsizings, cost reductions, marketplace pressures, less tolerant Boards of Directors, changes in top leadership, widespread outsourcing, new global competition, mergers, acquisitions, strategic alliances, and focus on quarterly results.

Unwittingly, companies have communicated that executives need to take charge of their own careers and seek advancement and job security inside and outside of their current employers.


Rigorous annual check-ups will help you objectively read your career’s vital signs.  Assess your capabilities in light of your contributions, organizational support, advancement, political agility, and compensation.  Sitting in a job too long is similar to ignoring the signs of high cholesterol or sky-rocketing blood pressure; they’re ticking time-bombs.  If you are a long-service employee, consider what it would take to revitalize your career.


Instant Gratification:
There’s no denying it; we have largely become addicted to instant gratification. The notion of “paying your dues” or honing your craft and expertise over time, while gaining wisdom, is a foreign concept for many people.  Few executives are deeply committed to “walking the talk” and to mastering those skills that build accountable, collaborative, and interdependent relationships.

Sense of Entitlement:
Entitlement is related to Instant Gratification.  “Not only do I want it now, I deserve to have it.  I’m worth it, after all, I’m unique and special.”  Early in my career I got zapped from a job and company that I loved, not because I wasn’t competent, rather because I zigged and my boss zagged.  I suspect that I didn’t modify my behavior or attitude because I felt that my performance and “personal charisma” were enough.  In effect, I felt entitled.

Displaced Responsibility:
In my case, I blamed my boss for my termination.  My performance as a victim was flawless; indeed, worthy of a standing ovation.  In short order, I eventually came to the realization that I, alone, authored the script for my exit.  I am the one who was too confrontational and didn’t take responsibility for the unintended impact on my boss and others.  Once I took full accountability, I was instantly able to revitalize my world.

Interestingly, we found that many of our executive clients in transition are outraged when they are terminated.  However, with a bit of probing they admit that they did not manage their relationships with their boss, or peers, or the board well enough to gain widespread organizational endorsement.  They were upset that the company pulled the trigger before they did.  Additionally, these terminated executives also admitted that they weren’t as productive, creative, or as committed as they once were.  In essence, they had, like me, emotionally left the company, in essence, though not physically.

Shallow Thinking:
Time and time again, I have seen evidence of the fact that people do not think deeply enough about what their roadblocks and accelerants to success are.  I believe that people know when they are stalled, stuck or derailing, albeit it may be at the unconscious level.  If you have ever been in this situation, you might have known what to do (build stronger rapport with your boss, for instance), but you might not have known how to do so.

Inauthentic Leaders:
Fear is commonplace in the C-Suite. If you don’t manage how you communicate or behave toward your boss or other leaders, you could easily trigger an adverse reaction.  Change – real or perceived – will trigger an instantaneous attitudinal response of threat with the behavioral response that is defensive.  Whether you chose to fight or flee is dependent on your own attitude and the meanings that you attach to being confronted by this change.

Generally, inauthentic leaders are not known for responding well to being challenged nor are they skilled at developing others.  Certainly they do not address derailing executives very well.  On the other hand, authentic leaders love independent thinkers as they know it is the path to personal growth.  They invariably view confrontation or change as a learning opportunity.  Authentic leaders are insatiably curious and gently probe, observe, hypothesize, and reflect on what and why things transpired the way they did.

Ambiguous Leadership Climate and  Organization Culture:
By definition, when ambiguity is present, so is uncertainty.  Uncertainty leads to stress and declining performance if the stress is perceived as overwhelming.  Some people thrive in pressure-prompted environments; others are paralyzed by them.  It is essential that you identify what leadership climates and organizational cultures you thrive in.  Learn how to master yourself and the people and company dynamics in which you are employed.  If you’ve diligently applied yourself to changing, and your relationships and the conditions remain toxic, then it may be best for you to exit.  If you stay against your better judgment, or stay for the wrong reasons, you will probably dull your boldness, confidence, and inventiveness. . . and ultimately, your performance.

After observing the signs listed above to assess your career’s vital signs, what are some positive steps you can make to Take Charge of Your Career and Life?  Stay tuned for Part 2.


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