The Five Fatal Flaws That Will Impede Your Future Success

“Why was I passed over for the promotion?”

“Why do I find myself unemployed or fired again?”

“I’ve been so successful in the past. Now I feel that I’ve hit a roadblock, and I’m going nowhere.”

Those are the statements of a person who has experienced considerable success in life and in their career, but may find themselves stunted or prevented from moving on to the next step. Many of us who have experienced this career roadblock likely are completely unaware of the behaviors or attitudes that may be keeping us from succeeding in the next phase of life or our careers. The reason that we are unaware is that we often are unaware of the perceptions of others, and most people won’t tell you what they perceive unless asked (That’s the reason I am a huge advocate of 360 feedback, and I am happy to make one available to you or your team through Personal Strengths). Instead, most employers and bosses will just terminate someone they find to be difficult, or will hold back an employee that they do not feel is ready for the next professional step in their career. You may have no idea what may be holding you back, and that can be frustrating and crippling.

I was inspired by my recent read of the wonderful book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith to reflect on the five fatal behaviors that will prevent you from achieving the success that you desire. Goldsmith identifies twenty such transactional flaws, but I believe these can be grouped nicely into a list of five behaviors or attitudes that will prevent you from going from your current place of success to the next level. In many cases, these behaviors may be an expression of something that you think is your strength. In fact, your greatest strength in your eyes is often the greatest blaring weakness of yours in the eyes of others. It’s worth paying attention to those strengths and ask others how they may be helping or hurting you. Here are five other fatal flaws that will prevent you from getting ahead:

1. The need to always add your two cents, your corrections, and your “howevers” (otherwise known as “trying too hard”).

Leaders tend to be people who like to be in control, who like to influence, and who have an opinion. This is a positive strength except when those same leaders feel the need to exercise those strengths at all times with no discretion for when to offer assistance, and when to pull back to allow others freedom. One of my former colleagues was a person who loved attention, and he needed to be included, and hated being excluded. So, regardless of his involvement in a project or the perception of his role, he always butted his way into every conversation, always made sure that he was included in all discussions, always added some edit or correction, and always insisted that everything go as he envisioned it because his way was always the most professional or educated way of doing things, of course. In many cases, he was right. But people working in teams find this behavior to be annoying and stifling. Notice how many times he engaged in this behavior — always. Never with discretion for choosing his battles, or based on how others perceived his role, or whether he was asked for feedback — but always.

You can usually spot this flaw in yourself or others if you find yourself saying, writing or emailing a lot of qualifiers like “but,” “however,” and “no.” Sometimes just decide to pay a compliment without adding a “however.” It will allow others to receive your compliment with more gratitude than if you always add a “however” or qualifier anytime you pay a compliment. There isn’t always the need for your “further clarification.” Of course, most annoying is Debbie Downer who just never believes anything will work. So the next time you feel the need to add your two cents to every question, just stop. Hold your tongue. Dont’ send the email. Don’t hit “reply all.” Just let it go. You can be the expert next time, when you are asked to be.

Before adding, editing, or replying, always ask yourself: “Do I need to add this, or does the project need me to add this?” There is a big difference between the two.

2. Claiming credit that you don’t deserve, and failing to give credit to those who do deserve it. 

In his seminal book Good to Great, Jim Collins writes that one of the traits of leaders who take their organizations to the next level of success is the willingness to give credit to others rather than take it for themselves. People usually know when you deserve the credit. They know how hard you worked, and whose idea it was in the first place. Trust it. And then give credit to the people that made it happen, that you could not have done it without, and for those whose contributions exceeded more than you could have dreamed. This is an attractive quality in a person and a leader, and the need to take the credit, especially where it is not deserved, is one of the most unattractive qualities. Failing to express gratitude for what others have done is, according to Goldsmith, “the most basic form of bad manners.” Leaders who give recognition and reward on a consistent basis find themselves at the top of their organizations, and at the top of the respect and affection of those that they lead.

3. Excusing our bad behavior as “just the way I am,” or passing the back for our bad behavior to others.

Don’t be surprised if people don’t buy into your tendency to exalt faults as virtues. Being arrogant, condescending, or rude are never virtuous traits, and leaders that excuse their rants, failures to listen and arrogant dismissals based on their perception of themselves as being unable to be any other way will find themselves dismissed from the respect and support of others.

I personally experienced this when I used to excuse my tendency to be fashionably late for meetings or events as “because I’m just that way,” or “I have a lot going on, and it’s difficult for me to do it all and be here on time.” Or, when I lived in LA, the excuse was, of course, “the traffic.” It took me a long time to realize that others found this behavior to be frustrating, and ultimately selfish. Perhaps I was busy and balancing a lot on my platter. So were they. Perhaps the traffic was bad. It’s bad every day. Perhaps I do have a tendency to be late, usually because I hate to cut off conversations with people that matter to me. But regardless of the reason,the behavior was rude and annoying. I realized that I had to quit making excuses and correct the behavior. Life has been a lot less stressful since that time, and I’ve eliminated one of the things that was holding me back in the perception of others.

Another form of excuse making, and of buck passing, is to keep rehearsing the past. Perhaps you were overlooked for a promotion that you deserved. Perhaps an executive said unkind things, or did not value you the way that you valued yourself. Perhaps you were even terminated from your job. At some point, you have to let it go.

Rehearsing past hurts or offenses time and again is unattractive, and it is guaranteed to prevent others from wanting to move you forward. Deflecting blame on to people or institutions from our past is just another way of failing to take responsibility for our lives and to demonstrate our resiliency for the next opportunity. Failure happens to everyone. Those who are successful learn from it, and then move past it to welcome the future. They don’t keep reminding others of it.

4. Playing favorites, flirting at the office, and failing to see our mistreatment of others.

One of the essential traits of respected leaders is fairness, and nothing breaks down that trust by those that follow than to observe that the leader has favorites, or to see a leader mistreat an employee in a way that others see as unfair. Of course, mistreatment or discrimination based on age, sex, gender or orientation is always unwelcome and often illegal. But mistreatment moves beyond the technicalities of discrimination. Mistreatment is usually more subtle. You never listen to the person when they offer ideas. You never respond to their emails. You cut them out of meetings. You withhold information that they would find valuable. You flirt with their colleagues. You go out for happy hour with their associates but don’t include them in your invitation. After a while, the perception that you have favorites builds, and managers often are not aware of how they are perceived by those that follow them. Of course, we all have better chemistry with some than others, but professionalism requires fair leadership and fair outcomes for all who work with us as leaders.

5. The need to win in all circumstances, and the tendency to punish those who share bad news.

Every successful person has some ounce of competition and ambition embedded in their DNA, but some leaders are so competitive that they refuse to lose, and insist that they win, in every situation. Their proposal always has to be adopted. Their edit always has to be incorporated. Their design always must be the one chosen. They will do anything not to lose. We all like winners, but the problem with this behavior is that it is motivated by a personal need to win, rather than by a genuine desire that the team win. Successful leaders demonstrate their sincere desire that we all win, and they do not operate out of a neediness that requires that they win, regardless of the cost to others.

Another expression of this behavior is to punish the messenger. Great leaders value objective information, even when that information may be unwelcome or difficult to hear. Leaders with poor self esteems ignore the advice and input of others that they find inconvenient, and they may even alienate or terminate an employee who has the courage to give them the bad news as well as the good. I’ve seen political candidates lose national offices simply because of this one destructive trait alone. You promote people who tell you the truth, even if it is an inconvenient truth. You don’t punish them.

If you are like me, you may read this list and say to yourself, “I guess I probably have some of these flaws in the eyes of others, but I’ve gotten this far.” Marshall Goldsmith points out the flaw in this thinking because “what got you this far won’t get you there.” We may have been lucky or graced enough to have traveled this far in our careers despite some of these flaws. But as we progress up the career ladder, these flaws become more and more intolerable for others, and they often can be the difference between two otherwise qualified candidates for promotion. As Goldsmith writes, because of, and despite of, are two separate issues, and it’s important to know the difference.

Don’t excuse these behaviors. Don’t ignore them. Ask for feedback from others. Monitor yourself. Apologize when you make a mistake. Then stop engaging in these five fatal flaws. Your promotion may just be around the corner, and it’s never too late to be your best self.

View Marshall Goldsmith’s videos on some of these and other impediments to success.


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