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Career Limiting Habits

| October 4, 2016

by Jim Bruce

Do You Have One?

Career limiting habits (CLHs) are habits, repeated behaviors that keep us from greater success or enjoyment in our careers.  And, really, in all aspects of our life.  Research has shown that most of us are aware of our career limiting habits but have not made much progress in addressing them.  Why?  Partly because it is really hard, partly because we don’t understand the cause, and partly because the cure we select doesn’t address the real cause.
A few years ago, VitalSmarts Research, a training and leadership development consultancy focusing on human behavior, found, in a survey of some 1000 employees, that 97% of them had a CLH.  The majority of managers of these individuals were pessimistic about the likelihood of their employees changing.  They believe that only 10-20% of their employees would actually make significant and lasting changes.  And, some 46% of the managers said that addressing a CLH is three times more important than addressing technical skills.
The top 10 CLHs that were identified in the survey are:
1.  Unreliability – Career success requires people to trust you, to take you at your word, to know that you will deliver on your commitment.  Unreliable people are dangerous to the success of their teams.
2.  “It’s not my job!” – Not the mindset of a team player.  To insure your team’s success you may need to do tasks from time to time that are not strictly your job.
3.  Procrastination – Putting things off because you don’t want to do them now, because you don’t know how to start, or you think your work will not measure up.
4.  Resistance to change – Success requires that change be embraced, even when the outcome is unknown.
5.  Negative attitude – “That won’t work” with no offer of another approach.
6.  Disrespect – Not treating others how you want to be treated.
7.  Short-term focus – In our ultra-busy lives it is all too easy to get trapped in the immediate and not lift your head and look out to the horizon and to the future.
8.  Selfish – Effective teams cannot afford to have selfish members, so consumed by only their world that they are not effective.
9.  Passive-aggressive behavior – This is the deliberate and masked way of expressing covert feelings of anger about an issue.  And it’s a behavior that needs to be replaced by a straightforward, professional discussion of the issue.
10.  Risk aversion – Every opportunity has risks; you don’t move forward without taking risks.
So what might you do to work on one of these “CLHs”?  Joseph Grenny gives us several examples:
Unreliability – Too often we jump to the conclusion that unreliability results from being personally unorganized.  So, we run out and latch onto a better system to keep us organized.  Grenny suggests that this is not the case.  He sees the problem as one of having a difficult time of saying no.  In short, a person who is unreliable had rather disappoint you later than incur your disapproval now.  He’s found that these individuals don’t keep their commitments to themselves any better than they do to others.  They are often disgusted with their unreliability and don’t see a way to overcome it.
The cure, according to Grenny, is learning how to say no, which is very hard.  He provides three tips:  When you are pressured, slow the process down, break off eye contact, take a deep breath.  Have a script to pause the action and delay responding – “Before responding, I need to look at what I’m currently committed to deliver.  Can I get back to you later today?”  Think of saying no not as letting the requestor down but as delivering on promises you’ve already made to others and to yourself.
Procrastination – We procrastinate, most often, because we fear that the task will cause us misery, we’ll be highly criticized, or we’ll completely fail.  And typically, the longer we procrastinate, the larger the pain and expectations of failure become.  Ginny’s suggestions for a cure begin by empathizing with, and accommodating, your concerns.  You begin by breaking the task into logical parts, working on each part in turn, and celebrating the completion of that piece of work with a pause.  Involve others in your work.  And, pace your work.  How you feel when you complete the task impacts your feeling about the work you’ve just completed and how you will see your next experience.
Selfishness – It’s easy to come across as only caring about yourself, and not caring about others.  Ginny believes that most people are not selfish jerks but rather they don’t give appropriate time to become more aware of the goals and opinions of others.  He argues that if you become more conscious of others you’ll become more considerate.  He also suggests that we pay more attention to our body language, particularly when we are in tense situations.
Two things can help significantly.  Stay connected by maintaining eye contact.  Ginny notes that looking people in the eye humanizes them.  Look at their face and watch for signals of emotion.  Being aware of another person’s emotions is a first step towards empathy.  And get curious.  Stop driving to prove your point.  Rather ask sincere questions that will help you understand why others are thinking the way they are.  You are out to understand them, not necessarily to agree with them.  When you begin to understand their thoughts, you may find a lot of points of agreement.  And, you will have reached a point where a real discussion can occur.
This week, watch carefully for your CLHs.  And, if you catch one, identify time to work on it.  Your career with benefit!
Make it a great week.  .  .    jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates, and Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus, and CIO and Vice President for Information Systems, Emeritus, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.
Chressy Scivicque, 10 Career Limiting Habits – Are You Guilty, Eat Your Career, June 2011.
Joseph Grenny, Almost All Managers Have at Least One Career-Limiting Habit, Harvard Business Review, July 2016.
VitalSmarts, Stuck in a dead-end career?  Your Career-Limiting Habit is to Blame.