As before, there's no theory here; I've witnessed each of these career-ending spectacles in real life. And you'll notice that none of them have anything to do with your capability, experience, skills, business acumen, or what a nice guy you are. That's what makes it all the more ironic ... and pathetic.
So, managers at all levels, aspiring or current executives, listen up. Especially in this economic environment, the last thing you want to do is kiss your sweet career goodbye. And that's what may happen if you --
- Get a DUI or other alcohol / drug related conviction. Decades ago I had some indiscretions along these lines. It came up in every executive job background check, as recently as nine years ago. Didn't change the outcome, but these days, I bet it would.
- Leak material inside information. That's right, the Galleon scandal snagged top executives from IBM, AMD, Intel, and McKinsey for blabbing inside info to a hedge fund. Career ending for everyone involved.
- Pad the perks. It's surprising how many bright and successful people take advantage of their company and its shareholders. Depending on the severity, it could be considered embezzlement. Not just career ending; we're talking jail time.
- Document something in an email that nobody should ever see. I'm not that surprised when executives break the law or do something unethical, but I'm constantly amazed at how often they document their stupidity in email.
- Sexually harass or discriminate against an employee. In this politically correct era, it doesn't take much. A couple of over-the-top or off-color jokes will do it. Even bullying can be considered creating a hostile work environment.
- Burn bridges. There are actually loads of ways to burn bridges and you can probably think of plenty. Avoid all of them simply by being respectful and empathetic, and that means behaving like an adult instead of acting out like a child. And don't do what Yahoo's Joanne Bradford did.
- Lie about something important on your resume. What starts out as doing what it takes to get a job when you're young and desperate, ends up as a terminal offense when you're an executive. Recently happened to a top Broadcom exec.
- Cut corners on something important. Important means something that's potentially health-related, devastating to your company's or key customer's business, or something that the media might be interested in. Think BP, Toyota, that sort of thing.
- Get terminated for cause. For whatever reason, doesn't matter. Do not get yourself terminated for cause. Negotiate your way out of it or it'll follow you for a long, long time.
- Get in the crosshairs of a psycho employee. No, I'm so not kidding. I've personally seen two CEOs of public companies brought down by nut-job direct reports. In one case, the board wasn't even dysfunctional. Amazing but true.
So, what did I miss? Tell us a story; we love the stories.
- And just to be on the safe side, you should probably also read: 20 Ways to Screw Up Your Management Career