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20 Ways to Screw Up Your Management Career

If you're a regular on The Corner Office, you know I've seen managers, executives, and CEOs do a lot of dumb things over the years. And all-too-often, I've been one of them.

Sure, the stories are entertaining and enlightening, but more important is knowing and steering clear of the top failure modes and self-destructive behavior that can destroy or at least stunt an otherwise promising career.

Don't think for a minute that you're not in complete control of how far you go and how successful you are. I've seen dozens and dozens of brilliant, competent, and driven managers shoot themselves in the foot, but I've almost never seen one lose their way due to external factors. Believe it; it's true.

So, since you're the one who will likely destroy your career, here's a guide to help you recognize when you're beginning to step off the path of enlightenment. And yes, I've seen each of these happen to real managers in the real world. No theory here; just empirical data.

Every manager, executive, and CEO should be aware of these:

20 Ways to Screw Up Your Management Career:

  1. Stop asking questions. Think or act like you know it all. Think you can stop learning.
  2. Take it personally. Business is about business. Conflict over business, products, and services is healthy and good. It's not about you.
  3. Micromanage. The converse - being too hands off - can be just as bad.
  4. Distance yourself from employees. Think you're above "management by walking around."
  5. Distance yourself from customers. Take your eye off the ball ... the ball that matters most.
  6. Play it safe. Success means growth, growth means taking risks - analytical, not frivolous, though.
  7. Test moral, ethical, or legal limits. Slippery slope.
  8. Hire yes-men (or women) you can control. Even worse, be a yes-man thinking it'll get you places.
  9. Overpromise and under-deliver. Success is all about results.
  10. Engage your mouth before your brain. More people screw up by talking than any other way.
  11. Stick to your guns. Commitment and focus are critical, but inflexibility in the face of internal or external change makes you a dinosaur.
  12. Work beneath your capability. Your reach should always exceed your grasp.
  13. Ignore what the market is telling you. Think you know better than what customers tell you. Then there's the reverse problem:
  14. Ignore your gut instincts.
  15. Fight too many battles on too many fronts.
  16. Coast. Driven people don't coast well.
  17. Focus solely on your own little world. Silo mentality is dysfunctional, bigtime.
  18. Become big and bloated. Grow your domain for its own sake.
  19. Lose your sense of humor and humility.
  20. Let your inner child reign. Nothing will kill your career faster than failing to act like an adult.
Those are my 20. What did I miss?
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