As a leader what can make your career jump the rails?

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A short while ago, a valued colleague whose knowledge, skill, and experience as a leader and a manager I respected, contacted me. They were trying to understand what had occurred in their company as a result of a restructure of the senior leadership group as they felt their career had suddenly stalled, if not left the tracks.

Before we spoke, they had done some of their own research using their favourite search engine to establish possible causes, plus they sought feedback from their immediate higher level leader who, as a result of the restructure, was no longer a member of the senior leadership group. Their research and discussions only served to confuse them more as most of what was being queried was behaviourally based.  Had they become moody, cynical, stopped listening to feedback, had a shift in mindset?  They felt this was superficial and missing the real issue even though they were unable to put their finger the cause – and they were right.

The one big clue that enabled us to isolate what had occurred was when they shared that their immediate higher level leader had not made it through to the senior leadership group in the restructure.  This led us to explore the nature of their relationship with their leader.  It turns out their relationship with their OWN leader was very strong.  We agreed that this should be explored further as we suspected that they may have been caught by one of the major aspects that can stall a career which is overreliance on one leader at the expense of others.

My colleague sought feedback from their peers and the CEO to confirm our suspicions.  What they found profoundly shocked them.

Peer feedback was that several of them had formed the view some time ago that my colleague’s career had progressed not on merit, rather because their higher level manager was a powerful advocate for them and they were viewed as the leader’s favourite.

My colleague’s meeting with the CEO was even more revealing in that the new senior leadership group had formed the view that my colleague had only one valued relationship which was with their current leader and what the leadership group raised was concern over whether they could deliver without the aid of a powerful ally and advocate.

Now our suspicion was confirmed, the dilemma for my colleague was what course of action they could take to recover their position and get their career back on track.  They worked with one of our team to build self-awareness and understanding of their strengths as a leader and a manager. Realising the ‘over dependence’ trap they and their leader had unconsciously fallen into, they decided it best to put some distance between them.

My colleague went to the CEO and requested that they be given a project for which they were accountable for leading and managing and for which they had full P&L responsibility so that they could prove to the senior leadership group they had the knowledge, skill and experience required.  The CEO indicated she would take it under consideration.

Overdependence is only one of a number of aspects that contribute to a leader’s career jumping the rails. Others include:

  • Challenges moving from tactical to strategic focus and role;
  • Lack of accountability and follow-through;
  • Disagreement with higher management about business direction ;
  • Ability to build high performance in teams;
  • Difficulty in building and maintaining relationships with others at every level of the organisation.

For leaders and managers all of these have solutions.

Did my colleague get their project? They are yet to hear.

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