This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab
As I look back on my 24-year career, as well as those of numerous colleagues and friends, I can say with confidence that author and Jungian therapist James Hillman was right: our character determines our destiny.
Career progression and growth is intrinsically and inexorably linked to our personal traits and deeply held attitudes and beliefs. Developing self-awareness and a desire to improve is a life-long endeavour, and necessary on the road to leadership excellence.
If left unchecked, these six personal traits will eventually stunt your career growth:
A tendency to react quickly
In an era of lightning-fast communication, it’s tempting to react immediately. I wish that I did not react so many times in my career. Make it your mission not to. A quick, ill-considered reaction can erode relationships, sometimes for the long term. It can lead to regret and a loss of creative power. When we react, we do not create.
The belief, even if tacit, that we are somehow better and smarter than others is not a leadership trait. On the contrary, true leaders have developed humility in their hearts. Arrogance is the inability to accept feedback because of a deeply flawed belief that we don’t need to learn anything from anyone – especially if that feedback comes from someone junior to us.
Leadership requires honest introspection and the ability to listen to all feedback, as there is usually at least a kernel of truth in it. In a world that increasingly and rightfully values collaboration, connectivity and sharing, arrogance is misplaced and off-putting.
An inability to say ‘I don’t know’
Early in my career, I just couldn’t say “I don’t know.” Had it not been for a valued mentor, I might never have been able to admit my ignorance. I often see a particular type of a person, usually very smart and talented but perhaps lacking experience, who just can’t – but also doesn’t want to – see what they don’t know. This blindness can destroy the career potential of an otherwise promising person.
In the long run, talent is less of a factor in success than the ability to learn. Nipping this tendency in the bud early on and assuming a life-long learning approach will ensure progress – keeping it will inevitably lead to stagnation. As management thinker Chris Argyris astutely observed, there are people who develop “skilled incompetence” and climb the ladder nevertheless – inevitably becoming toxic for those around them. Having a mentor is a great way to ensure you do not end up there.
A lack of confidence
Confidence should not be mistaken for arrogance. Arrogance says we don’t need others; confidence says that we will find resources, have the support of others, muster courage, seek inspiration when we need it, overcome adversity, learn what we need to learn, and excel when we need to shine. Confidence is a belief in our potential. Some of the most confident people I know are also those who show their vulnerability.
Being passive is the opposite of being proactive. It’s about not taking initiative – whether for the next big project or for your own skills development – waiting to be told what to do, and expecting to be taught, empowered and cared for. It connotes deference to some real or imagined hierarchy of authority and action which, in today’s flat and ambiguous workplaces, is all but disappearing. Being passive often points to a personal sense of powerlessness, or fear of making a mistake. I have observed over and over again that people who take risks go much further in their careers.
Not taking responsibility
Taking responsibility is a powerful personal declaration. It is antidote to feeling needy, or like a victim. We all know that things often don’t go smoothly in our careers when we are the neediest – the vibe we project practically repels opportunities. Ultimately, it is not until we are able to take full responsibility for what happens to us, to see and own up to our mistakes, that we can continue to progress in our career.
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