Recently a new client asked me what fatal flaws or career affecting mistakes I have seen in my 20 years of coaching people. What a great question! As coaches we are often so focused on strengths and success behaviors that we neglect critical errors not to make. After all, success is doing all the right things but also not doing wrong things.
My first realization is that I have had the great good fortune to work with mostly wildly successful people. It seems to be a truth that people who hire coaches tend to be successful people. I think this is true not because coaches are so great, but because people who work with coaches are committed to being thoughtful – conscious and intentional – about their conduct.
Number one error I have witnessed: Willful disregard of current reality.
In one rather dramatic (to me) case I was working with a senior guy in finance at a large conglomerate. He was desperately angling for the CFO position even though he had been told in no uncertain terms by his current CFO (his boss), and his CEO that he was not going to be seriously considered. They told me the same and I relayed the feedback to him. He nevertheless refused to hear it, and continued to build his case. We focused the coaching on other goals: personal balance/health and writing/presentation mastery. The coaching kind of meandered because he didn’t want to discuss his real goal with me because he felt I didn’t believe in him, that I didn’t believe he could be CFO. I made it clear that it wasn’t my opinion that mattered, but that he needed to work on the opinions of the CEO and current CFO. He was blind to the realities. Looking back at all the clients I’ve worked with, I would say that willful disregard of reality is a critical error to avoid. I am all for dreaming and creating possibility but only insofar as it is informed by what is clearly true right now.
The thinking about this topic reminded of a really great book I’d forgotten about, by author Sydney Finklestein. It is called Why Smart Executives Fail: and What You Can Learn from Their Mistakes. The thing I love about it is that it is research based and focuses on people who have enough admirable qualities to get really far before they shoot themselves in the foot – people who have reached VP level and higher in organizations or who have become famous for their talent. Another good thing about the book is how well it illustrates those admirable qualities or strengths can be a double edged sword. Confidence and willingness to take risks is a hairs breadth from arrogance. Will you know when you’ve crossed the line?
Finklestein boils things down to seven habits – what he calls The Seven Habits of Spectacularly Unsuccessful Executives. Take a look and see if you are at risk for any of the behaviors in the list:
The 7 Habits of Spectacularly Unsuccessful People:
- They see themselves and their companies as dominating their environments.
- They identify so completely with the company that there is no clear boundary between their personal interests and their corporations’ interests.
- They think they have all the answers.
- They ruthlessly eliminate anyone who isn’t completely behind them.
- They are consummate spokespersons, obsessed with the company image.
- They underestimate obstacles.
- They stubbornly rely on what worked for them in the past.
More discussion on this topic to come. Comments welcome.