· 2 min read · Features

Five coaching tips to help avoid career derailment


Employees are not receiving training or feedback to take corrective actions around areas of vulnerability

Career derailment doesn’t happen to 'the other guy'. Nearly two-thirds of all managers and leaders will derail at some point in their career. That means being fired, demoted, or perhaps worst of all 'plateauing' – never to hit that hoped for level of achievement or performance.

I conducted an original survey of 100 derailed managers aged 25 to 45 who had been fired, demoted or whose careers had flatlined. Then I interviewed 60 of them, from managers and leaders to executive coaches, recruiters, CEOs and C-suite executives, to find out what went wrong.

The top culprit? A startling lack of self-awareness about a skill gap or an interpersonal issue. Employees are not receiving the training or feedback they need to take corrective actions around personal areas of vulnerability.

I’ve divided these personal vulnerabilities into five archetypes. Along with each I offer a specific coaching and training tip. They are:

Captain Fantastic: With sharp elbows that bruise you on their quest for the Holy Grail of the corner office, these people often have interpersonal issues due to their unbridled ego and dismal listening skills. As a result they have poor working relationships with colleagues. Training tip: Increase their poor self-awareness through a formal 360-degree feedback process. Hold a mirror to their blind spot(s)!

The Solo Flier: Often strong individual contributors, these folks are very good at executing their initiatives – but when promoted into managerial positions they have difficulty building and leading teams. They tend to either micromanage or revert to trying to do the work themselves. Their teams become dissatisfied and eventually there’s a coup d’état. Training tip: Help them to empower their team members and move from player to coach. Becoming a manager is literally a transformation of identity.

Version 1.0: Comfortable in their routines and highly sceptical of change, these people resist learning new skills that would help them adapt to the rapidly-changing business environment. Their attitude of 'if it ain’t broke don’t fix it' will not serve them well over time and eventually their dinosaur-like tendencies may lead to extinction. Training tip: Boost their learning agility and encourage them to adopt new ‘discovery skills’ by observing customers using their product/service, asking more ‘why’ and ‘how might we’ questions, developing hypotheses and experimenting with new ideas, and building a strong network of thought leaders in their functional job area.

The One-Trick Pony: These employees are very good at doing one specific thing. The problem is they become so reliant on what they’re good at that over time, unknown to them, they become one-dimensional and unpromotable. Training tip: Help broaden their understanding of their firm’s value chain by laying out the four to five key activities that drive competitive differentiation and then get them to shadow employees that specialise in each area.

The Whirling Dervish: Perhaps the most recognisable of all are those who run around the office like their hair is on fire. They lack planning and organisational skills and are known to overcommit and under-deliver. Their boss and co-workers can’t count on them to complete their assigned tasks and eventually people try to avoid working with them. Training tip: Urge these employees to be more thoughtful and deliberate about planning and prioritising their work. Help them look at their list of tasks and ask 'which of these activities really moves the needle and which can be deprioritised?'

Let’s help talented managers and leaders achieve their potential by assisting them in recognising their blind spots and skills gaps, and then coaching them around remedies.

Carter Cast is a clinical professor of innovation and entrepreneurship at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and author of The Right and Wrong Stuff: How Careers are Made and Unmade