In his book set to come out in a little over a year, associate clinical professor at Kellogg Carter Cast reveals his findings on what derails the careers of even the most talented people.
As a professor at Kellogg and a working venture capitalist, Cast, 52, has seen a lot of the business world. He got his MBA at Kellogg, and started off marketing for big brand names like PepsiCo. Then he moved into developing Internet start-ups, like Blue Nile (now a million dollar company). After such an impressive track record, Walmart’s Internet division recruited him, and he eventually became CEO.
But it wasn’t always a straight shot to the top for Cast. Focusing primarily on his strengths early in his career left him with a huge blind spot, revealing the importance of identifying weaknesses and addressing them.
To help others avoid what he calls “career derailment,” Cast’s book will explore the common weaknesses that hold professionals back. “I believed that there had to be some well-researched reasons that people’s careers flat-lined, or they get demoted, or they get fired,” Cast says.
Cast has spent his time digging into existing academic research and interviewing over 60 people—ranging from unemployed people to CEOs. While the book won’t be published for another 18 months, Cast gave NBN a sneak peek at his findings.
The five major “career derailers,” according to Cast:
- Interpersonal issues. “It comes down to not being deft and not being tactful,” Cast says. “Running rough shot, being a bull in a china shop. Pursuing your objective so one-dimensionally that there are people who get run over or bruised along the way.” The biggest takeaway: don’t get too cocky.
- Difficulty building and leading teams. Picture this: you’re working on a group project and cranking out all the work yourself (also known as every group project you’ve ever done). You do such a good job that your boss promotes you to a management position. “But then [you] don’t know how to manage a team, motivate a team, communicate effectively with a team, garner resources for the team, align with other department to be able to get the team’s agenda pushed through in a complex organization,” Cast says. “That transition from me to we is not an easy one, and people trip up.” Cast’s solution to this derailer? Take people from other departments out for lunch and find out what they’re doing.
- Poor adaptability. “The antidote to this one is remaining the learner. Always be the learner, always be the student,” Cast says. In other words, stay curious, and keep up with technology and changes in the field. Embrace change, or you might miss the train on the fast track.
- Being non-strategic. Translation: specializing in one specific area and not taking time to see how the pieces all fit together outside of what you’re doing. The fix? Make lateral moves, says Cast. “Raise your hand and be on task forces so you can learn to be on other cross-functional groups,” he says. “It’s important to take advantage of workshops that are offered…your goal is to have a nice view of how all the pieces fit together,” Cast says.
- Not delivering on promises. Maybe it’s because of poor planning, but it can also be due to being a people pleaser and never saying no. It can even be the result of someone who struggles with grandiosity – they’re all talk. “The problem with this derailer is that people slowly back away from you because your word isn’t your bond,” Cast says. “People lose confidence, and you lose credibility.”