Click for mentoring and coaching.Why do some talented executives fail?

And why do others often fail to be effective, or as successful as they should be?

In their book, Maximum Success: Changing the Twelve Behavior Patterns That Keep You From Getting Ahead, James Waldroop and Timothy Butler identify twelve behavior patterns — what they call "Achilles' heels" — that can harm, or seriously hinder, a person's career development. In their roles as consultants and executive coaches to many Fortune 500 companies, they offer invaluable job-saving advice on how readers can modify their behavior to get things back on track.

Behaviors That Can Hold You Back

Here are five behavior patterns that can be highly destructive to your career. Please note that the following stories of real-life individuals illustrate a "pure case" of the behavior in question. Although these stories are actually quite interesting, please do not make the mistake of comparing yourself to those worst case examples.

Chances are, you aren't in half as much trouble as some of these people. But even the occasional display of some of these behaviors — especially as you move upward in an organization — can do substantial damage to your ultimate career success. Although the book identifies twelve behavior patterns, here are only five of the behaviors, starting with...

1) Never Feeling Good Enough

"In a world overpopulated with enormous egos, 40-year old Paul seemed to be an anomaly," begins the first of Waldroop and Butler's twelve case studies. "He actually had an ego that was too small for his considerable abilities and new position as head of the Mexican arm of an international bank based in Dallas, Texas.

"Although he had never been a manager, Paul had considerable know-how as a banker and Latin America was his specialty. Moreover, Paul had succeeded at everything he had ever done and had been a top student in both college and graduate business school. But in his new position, Paul was suddenly a misfit — or so he felt. He was self-conscious and awkward, and unable to speak with authority. Instead of strolling through the offices in comfortable command, Paul scurried down the halls with an intense, inner-directed gaze that signaled to everyone that he was in trouble. His body language broadcast concern, discomfort and even isolation. His discomfort soon began to show, and his clients and subordinates also began to get quite edgy themselves."

Paul's actions and feelings fall into a pattern that Waldroop and Butler describe as a kind of career-related acrophobia. Paul's insecurity was born of his innate belief that he was incapable of surviving at the heights he had somehow scaled. He felt in his heart of hearts that he didn't deserve to be where he had been placed, which is a feeling a surprising number of people have to a greater or lesser extent.

How can someone like Paul who habitually feels and acts this way acclimate and learn to love the heights? As Paul was counseled, it became clear that he would have to learn to carry himself in a way that reflected his ability and the capacity for command he had inside. He was coached to adopt the look of someone who is full of confidence, even if he didn't feel that way inside. They coached him to walk slowly, to talk slowly and even to eat slowly.

Those simple gestures seemed superficial at first, but coupled with some other interventions, they actually worked. Over a period of months, Paul's clients and employees began to see him as a relaxed, confident leader, and Paul responded by developing even more self-assurance.


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2) Seeing the World in Black and White

"Sometimes the world behaves in wonderfully rational ways," say Waldroop and Butler, "but most of the time, it doesn't. We see this every time someone gets a job because of 'connections,' or children of alumni in many private schools get preference over other applicants."

Despite the fact that most of us learn about these things at an early age, some folks apparently never moderate their faith in the perfect rationality of the world. Waldroop and Butler refer to these people as meritocrats — people who blindly insist that virtually everything in life must be judged strictly rationally on its own inherent merit, refusing to see even shades of gray. Emotions, politics, sentimentality, loyalty and favoritism play absolutely no part. Meritocrats, write Waldroop and Butler, consistently talk about the way things "should be," not the way things actually are. It's almost as if the meritocrat lives in a remote parallel universe, but unfortunately it is a world that exists only in his or her mind.

Meritocrats almost always undermine their own careers by continually "fighting the good fight" at work until they exasperate their peers, supporters and superiors. For example, one client named "Dan," went to work in a family business straight out of college — someone else's family, not his. He knew from the beginning what the situation was and that he would never get a share of the business. Moreover, he knew that the several members of the family his age and younger would have a much greater say in how the business was to be run.

Dan, who was a very hard worker, had bought into this arrangement with open eyes, but he couldn't help himself from pointing out to anyone who would listen about how unfair the whole situation was. One day, he confronted his boss with his perspective on the situation. The owner's response was that he understood how Dan felt, but he was still going to hand the family business over to his sons, and if he felt that strongly about it he should leave. If only Dan, a consummate meritocrat had understood himself and his needs better, he probably never would have accepted that job in the first place.

People who are extreme meritocrats are relatively rare in business and are rarely very successful in that forum, because business dealings almost always involve a compromise with perfection. The authors argue that people who exhibit strong meritocratic tendencies are better suited to careers such as science or engineering, where black and white quests for perfection are generally better tolerated.

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3) Doing Too Much, Pushing Too Hard

"As far back as she could remember, Stephanie made extraordinary demands on herself. It wasn't enough that she was an A student from as far back as she could remember, she insisted on extra-credit work as well. She was also class president, a member of the debating team, a devoted gymnast and head of the drama club.

"At first, Stephanie's obsession with taking on more and more responsibility, and working harder than anyone around her, was a source of amusement to her friends. But later in college, and when she entered the world of work, the smiles began to fade." Stephanie had developed what Waldroop and Butler refer to as a "hero" behavior pattern, and by the time she'd reached her mid-20's, virtually no one could stand to be around her.

Waldroop and Butler stress that setting goals and working hard to achieve them is never a bad thing. But, in their view, heroes tend to bite off more than they can chew, and are never satisfied with what they've accomplished.

Heroes, they say, may find a decent fit as a management consultant or some other type of independent contributor, but they will never succeed in a traditional slow-growth company where teamwork is highly valued. This is because heroes never seem to understand that the people who work around and under them sometimes need a rest, and in doing so they often drive people away, which can be deadly for an organization.

That said, of all the Achilles' heels discussed in the book, the hero probably has the greatest potential for enormous career success. The world needs heroes but only those who have learned to slow down once in awhile, and be compassionate and understanding of others. Otherwise, they may find themselves mortally wounded like the original hero Achilles himself, undone by their very acts of heroism.

4) Avoiding Conflict at Any Cost

A peacekeeper is someone who is determined to avoid conflict at any cost. In doing so, peacekeepers believe that they are both protecting themselves from harm, and preserving the orderly functioning of their organizations. On both counts, say Waldroop and Butler, peacekeepers are terribly wrong. In fact, they argue that peacekeeping is an insidious behavior that can ultimately undermine relationships and destroy organizations.

Anger and its resolution are essential components of the human experience. The cost of suppressing one's emotions may not show up early in a career. When you're first starting out, you're expected to watch, listen and learn. But, inevitably, getting to the top of an organization requires a willingness to take risks and battle rivals. And once on top, a leader sometimes has to require subordinates to do things they don't necessarily want to do.

When Waldroop and Butler coach compulsive peacekeepers, they have two goals: to desensitize them to conflict, and to build their skills at handling conflict. With this approach, they help their clients to become stronger until they are able to take on the toughest situations at work and in their personal lives. Being able to deal with conflict effectively is both an essential survival skill, and a sure-fire ticket to career success.

5) Bulldozing the Competition

"Most of us learn early on to play nicely with the other children," write Waldroop and Butler, "but some of us don't." Extreme examples of such people who never learn to get along with others are called bulldozers. Like an offensive lineman in football, the bulldozer's goal is to flatten people, and to run roughshod over them as necessary.

Although bulldozers love to think of themselves as irresistible forces, ultimately they run into a real immovable object, something they cannot plow through, and because they never learned the skill of moving around resistance, they are defeated. Of the twelve behavior patterns Waldroop and Butler describe in their book, eleven of them are as likely to be women as men. But not the bulldozer. Although a few women do fit this pattern — women such as Margaret Thatcher and Leona Helmsley — bulldozing is a condition that is almost exclusively male.

According to Waldroop and Butler, bulldozers view any and all situations as zero-sum games and adversarial in nature. They focus only on how to get the biggest piece of the pie — if not all of it. Some bulldozers manifest their behavior by monopolizing air time in meetings and by instantly squashing any opposition. Others achieve their goals through simple intimidation — using a domineering physical presence or a steely glare to get their way.

Fortunately, the world has evolved in a number of ways over recent years to render people who exhibit this behavior pattern increasingly obsolete. Bulldozers might have been okay people to have around in a manufacturing based economy where assignments are generally clear and straightforward. But bulldozers generally fall down in face-to-face service relationships with customers where they have to read what people are thinking and adjust their tactics accordingly.

Like the other Achilles' heels, bulldozing is a correctable flaw, but it takes a lot of work. The motto of the recovering bulldozer must become "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" — the Golden Rule or the Law of Reciprocity. Because the fatal flaw of the bulldozer is a lack of empathy, taking the time to think about and understand how other people feel is the only way out of this rut. On the other hand, because of their energy and tenacity, a reformed bulldozer can actually be a valuable asset to any organization — but it's rare that people who exhibit these traits are ever able to stick around long enough to get a second chance.

Putting It All Together

In the cases of Paul the acrophobic banker and Stephanie the hero, who were briefly profiled above, their Achilles' heels were nearly their undoing. But having potentially fatal flaws, as they did, does not have to result in career stagnation or termination. In fact, Waldroop and Butler would argue that we all have Achilles' heels of one sort or another. It's just that some of us have learned to manage them successfully, while others of us allow them to hold us down.

Executive coaches can provide their clients with some of the tools that Paul and Stephanie didn't have. Learning to recognize the ways you — and all of us — engage in behaviors that create our own "glass ceilings" will enable us to break through them and achieve the success we deserve.

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