In recent blog posts and podcasts, I’ve talked about the critical IT career success factors. Just as important as what TO do are the things NOT to do. Here, in no particular order, are four behaviors which are commonly seen in the workplace and which can torpedo your career.
This may seem obvious, but if it’s so obvious, why does it seem to keep happening? I believe that most people are honest, but it still happens that people get caught in lies. I’m not talking about big national news stories about some politician twisting the truth. I’m talking about everyday people trying to hide mistakes, fudging on research to support a faulty policy, padding an expense account, or steering business to a friend without a competitive bidding process. A little dishonesty today can taint a career for years and years. Even if you think you won’t get caught, think instead about what could happen if you do. It’s not worth it. I had a boss once who said to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. The rule on dishonesty is simple: Don’t do it, ever.
The problem with perfectionism is also simple. As humans, we’re imperfect creatures, so perfection is impossible. Striving for the perfect solution is great, as long as you understand you’ll probably never achieve it. The 4th Earl of Chesterfield is credited with having said, “Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.” He was right, but there’s a big gap between doing something well and doing it perfectly. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, said “Done is better than perfect.” and writer Anne Lamott said, “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people.” Perfectionism in an individual can breed obsessiveness or procrastination and it can keep an individual from asking for help, in a team it can destroy relationships by introducing harsh judgmentalism and removing empathy. Don’t misunderstand this sentiment to support shoddy work. That’s not my intent at all. In fact, in mission-critical applications such as public safety, nuclear weapons security, or air traffic control, for example, we expect extremely high levels of performance, but it’s still not realistic to expect perfection. Set performance benchmarks and goals appropriate to the nature of the task and realistic deadlines. Work like crazy to achieve the benchmarks and goals and hit the deadlines, and don’t expect perfection.
Oscar Wilde said, “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit and the highest form of intelligence.” The problem with sarcasm is it can be off-putting, mean, and hurtful. It’s one thing to be sarcastic in literature and art, it’s a whole other thing to be sarcastic in the workplace. Sarcasm is really just a form of passive aggressive behavior. We use sarcasm when we can’t find a more grown-up (and more effective) way to communicate a problem or concern. Sometimes, people who are sarcastic say they’re just kidding. They even think people who feel hurt by their sarcasm are just being too sensitive. The problem is that’s not their role to decide whether someone’s being too sensitive or not, especially in the workplace. I once had an audience member who was proud of his sarcasm. What he didn’t realize was that his sarcasm was so alienating his colleagues in the workplace that his job was at risk. He was highly skilled and very intelligent, but his sarcastic manner made him so difficult to work with that his employers were considering letting him go. The rule on sarcasm in the workplace is also simple: Don’t do it, ever.
Look, we all get angry sometimes. It’s a mark of our emotional intelligence when we can manage our anger effectively. People with low emotional intelligence act out aggressively in anger, they lose their temper, they harbor grudges, they seek revenge, they engage in name-calling and backstabbing, and they may even get in fights. People with high emotional intelligence deal with their anger assertively instead of aggressively. They stick to specific issues instead of generalizing, they maintain their sense of calm, they dispassionately deliver information, and they focus on the good of the organization and their relationships with other people. The rule for dealing with anger is this: Don’t be aggressive, instead be assertive.
We’re all human and, as such, subject to that bane of our species known as human frailty. Many of us, perhaps most of us, may occasionally fall into the traps of one of these behaviors. When it happens, stop, look in the mirror, and commit to changing your behavior from that point forward. Offer apologies when it’s appropriate and do what’s necessary to repair relationships. Then, move forward toward success in your life and career with humility and wisdom gained by learning from your mistakes.
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