262: Conquering the Five Career Derailers with Carter Cast

By February 14, 2018Podcasts

 

 

Kellogg professor Carter Cast provides his research on career derailment–and how to prevent it!

You’ll Learn:

  1. Two questions to ask yourself to pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses
  2. Frequently-occurring risk factors to watch out for
  3. The two critical things that put you in the 98 percentile of your company

About Carter 

Carter Cast is a clinical professor at the Kellogg School of Management. Previously he’s played a pivotal role in building numerous iconic consumer brands including Tostitos Scoops and The Sims. He served as CEO of Walmart.com, growing it to the third largest online retailer in the world. Carter is also a venture partner for Pritzker Group Venture Capital, where he assesses potential investments and advises portfolio companies.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Carter Cast Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Carter, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Carter Cast
I’m happy to be here. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you had some pretty cool professional experiences in your life, but what I’d like to zero in on to start is you were working to launch the computer game The Sims. Tell us about that experience.

Carter Cast
Well, yeah, we knew, just from the early builds of the game, that this was going to do really, really well. People were so engaged and it was like they had their own little self that they were trying to take care of, so you can see the beginnings of the sort of obsessions with the game, so it actually did not surprise me too much when we saw that sort of success there.

The fellow who was the executive producer on it, Will Wright, also did Sim City, and so he’s a genius. So this was his brainchild, and my role was to help market it and make sure it was accessible to the public so it was an extraordinary game back in the late…no, this was probably ’98. Are you player? Do you play?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I remember playing it, you know, back in the day, and I think they just kept iterating on it like many, many versions, and so I think I had an earlier one but it was still rather engaging. And, I don’t know, it just sort of gets you thinking about your life in different ways.

Carter Cast
Taking care of this almost sentient being.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. I mean, did you have any insights into your own life as you were watching The Sims take shape?

Carter Cast
Yeah, what I noticed the most was how attached, I think, with time, you can become attached to activities. So you really do get invested in this, you know, game and also with the character you’ve created. And so I thought, “Oh, it’s interesting. It’s strange.” I know this is a non-sentient being but I’d certainly starting to…I’m feeling like it’s actually something that I needed to take care of, like an animal, like a pet, like a cat or a dog.

So when I saw that sort of—and I think that part of this is you commit that much time to something and it becomes important to you. So there was an interesting psychological component to that when we were creating the game and watching him develop it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fun. That’s fun. So I’m excited to talk about your book in which you’ve sort of laid out a lot of your career lessons learned over time. And so, tell us, what is your book The Right (and Wrong) Stuff all about?

Carter Cast
You know, in a nutshell the book answers two questions, “What about you could hurt you?” What about you could actually impede your career progress? And then, secondly, “What do high-performers, hotshots that don’t derail, what can be learned from looking at them?” But the genesis of the book was that, as a professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, I’ll talk to these very smart people and they’ll be looking at this, “Should I take this offer from this great consulting firm? Or should I go to this startup?”

And I’ll say, “Well, those are two very different opportunities,” and then I’ll ask some typical questions like, “Where do your passions lie? What quickens your heart when you’re really absorbed into something and the time flies? What are you doing?” And then I’ll ask them, you know, “Where do you want to be in three to five years? And what are you good at? What are you really skilled at? Where do you raise your hand and always say, ‘I got this,’ because you have a natural talent there?”

And they’ll answer these very fluidly. But then I’ll ask them, “What about you could hurt you?” And I’ll get, “Huh? What?” I’ll say, you know, “What about what could impede your career progress if not watch carefully? Where are you vulnerable?” And, invariably, I would get these very sketchy or no answers. And so I started thinking, you know, the whole StrengthsFinder, the whole now discover your strengths and focus on your strengths, it’s great but I tried to write weakness finders, you know, the flipside of a strength is some area of vulnerability that we have to be aware of.

A matter of fact, 98% of people – this is a lot of research – have an overused strength that actually hurts their career. So you can be so analytical that you suffer from analysis paralysis or overly-skeptical and drive people crazy. Or you can be this great team player who actually has difficulty making the hard call, you know, being decisive.

So there are these themes of strengths hurting us, and derailment propensities that we have being unaware of their potency. So I started doing research in it once I would not receive these great answers from students, and it became more and more interesting to me because I realized that companies aren’t using any assessment or very few companies are using derailment assessment tools. They’re using tools that might help employees identify their competencies. But are they actually using tools that help them identify their weaknesses?

And so I came to this realization that the conversations aren’t being had inside companies that help people develop based on understanding where they need to improve or what areas they have to do less of that could be hurting them. So that ended up making me feel that it was, even though I teach and I do venture capital for a living, I decided to try to carve out the time to do the research and write this book because I just thought it was a conversation that has to be…we have to surface.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Well, you got me excited right now. I’m right with you, and it’s intriguing, it’s important, and, well, I want to dig into some of your top research findings. So, maybe, could you share, when you talk about derailment, what are some of the most frequently occurring risk factors to be on the lookout for?

Carter Cast
Yeah, I found… you know, I didn’t know what I would find. I didn’t know if there were, you know, a whole bunch of them. And I found, I interviewed, I talked to a hundred people who have gotten demoted or fired, talked to a bunch of HR executives, and headhunters, and executive coaches, and even CEOs, and looked at all the academic research. And there was a lot that has been done on this topic because there are 360 feedback forms where you can mine the data and see what are people that are struggling, what’s holding them back, and when people are doing really well that are deemed in the top 10% of their organization, what are they doing really well that the people that derail don’t do well?

So there was just a ton of data on this. So looking at all the data, I found five themes over and over. And to try to make the topic more accessible and less scary, I created these archetypes or characterizations.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love illustrations.

Carter Cast
So, instead of saying, “Oh, I suffer from interpersonal issues,” you can say, “Oh, I have a little bit of Captain Fantastic in me,” and you can laugh about it. So my attempt to make it a little less heavy of a topic was by creating these five archetypes, and here’s what they are.

The first one is Captain Fantastic, and this is for somebody who suffers from interpersonal issues. So sharp elbows, the quest for the Holy Grail of the corner office, you know, bruising people on the way. And this person either suffers from sort of over and unbridled ego or poor listening skills. And this happens to a lot of people. As a result, they have poor working relationships with co-workers and when, inevitably, when the performance, when they don’t hit their numbers, as inevitably happens, they don’t have support.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Carter Cast
So that’s Captain Fantastic. Now what’s interesting is, you might say to yourself, “Well, I don’t have those Captain Fantastic tendencies.” But there might be an aspect of you that has, under pressure, a tendency that can be self-sabotaging. Under stress, they have a tendency, and the tendencies can be they move away from people, they get cautious, or reserved, and they move away, or they move against people by being aggressive like Captain Fantastic would, but they could also move towards people, under pressure, and be ingratiating.

So these three tendencies – moving against, moving towards, and moving away – are all common behavioral traits we have when we’re stressed out and under pressure. That can hurt us interpersonally with other people.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. So that’s the Captain Fantastic story. And then what’s the Solo Flyer and the others?

Carter Cast
Yeah, the Solo Flyer is very common ailment when really good individual performers get promoted into managerial positions, they get a team and they still try to do all the work themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright.

Carter Cast
They are so good at what they do, they want to keep doing it. They get so much satisfaction out of being able to make that spreadsheet smoke with their analysis that they keep wanting to do it and they don’t teach the team to fish. They want to fish for their team so they micromanage, they over-manage. Very common, and one researcher said becoming a manager is almost a transformation of identity.

What got you here won’t get you there. You have to change and you have to learn to empower and oversee and coach, and you’re not the player anymore. You’re the coach. And that’s a hard transition for people to go through. And people that derailed have a difficult time letting go of doing the work and learning to oversee the work.

And one of the interesting parts of this one was that it’s not just about overseeing the work, but your job as a manager is to build bridges into other departments where your team has dependencies and you need to get resources. So a good amount of your time, when you’re a manager, is spent with other functions in the organization upon whom you have dependencies, making sure that you’re aligned with them and getting resources so your team can do good work.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you.

Carter Cast
So that’s a Solo Flyer, and often a very good performer. So all of these profiles are people that are talented. The question is, “Is there something holding them back?” In the Captain Fantastic case, it’s often ego and ambition. In the Solo Flyer’s case it’s wanting to micromanage and do the work themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Okay. And how about Version 1.0?

Carter Cast
Version 1.0 has gotten really comfortable in his or her routines and they’re skeptical of change. So they’re resisting learning new skills that they really need that will make them adaptable in the rapidly-changing business environment we work in. So they might say, they might have a mantra of, “Well, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well, you know what, you’re going to have to make sure you’re staying fresh.

How are you staying fresh? Do you understand artificial intelligence as it relates to your job? Do you understand machine learning and big datasets? Are you getting comfortable with cloud computing? Do you understand digital marketing and social media? In this time that we live in, the importance of staying fresh and staying externally focused of these market changes is really important, and this person has just gotten too comfortable and they end up becoming a dinosaur.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Okay. And it’s interesting, and I’m thinking in particular that sometimes the resistance to change, folks can come up with very articulate reasons why they should continue doing what they’re doing.

Carter Cast
Yeah, justification. Right.

Pete Mockaitis
But, really, it’s sort of irritating everybody else. It’s sort of like, “Okay, that doesn’t really hold up,” and they can kind of sense what’s going on, and so it’s sort of like you’re outed in that way.

Carter Cast
Yeah, you know, I say to people, “Can you identify your areas of innate resistance? Where are you saying, ‘Yeah, but’”? Yeah, but…Where are you automatically resisting instead of just staying open-minded, asking clarifying questions, and then saying, “You know, that’s interesting. Let me consider that.”

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Thank you.

Carter Cast
So that’s Version 1.0. And this happens a lot of time mid-career. This is a mid-career derailer very frequently. And even into your senior level, executives who aren’t staying close enough to all of the disruptions driven by technology and globalization. So the most common reasons according to the research I did, the most common two reasons people derail are Captain Fantastic, interpersonal issues, and Version 1.0, just not being adaptable enough to change.

By the way, the change doesn’t have to be changing technologies and changing environments. It could be changing circumstances like you get a new boss. And the new boss ain’t like the old boss. And the new boss has a different modus operandi than the old boss, and you don’t realize that the onus is on you to change to the new boss’ style and not for the new boss that comes in to learn your style.

And I suffered from this one, frankly. I did well under one boss at Frito-Lay and I got this new boss, and he was much more hands-on than the old boss, and I resisted that, and I ended up trying to go around him, and I ended up getting kicked off his team.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Ouch. Lessons learned.

Carter Cast
I derailed because I was not adaptable to a boss with a different managerial style than an old boss.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’m curious. In hindsight or retrospect, what would you have done differently dealing with a boss who’s hands-on and you didn’t like it?

Carter Cast
That’s a great question, and I thought about that a lot. I should have realized that just because I was the one with the tenure in the group doesn’t mean that I didn’t need to adapt. The new boss coming in, even though he had less tenure than I did, he was still the boss. I should’ve gone to this fellow and I should’ve said, “How can I help you get up to speed? How do you like to communicate? Do you like to communicate over email? Do you like to communicate one-on-ones? What’s your preferred method? And how can I help you be successful in your role? You let me know what you need me to do so you can be successful because my agenda is your agenda.”

And I think if I would’ve gone in there with that sort of olive branch and let him know that my job was to help him succeed, then we would’ve gotten off to a much better start than what I did which is I thought, you know, I’m performing well in my position, he should just let me run, he should just let me do my thing, and that was a terrible attitude.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you for opening up on that.

Carter Cast
I have a funny caveat.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Carter Cast
He found the book and he read, and he wrote me about four days ago.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me more.

Carter Cast
Oh, my gosh. So the book has been out two weeks, right? And he found the book, he bought the book, and he wrote me this note, and it was so interesting. The minute I saw the name on it, I was like, “Oh, my gosh, this is 20 years ago, I reported to this guy in the late ‘90s.” He said, “Thank you for your depiction of me. You’re kind.” Which was nice of him because he knew how I felt at the time, so to try to write objectively, I think, was he appreciated that.

And then he said, “I appreciate your candor in this story because your ability to be vulnerable and tell the story is going to help other people because so many times you read books and people talk about all the things they did well. And when you’re writing about these things that you did poorly or you learned from, I think it’ll make it very accessible to people reading.”

So it was this really nice complimentary note, but also I’m going to Dallas in a couple of days to present. He lives in Dallas, and he said, “I’d love to get together with you.” So, you know, it’s the last guy in the world I would’ve thought wanted to see me.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, you know, he’s probably learned some things, too, you know.

Carter Cast
I bet you’re right. I bet he learned some things on how to manage just from sort of the situation we went through. So it’s really funny. Really funny.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s awesome. Well, thank you for sharing that. That’s so cool. Well, I want to make sure we hit all five. So how about the One Trick Pony?

Carter Cast
The One Trick Pony is an interesting case because they are good at what they’re good at, maybe they’re the controller inside of a company. They know exactly what they’re doing. They’ve done it well. But they haven’t broadened so they don’t have…you know they haven’t been on taskforce, they haven’t taken lateral moves. And so what happens is they become so reliant on what they’re good at, their sort of signature skill, that over time, unbeknownst to them, they become one-dimensional and/or considered unpromotable because they don’t understand how all the pieces fit together in a business, and they sort of tap out.

So it’s an interesting derailer because One Trick Ponies have great careers and be very good at something. But if they want to get to the next level, they eventually tap out because they’re seen as being too narrow.

So one of the questions I get for One Trick Ponies is, “Well, aren’t you supposed to specialize?” And I’ll say, “Yes, it’s really smart to get really proficient in one area because that’s your career capital, but at some point, if you want to become more of a generalist or you want to keep moving, you have to make sure you broaden.”

So, for example, when I was at Walmart, I was a marketer and my boss said, “Hey, do you want my job someday?” And I said, “Yes, that’d be great.” And he said, “Well, you’re not going to get it.” And I said, “Well, why?” And he said, “Because you only understand marketing, and to be in retail you have to understand operations, store operations and merchandising.” You know, buying and merchandising, assorting the product line, pricing the product line. It’s not just about demand generation of marketing.

And he said, “So you’re tapped out.” And I said, “Well, what should I do?” And he said, “Are you willing to take a lateral move into merchandising?” And I said, “Yes.” So I was moved into a different function, and that broadening allowed me to understand the buying and merchandising and assortment side of the business, and then later on it allowed me to have career flexibility going forward.

So there are times that it behooves us to take a lateral move to get experience, and later on that’ll give us some headroom to get promoted.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Thank you. And how about the Whirling Dervish?

Carter Cast
You know, it’s funny. So the Whirling Dervish, I have this assessment on my own website. So I put this, I put the assessment in the back of the book so you can see which of these five archetypes is you, and I built this assessment with the Center for Creative Leadership so it’s a rigorous assessment, but I also put it on my own website just for free you can take it if you want. So it’s cartercast.com. I think it’s /derailment, and you could take this test.

The Whirling Dervish, the one I’m about to talk about, was the number one reason people, in a self-rated system, the number one people claim they derail. And that is, yeah, that you have trouble delivering on promises because you feel overwhelmed. So the Whirling Dervish is running around with their hair on fire, late for the next meeting, and muttering to themselves about their workload.

They lack planning and organization skills, and are known to over-commit and under-deliver. And what happens is their bosses and their co-workers can’t count on them to complete their assigned tasks at the time they said they can. And, eventually, people start distancing themselves from this person. So the Whirling Dervish over-commits and under-delivers, and has trouble with time management, with prioritization, and with organizational and planning skills.

And the reason, my theory is, so much… I’m seeing that so many people are claiming that they feel like Whirling Dervishes. I think it’s because we’re just…all of us are so overwhelmed by technology and by social media and emails and texts. I think everyone walks around feeling like a Whirling Dervish so it’s so important for us to prioritize to be able to say no to things, to delegate where we can.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious, in terms of, first of all, so from the data perspective so your research with the 360 feedbacks and such, indicated that some of the bigger things that came up most often, right, was that the Captain Fantastic and the Version 1.0?

Carter Cast
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
But with the self-assessments is the Whirling Dervish. You think that’s indicative of a newer development in the workplace or just that people feel stressed when they take your self-assessment?

Carter Cast
That is a very good question, and I’ve thought a lot about it. I think that, especially as social media is just becoming more and more part of our lives, and texts, people are expected to respond like Pavlov’s Dog, you know, within minutes. And if you don’t get back to somebody in an email within hours, I think, actually, the incident rate of Whirling Dervish is increasing. And I think it is becoming one of the major reasons people feel like they are derailing or they’re not doing a good job at work, is flat out they’re overwhelmed.

And so how can they compensate? How can they work with their boss to be very specific and crystal clear on their job accountabilities so they know what they’re evaluated on and they can actually work with the boss to pare the list, you know, their laundry list of things they have to do? How can people be more intentional about planning and prioritizing their work? How can they say no?

One of the favorite books I read, because I have a trouble, a little bit of trouble with Whirling Dervish, too, and my problem is I’m a pleaser so I say yes to things. And my wife said, “Carter, before you say yes, I want you to practice this sentence, ‘You know, that’s interesting. I’ll take that under consideration. Let me get back to you.’”

And, you know, my bias is, “Sure, I can…yeah, we can do that.” So I think the ability to be more deliberate for this Whirling Dervish profile, whose eyes are bigger than their stomachs and they’re full of creative energy, and they want to say yes, but instead of automatically saying yes, maybe you can say no with grace. Maybe you can do a five-minute favor for somebody.

You know, this case came up with me. I was asked to fly to San Francisco to present to prospects who are applying to Kellogg Business School. Now that would’ve been a two-day trip, and instead of automatically saying yes, I said, “You know what, I’m so busy right now preparing for my book launch. Could you give me the names of a couple people that are really good candidates in my area of knowledge, entrepreneurship and leadership, and how about I call them and talk to them about Kellogg?”

So that’s kind of the definition of the five-minute favor. Instead of taking two days to do this, I could take two hours by calling some candidates. That’s something that I need to do a better job of myself, is learning how to say no but with grace. Instead of being interviewed, what if I send you two good data sources? Instead of flying to California, what if I just call a couple of good candidates? So how can you turn that ask into a five-minute favor?

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. And so I want to get some additional perspectives when you talk about feeling overwhelmed, inundated with expectations on social media and email and text messages, etc. It’s like sometimes in my own experience, and I’m working with teams and talking with them, you know, I’ve seen a number of times it’s almost like the emperor has no clothes. We sort of unmask an expectation that isn’t really there in terms of, “Is it essential to you that someone replies to your email within four hours?” They say, “Well, no.” It’s like, “If I needed an instant response then I’ll probably drop by their desk or give them a phone call or whatnot.”

And so I’m intrigued. How much of the expectation do you think is real versus perceived? And what are some best practices for how teams and organizations can address the matter?

Carter Cast
Yeah, that’s interesting because I do think you’re onto something with the profile of the Whirling Dervish is often somebody who wants to please others, somebody who is creative and wants to be helpful and they get themselves over-extended. And that personality profile may be more likely to feel like they have to respond to every request that comes in versus saying, “You know what, my first accountability is to deliver on these core objectives that I’ve set with my boss. And after I get those things done, I can respond to some of these other things.”

So I think that’s an interesting observation. You know, there could be a personality component to this which is us pleasers are more likely to be Whirling Dervishes, and we feel like we have to respond in a timely manner. But you know what? If that’s not core to our job, which is how we get paid, then we should put that on the backburner.

So some of the tricks or remedies for the Whirling Dervishes, I say this, don’t work in response mode. Approach your day in segments. You set aside sacred time when you’re really productive to do the strenuous intellectual work. So, for me, personally, I’m kind of weird because I get up really early. But my most productive time is from like 5:30 to about 9:00, and I try to safeguard that three-four hours to do a lot of my more strenuous work, and then I will turn and email and respond to others during more non-productive time.

So a lot of times I’ll do that in batches. So I’ll say to people, “Don’t work in response mode, responding to people every time you hear that little buzz of your text, or you hear that chime of an email. Respond to people during times that you want to in batches.” So maybe for an hour you do email, and then for two hours you do thinking work, or for three hours you have blocks of meetings, and then you go shut your door and you respond. But people that are not as productive often find themselves in response mode all day long.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Carter Cast
And they let the tail wag the dog instead of managing their work                  according to their priorities.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so thank you. And I want to make sure we give a little bit of attention to the flipside. You know, what’s the right stuff? Are there some universals that everyone should bear in mind to continue career acceleration?

Carter Cast
Yeah, this was actually the most…I was surprised because I thought the most fun part of the book is going to be identifying these derailers and sort of talking about them. What actually surprised me most, probably in the entire book, is that people that do really well, you know, we might think, “Oh, they’re going to be really good at lots of things, or like a decathlete, you know, they’re good at running and jumping and swimming and throwing the javelin.” I realized that swimming isn’t in the decathlon, by the way, just FYI.

But what I found was that actually they’re only good at a couple of things consistently, they’re only good at a couple of things. They are – and this is, again, mining 360s and looking at the people that are in the top quartile of their companies in leadership effectiveness, what do they do well consistently, they are able to build strong relationships with others and enlist others to their cause.

So they are empathetic, they’re open-minded, you know, St. Francis of Assisi, seek to understand before being understood. Their ability to be empathetic, good listeners, open-minded, they’re able to enlist others to their cause. Second, they pursue projects to completion and they take accountability for outcomes.

So if they say they’re going to get it done by a certain time, they stay there until it’s done. They are all about driving for completion. If you have those two competencies, drive results and enlisting others, and most companies have, let’s say, 10 or 11, eight to 10, eight to 12 competencies, if you only have those two, the chances, in the research that I examined, the chances are 72% that you’re in the top, that you’re in the 98 percentile of your company in effectiveness if you just have those two.

Now, if you add on top of it, you’re self-aware, you’re aware of your vulnerabilities, you’re aware of your strengths, then that’s the lethal combination. You have self-awareness of where you’re good and where you’re bad, so you put yourself in the right position to be successful, and you build strong relationships and enlist others, and are good at driving for results, that’s the right stuff.

It isn’t like this laundry list of things to be great at. It’s you’re self-aware so you put yourself in the right position where you work on what you’re good at, and you minimize what you’re bad at, you find workarounds so you outsource it to other people who are more qualified than you. You enlist others because you build bridges and listen well, and you drive for completion. That’s the right stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fantastic. Powerful. You know, we talk about 80/20 a lot here, and there it is. Boom. Awesome.

Carter Cast
Yeah, it really is 80/20. This was the biggest part of the research that surprised me the most was to find out to have the right stuff you don’t have to be good at everything. You have to know what you’re good at and know what you’re not good at, but you do have to be good at building relationships with others, and you do have to deliver on what you say you’re going to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Thank you. I want to make sure we touch on, you have a point about “you can’t count on the man” and it is important to hear.

Carter Cast
Yeah, this was really, really interesting. So I’m doing all this research, and I’m constantly finding that a big component of people’s derailment is that they actually were let down by their organizations. Their organizations are complicit in their very derailment. It isn’t only about the employee not performing well, the organization plays a key role when they derail, and their culpability is around four areas.

One, organizations move people too quickly especially talented people, and they don’t give them broadening experiences so you end up with the One Trick Pony. You get moved too quickly and you end up in a position and you don’t have the perspective to make, in a complex situation, you aren’t able to make good decisions because you haven’t had enough different types of experiences to draw from.

Second, they ignore bad behavior if short-term results are present, and this is Captain Fantastic. If you’re getting results but breaking glass along the way, they’re willing to turn an eye, turn their head. Third, they don’t require superiors to develop subordinates like they used to. And I think this is the 1099 problem.

When people are moving positions a lot, and there isn’t this social contractor used to be with employers, companies aren’t investing as much into developing subordinates as they used to, and so the onus has to be on us to develop ourselves because our superiors aren’t incented like they used to be in our development.

Back in the old day, P&G, you couldn’t make it to brand manager or group brand manager unless you had somebody in your team that was ready to take your old job. And you don’t hear about that as much, you know. That IBM model of development, or when I was at PepsiCo 11 years, that PepsiCo model of development, it’s just gone away because people switch jobs so frequently.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’d mentioned in your HBR piece, this was striking, that a Korn Ferry study put, of all the competencies, and there were many, right, amongst leaders that they sort of rank their how well they did upon them, that developing others ended up ranking dead last.

Carter Cast
Yeah, I mean, that was striking to me. There were 67 different competencies that…

Pete Mockaitis
This is the older version of For Your Improvement not the later one with fewer competencies, all 67, baby.

Carter Cast
Good for you. You got it, man. Lominger finally tightened that up, but they had 67 they’d identified and dead last in the research was developing others. By the way, this is self-reported by managers. This is managers saying, “These are the things that I’m not doing a very good job of.” And this was, I think, motivating others and confronting direct reports was also in the bottom 10 of what bosses and managers do well. So developing others was last, motivating others and confronting direct reports was also somewhere between number 57 and 67. So you get the picture.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Carter Cast
They’re not going to help so you’ve got to do it yourself. It’s like a DIY, you know, we’re in a DIY kind of career management orientation if that’s what you have to have now. Do it yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
And so you’re saying, given that, go for it, ask for the feedback, hire a coach, take the LinkedIn Learning course, whatever it takes.

Carter Cast
Yes, you’ve got to take…the onus has to be on you because it isn’t like when I was… you know, I’m 54. When I was young, the organization would sit down and they’d have these developmental conversations and say, “Okay, so let’s get you these experiences in the next few years to develop. Here’s your profile, here’s three things you have to work on with your profile, Carter. Here’s three strengths we want to give you, a chance to even work harder on these strengths to get them even better, more potent.” You just don’t see that as much.

If you get a boss that’s like that, and says, “You know, even though we’re having this performance review for an hour, let’s spend a half hour on the performance review but let’s spend a half hour on your development, and let’s talk about three things that we want to get you to do to improve and let’s look at three leverageable strengths you have that we want to make sure you even work on more.” If you’ve got that boss, you are a lucky employee.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So noted. So you’re laying out the ways that the companies are complicit in derailment, and we kind of zeroed in on the “you can’t count on the man,” and then what’s to be done about that. Is there some more?

Carter Cast
Well, the other one is that it’s in this not directly confronting direct reports. The research shows that managers shy away from having hard but necessary career conversations with employees. And so if you have this conversation once a year during performance review time, well, that’s terrible, right? You need to have conversations, developmental conversations the minute you see the need to.

So if your boss, the minute you finish a big presentation, or you come out of a big client meeting, on the way to the airport with your boss, that’s the time to say, “Let’s do a feedback session.” And it can be really simple. You can say, “Here’s one thing you did well, Jim.” Or maybe even start with, “Jim, what’s one thing you think went well?” And then you shut up and listen. And then you say, “Jim, here’s one thing I think you did well.” That builds confidence.

“Jim, what’s one thing you think you could’ve done differently?” And then you shut up. “Here’s one thing I think you could’ve done differently.” And that builds skills. So this real simple feedback model, one thing you did well, you let them say, then you tell them one thing you think he did well, one thing that you think they could’ve done better, and then you say one thing.

This, on an ongoing regular cadence, is the way you develop people. It’s not like some once a year occasion during performance review time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Carter, tell me, is there anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and we hear about a few of your favorite things?

Carter Cast
Yeah, you know, when I’ve been out talking about the book, and I get this question of, “Which of these five derailers hits you in different stages of your career? And which of them hit men versus women the most?”

And so if I would say, of the five derailers I laid out, early in the career, it’s often Solo Flyer. You haven’t learned to leverage your team, you haven’t learned to teach your team to fish, you haven’t learned to be a good manager yet. Mid-career, it’s often Version 1.0. You get stuck and you get complacent, and you need to find ways to jumpstart your learning curve.

And later in career, a lot of times it’s Captain Fantastic. You know you’re good at this and you get overly confident, and you stop having that beginner’s mindset and asking for feedback. And so the Whirling Dervish happens throughout your career. I mean, that afflicts people whether they’re right out of college, or they’re 50, 60 years old. You’re older. That one afflicts people throughout.

So mid-career Version 1.0 often hits people with adaptability, early in career a lot of times it’s Solo Flyer. Now, men versus women, the number one derailer the research showed that hurts women – and this is going to make you cringe, it made me cringe – it’s being viewed as non-strategic. And I always say, “Well, geez, do you think fundamentally genetically women are less strategic than men? Well, of course not.”

This, I think, is a problem with access. You’re non-strategic because you don’t see how all the pieces fit together. You don’t have a perspective on the business, it’s broad. The way you get a broad perspective on the business so you’re not non-strategic is by having access to senior leadership, is by being rotated into different assignments, it’s by being put on different assignments. So this is an access problem.

So this is where the importance of having mentors and advocates, and raising your hand and being asked to be rotated on different assignments. Like my boss said, “Carter, let me put you on a new assignment to broaden you.” That’s the sort of opportunity that a person needs to be able to be viewed as, you know, to move past being viewed as non-strategic, because fundamentally, being non-strategic it’s not like a genetic, you know, there are strategic people and non-strategic people. But, no, it’s a problem with access; access to opportunity.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Thank you.

Carter Cast
So that men versus women. Then the number one derailer for men, not surprisingly, is Captain Fantastic. It’s being unbridled egos, dismal listening skills, listening, by the way, that came up so frequently. Thinking you have the answer and talking too much and not being receptive to feedback, not asking for feedback.

Pete Mockaitis
This is so much good stuff. Thank you. Now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Carter Cast
You know, it’s funny, I think I kind of tethered the quote into what I was saying. One of my very favorite quotes is, “Seek to understand before being understood.” And I actually look back and I think it came initially from St. Francis of Assisi, you know, hundreds and hundreds of years ago.

Pete Mockaitis
And Stephen Covey just picked it up.

Carter Cast
He picked it up. But if you go look at… we could even Google it. If you look up St. Francis of Assisi and look at his beautiful prayer, I’m going to even try to find it.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. The “make me an instrument of your peace,” the one?

Carter Cast
That’s it. That’s it. That’s the prayer. “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there’s hatred let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. When there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy.” And he says in the next verse, “Oh, Divine Master, grant that I not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand.” And I think a lot of people have taken that wonderful prayer and re-purposed it as, “Seek to understand before being understood.”

Because if you do that, you establish these strong relationships with people, and people then want to understand how they can help you too. So that begins this process of reciprocity and mutuality between people, and you end up having a group of people around you that are enlisted in your success and want to see you get ahead. And it’s not disingenuous. You try to help them get ahead, you show interest in their career and their projects, and they naturally will say to you, “How can I help you, Carter?”

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. And you’ve looked at a lot of studies and research. Do you have any favorites?

Carter Cast
You know, my favorite book, it’s funny, I read so many articles and so much academic research while doing this, and the Lominger stuff is great. It’s dense. There’s just a lot of the FYI and developmental planner by Lominger. But actually there’s a book called The Extraordinary Leader and the authors are Zenger, Z-E-N-G-E-R, and Folkman, F-O-L-K-M-A-N.

They were the ones that looked at… so mining, mining all these 360s and finding these very specific competencies that successful people have and high performers have, and I found that to be incredibly useful. And then I would say Marshall Goldsmith who’s just a wonderful example of leadership researcher. His book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There was wonderful in showing that, as we move on and get promoted, we have to let go of our old behaviors and embrace new ones.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. And how about a favorite tool, something you use that helps you be awesome at your job?

Carter Cast
Reflection. The most important thing I think I do is, in the morning, I sit down with a cup of coffee when it’s quiet at 5:30 and it’s dark out, and I journal and I read something that’s either philosophical or spiritual or social psychology, and I reflect. So it’s like wisdom from the ancients, or wisdom from people smarter than I, and I reflect on it, and then I journal.

And I think about, how do I want to model this? Or how do I want to take these nuggets and bring them into the way I live and the way I behave? So, for example, I’m reaching into my backpack right now, and the book I’m currently reading is Anam Cara, A-N-A-M C-A-R-A. It’s a book of Celtic wisdom by John O’Donohue. And it’s just this lovely book on friendship and love.

And I find that if I get up and I immediately start my day, even before I work out or do anything, I read something that is really well-written by someone that’s very smart, and then I think about how I want to use that or incorporate that into my life. To me, it’s a great way to start the day, and I do it every day. Even if I read for 20 minutes, it’s become a practice of mine.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. And is there a particular nugget that you share, either in the classroom or when you’re coaching folks, that really seems to connect and resonate, and folks sort of quote it back to you, or they spread it far and wide?

Carter Cast
Yeah, there is actually, and it’s going to sound…I hope it doesn’t come off wrong. But I say often, in the last lecture I give in my class at Kellogg, don’t worry about what people think of you because they’re not thinking of you. They’re the protagonist in their own play, and they’re worried about their own lives. And if you realize that they’re not obsessed with how you’re behaving, that actually is empowering. It gives you freedom to do what you want to do with your life or your career instead of doing what you think others want you to do.

So another kind of companion phrase is, “Your opinion of me is none of my business.” I really do think that a lot of times we’re working so…we’re so worried that we’re being judged that it can stifle our creativity or make us make certain decisions about our career based on the safe path. But it really helped me to change careers eight years ago and go into academics and go into venture capital by saying, “You know what? I don’t want to be a CEO anymore. And if people are going to judge me because I’ve moved into this less ‘fancy’ career, then they can judge me.”

And what happened was I realized that nobody was judging me at all. It was my own misconception that people were more interested in my career than they were. They’re not interested in it. They’re worried about their own hide.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. That’s so good. Well, Carter, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Carter Cast
Well, for the book that I wrote I created a website that’s just my name CarterCast.com, and on that site there’s a whole bunch of information about the book, and you can take the derailment test. But also, I loaded it with resource just to try to be useful, so I’d point them there.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Carter Cast
Yes, I would say every day when you reflect on the day, what’s the nugget you’ve picked up? Try to capture it because so much of what we learn we don’t codify and capture. So I think one of the challenges as we live in this fast-paced lives is taking the time to reflect and capture your learnings. So whether your journal or Dictaphone, some Evernote, whatever some app, whatever tools you use, I personally like the feeling of a pen and a piece of paper so I’ve gone through about, I think I’m on my 23rd journal now.

I just like to capture what I’m learning and then figure out a way to codify it into a behavior of some sort. So I would challenge people, what have you learned today, capture it some place so it doesn’t escape into the ether.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. Carter, thank you so much for sharing this perspective. I just have so much to think about. It’s like I’m quieter than normal because this so much good stuff to chew on, so thank you for bringing it. and I wish you lots of luck with your book The Right (and Wrong) Stuff, and your teaching, and investments, and all you’re up to.

Carter Cast
Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

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