Know when to stop and take stock of yourself

"Why does this keep happening to me?" That might be the toughest career question you ask yourself.

Take the case of the company president who can’t understand why his senior level managers don’t take initiative. "They wait for me to bring up issues and make decisions about what should be done. They’re like a bunch of sheep. The same thing happens all the time. Doesn’t anyone have a backbone anymore?"

This scenario has happened to him before. If he asked, "Why does this keep happening to me?" he might realize the pattern leads directly back to him. If anyone had the guts to level with him, they would tell him that his temper tantrums, sarcasm and public attacks have blunted his staff’s desire to step forward with a new idea or an independent decision. They have learned to be "yes men" and keep their heads low and their mouths shut.

Or, take the case of the computer technician who can’t seem to hold a job. "My last boss was a political jerk; all he cared about was himself. My boss before that laid me off to put his friend in the job. In the job before that, they reorganized the department and laid me off, even though we had plenty of work…I just don’t think my manager liked me." Get the picture? He won’t ask himself the question. The answer is that it keeps happening to him because he’s a pain in the neck to work with. He alienates clients and coworkers alike with his arrogant, know-it-all style.

In another case, an office worker has decided that the five places she worked in the last eight years were filled with "political backstabbers" and people who were all out to get her. "I don’t know if they are all jealous of me because I have a college degree or because I’m younger and more attractive than the rest of them. It’s the same old story. They seem nice at first, and then a few months later they start ignoring me or talking about me behind my back." You’ve got this one figured out, haven’t you? She will never ask the introspective question because she’s too self-absorbed and conceited to imagine their response could be caused by her own behavior.

It's true that sometimes a rash of bad things happen to good people. They lose their jobs through no personal fault of their own. Sometimes coworkers are immature or political and most of us have been stung by a lousy boss. But when a pattern starts to develop, it’s time to stop and take stock.

What about you? What keeps happening to you and what can you learn about yourself before it’s too late?

Here are some tips to help you peer into that deep, dark, scary place:

§      When you look over past performance reviews, what patterns do you see? For instance, if you keep hearing, "Needs to be more open to other’s opinions and ideas," or "Needs to work on listening skills," what are they really telling you? (Maybe it’s a nice way of saying, "You think you know everything and people don’t want to work with you. I’ll never promote you as a result or put you on any high visibility projects.") If the same comments turn up time and time again, you need to find out how your own behavior is hurting you and what you need to do to correct it.

§      Do you hear the same feedback from your spouse and children that you hear at work? A workaholic manager told me his wife constantly complained that he loved his work more than he loved his family. His employees often complained that he was inaccessible and unresponsive to their issues. If you hear the same song at work and at home, it’s time to listen to the tune they’re playing before it’s too late.

§      Do you get teased about a behavior you have? Do you hear "funny," sarcastic comments from others about something you do? Sometimes they’re not intended to be funny. ("Hey, what do you know…Charlie actually showed up on time for work today! To what do we owe this honor?") If people don’t know how to approach you they may try to tell you with humor. If these jokes have a recurrent theme and you’re not listening closely, you won’t hear the real message.

More careers get derailed because of personal traits and inappropriate behavior than from technical incompetence. If you’ve ever said, "What does this keep happening to me?" it’s time to answer the question.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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