4 Common Career Derailers for Senior Professionals

Damaged Railway

Damaged RailwayWhile climbing the corporate ladder is not the main yardstick of success, the inability to rise to one’s true potential is. We often see talented individuals get derailed, blocked or side-tracked in their careers. Derailers prevent professionals from achieving their true potential in terms of impact, visibility and meaning.

What are career derailers? Derailers are often caused by “blind spots”. Blind spots are things that are our weaknesses or things we do wrong but are unaware of. Derailers are also moves that seem insignificant but have disproportionate negative consequences in the short or long run.


4 common derailers that impact people at some point in their career

1. Lack of agility

Agility is the ability to be proactive as well as responsive to the constantly changing landscape in the business world. Agility is a function of learning as well as being able to quickly apply the learning, on the fly. Specifically, agility on following three aspects helps:

– People: Ability to effectively work with people of diverse personalities, backgrounds, points of view is important for long-term career success. This comes into play specifically when there is a change of boss; change in team members; rotation within the organization; joining a new organization; reorganization etc.
– Intellectual Agility: This is the ability to absorb new information; study the landscape; perform cognitive assignment; understand complexity or study a new industry or organization. This is also important to vibe with and be on the same wavelength as high IQ management team and peers.
– Situational agility: this refers to ever changing circumstances. Most companies have undergone radical change in the last ten years, especially since the economic downturn. The ability to cope with change & ambiguity and stay positive is important for leaders. Equally important –and extremely rare – is the ability to see “beyond interim change” towards the end game.

2. Political savviness

Reading politics correctly, making political missteps and engaging in politically damaging behavior is a common pitfall, especially at senior levels. The specific types of derailment as a result of politics are:

– Not being aware of politics and its implications
– Being indifferent to politics
– Too shy to promote oneself, team and work achievements
– Reacting negatively by becoming impatient
– Making political missteps
– Misreading alignments
– Not understanding stakeholder expectations correctly

3. Ego

Every successful person has an ego to some extent or the other. Ego maybe based on one’s position, power, talents, knowledge, abilities, personality and other factors. There are many reasons why ego derails careers including these common manifestations:

– Lack of listening
– Lack of appreciation of others
– Insensitive behavior
– An approach that is too self-centered
– Arrogance and brashness
– Lack of self-awareness
– Surrounding oneself with “yes people” or clones

Ultimately, though, ego is most harmful because people around the egotistic person are not able to warn the person of the consequences of their behavior or dangers that might be lurking.

4. Personal productivity

As many professionals become more successful they develop the habit of delegation. As things scale, demands increase in terms of communication, meetings, conference calls, customer connects, employee issues etc. The balance between doing it yourself versus getting it done is a delicate and difficult one. Similarly, an obsession with perfection sometimes gets in the way. Focus and priority become challenges as hundreds of issues jostle for attention.

Leaders who do not consciously develop ways of becoming more productive with their time become overwhelmed or out of touch and eventually unsuccessful. Some specific concern areas with personal productivity are:

– Managing energy and time
– Paying attention to details
– Keeping an eye on key dashboard and metrics
– Managing communication (emails, conference calls, Instant Messages etc)
– Managing time drains (wasteful meetings, as an example)
– Differentiating between important and urgent
– Developing focus and priority
– Staying in the moment and giving hundred percent to the task on hand

A number of techniques or “hacks” have been developed to conquer time and energy drains. Without investing in learning these techniques, it becomes challenging to stay ahead and effective.

In order to prevent your career getting derailed, it is extremely important to increase self-awareness, working with a mentor or coach and so carve out a fulfilling career that touches other people’s lives and make a positive difference. 

– Sharad Verma

Sharad Verma is currently Global Head

30 thoughts on “4 Common Career Derailers for Senior Professionals

  1. I have a very peculiar problem in my present company. I am 2nd most experienced in my field in the organisation. Probation has been confirmed, Appraisal : Good. But I have no formal duty/responsibility. I an way, my Manager’s Boss is disparaging me and I am facing racism too. I am sitting tight,I have the resignation ready, just to fight back before quitting. Sir , kindly advice.

    1. Hello Mohit,
      Thanks for sharing your issue. In such situations, the question we need to ask ourselves is – ‘how likely is this situation to repeat itself and what will be our reaction to it then.’ If it is a situation that will recur then it is worthwhile to develop patience and ability to cope with it.

  2. Hi Sharad,

    i usually dont like any of the “gyan” Hr articles but kudos to you i havent seen such a objective and sharp analysis in a long time . Really liked your article and would really like to follow your thoughts. Thanks again.


  3. The four points are quiet relevant in todays business scenario, even if you miss one single of it, it creat a huge loss

    ashok boricha

  4. Hi Sharad,

    Thanks for the motivational paragraphs. I find faith and patience the surest two qualities when seeking an opportunity when one is in the sixties……


  5. Hi Sharad,

    While all the 4 points are so valid in corporate world, however it comes to women, there are other factors which may derail the growth. You may like to consider to add those to your article.


  6. Like your redefining commonly used ‘adaptability’ into more focused ‘agilities’ covering people,intellectual & situational agilities.

  7. Thanxs Mr Sharad . How to cope if the derailment has already occured to any and how to revive.Pls advise.

    1. Career can be revived with realistic goal setting, identification of causes of derailment and investing efforts in self-development. Working with an effective coach can also help.

  8. Mr. Sharad ,

    Derailers have been very well and meticulously explained . Certainly these tips are nothing less than a gyroscope to steer in the right direction.
    best wishes.


  9. Hi Sharad,
    Appreciate to surfacing the main derailers. Meanwhile, I feel one must constantly engage in
    value adding self development programs which help to stay float in the corporate world.

  10. Hi Mr. Sharad,

    I sincerely appreciate your thought at macro level but the real challenge is at micro level where the situation changes every day, it is like you are leading the ship where the plate-form itself is moving. Looking forward to hear from you in further on the same.


  11. Dear Sharad

    Well articulated. I, being into employee life cycle management practices, agree to all points. Would like to add here, stopping to learn, which is a blend of the above points though, is also a major major factor in people unable to grow beyond a point. I see a plethora of examples all around us!

    Thanks for sharing your insight.

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