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4 Ways You May Be Sabotaging Your Career Success

To be a success, it’s helpful to know what NOT to do on the job. An interview with the best-selling author of “The Art of Being Indispensable at Work” reveals four career mistakes that can cause you to be a miserable failure.

by: H. Dennis Beaver, Esq. May 3, 2021 from

A man in a business suit steps on a banana peel.

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We all want to do well on the job, right? But how often do we get ourselves into a real pickle — instead of being thought of as a go to person, it feels like stay away from me is tattooed on your forehead.

“Nobody wants to be in that category,” best-selling author and business consultant Bruce Tulgan says, “but so often people with great technical abilities lack insight into the human dimension of working with others. And, at one time or another, we have all said or done something that had the potential to harm our reputation.”

In his new book, The Art of Being Indispensable at Work, Tulgan gives readers the keys to the castle. He reveals how go to people think and behave differently, are valued, highly thought of and, in short, become indispensable.

Tulgan isn’t offering a “quick fix” for personality issues or communication problems we might have. Read his book and I’ll bet you will see some of your own weaknesses discussed, as I did. If our lives are jigsaw puzzles, Tulgan shows us how to better assemble the pieces that will make us happier, respected and an MVE, a Most Valued Employee.

A Recipe for Failure at Work

I asked him to turn the question of “How to succeed at work” upside down. Of course, by definition, if you know what will make you fail, there is a good chance of avoiding it completely. Here are four ways people fail at work:

1. Think that you must say yes to everyone and everything until you are drowning.

Consequences: You end up overcommitted, according to Tulgan. You start failing, creating unnecessary problems and delays, which will undermine your relationships and your reputation, leading to a siege mentality. Then, you will start saying “no” not because you have a bad attitude, but because you are drowning!

Instead of letting yourself become overwhelmed by trying to do too much, the key to being indispensable is in realizing that you have limited productive capacity and can’t say yes to every request.

2. When you don’t have authority, try to use influence.

Consequences: You will undermine your real influence, and people will think less of you. Here’s why:

Conventional thinking says, “If you do not have authority, you have to use influence — find a way of getting people to do what you want when you can’t require it of them.” This can take innocent forms, such as baking brownies for the staff.

But it can become unethical influence peddling: setting up a quid pro quo, badgering or extorting, by saying, “If you don’t help me with this, then don’t count on me when you need my help.” 

We need to think of the word “influence” as a noun, not a verb. It is an asset you build, not an action you do to people. Real influence is more powerful than authority, because it is your reputation in the hearts and minds of others, when people want to do things for you, want to work with you, and want you to work with them.

3. Be so busy that you are juggling – bouncing from one task to another.

Consequences: People who are always juggling end up as bottlenecks in their organizations. Collaborative projects stop as the juggler has not finished critical tasks. This person is seen as having dropped the ball.

It’s OK to have a long to-do list, but juggling is a step away from multi-tasking, which is a fiction, Tulgan says.  Research has showed the brain to be much less efficient when shifting back and forth from one task to another, often none of them completed on time or correctly

Jugglers overcommit out of fear of not giving the impression they can accomplish anything. Reluctant to delegate work, they are their own worst enemy, and often the reason projects are not completed on time or within budget.

A common example of a juggler — the multitasker — is someone writing emails during meetings and not paying attention. Sound familiar?

4. Fake it till you make it. Pretend that you know how to do something you don’t.

Consequences: You are likely to set false expectations for your colleagues and customers, and will not be able to make a good prediction about outcomes. When you attempt to tackle something that you aren’t prepared to do, you will be reinventing the wheel. In the end, you are not likely to do a competent job.

Instead over overpromising, the proper conversation should be, “That’s not my specialty, but I am happy to look into it. I’ll get back to you with an idea of what I will need and how long it will take to get this done, so please give me some time to come up to speed.”

Concluding our interview, Tulgan offers this insight for anyone wanting to become an MVE – A Most Valued Employee, which I think applies equally well to our lives at home, with family:

“The way to become indispensable is by being service minded. Listen. By taking the time to understand someone’s needs you are showing them respect and building confidence. Know when to say no. Don’t waste your yeses.”

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