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Are You Stalled Out by One of These Common Career Roadblocks?

This series, Why Wait to be Great?, explores how to unleash your full potential. Step one is identifying any Career Roadblocks that might be in the way. Without addressing roadblocks, opportunities to explore and develop your potential will be harder to find.

Graphic Showing Hand Signaling Stopping with a Whistle To clarify, “career” is meant in the broadest possible terms here. It’s defined as “a person’s progress or general course of action through life or through a phase of life, as in some profession or other undertaking.” It’s not just about climbing your way up the org chart.   

The presence of a career roadblock does not indicate a lack of potential. The two can co-exist. Unfortunately, that’s seldom recognized by others who see career-blocking behaviors as absolutes. 

Nonetheless, working on your potential while allowing a career roadblock to linger is just too hard. Denying that you exhibit behaviors (or are perceived in that way) isn’t a smart use of your time and energy. It’s better to be aware and actively addressing any issues. 

What You Used to Do Isn’t Working Any More… Why Not? 

Many career roadblocks become problematic because they once served us well. But as you move into new roles, take on additional responsibilities, or interact more with others, what used to work may suddenly work against you.

It's been said that your greatest strength can also be your greatest weakness. Overplayed, that is true for every strength. Versatility is essential to avoid over-relying on any one strength. Self-awareness will keep you tuned in to how others are responding to what you offer. 

Here’s a classic example. A high-performer consistently posts great results and stellar achievements. She is a hard worker who gets things done. Over time, thanks to her contributions, she is promoted into management. Suddenly, she has to get things done through other people. When they don’t work as hard or long as she does, she becomes critical and micro-manages their activities. 

Naturally, those behaviors alienate team members and diminish their engagement levels. Their productivity declines even more. The manager tries to do it all herself and lashes out at those who are not doing their fair share. This is disastrous for the manager as people begin to quit and make complaints to HR. 

Sadly, in situations like this, there is little support for shifting from individual contributor to manager. What’s more, the label “not management material” sticks. Whether fired or demoted, this manager never had a fair shot. She did not recognize her own career roadblocks and was expected to figure it all out on her own.   

Korn Ferry research about career stallers indicates that issues like these are found in all job levels, in all demographics, and all around the world. 

In a conference paper related to leadership styles and career-ending mistakes in project management, Cindy Margules described impacts across an organization or team and the importance of understanding one’s own style and errors they’d be prone to make as a result of that style. 

Indeed, awareness is the right place to begin. Without it, denial and defensiveness become additional roadblocks. 

12 Common Career Roadblocks. Which One(s) Could Derail Your Career? 

The bullet points below describe each of the 12 roadblocks. Whether real or perceived, these qualities and behaviors cause others to lose faith in the person demonstrating them. 

As you read through each one, honestly assess how others might be interpreting your actions and choices. Focus less on defending yourself and more on understanding how others might draw conclusions based on what they observe.   

The Scrambler:

  • Is not detail-oriented and tends to make “absent minded” or careless mistakes.
  • Forgets verbal promises and casual commitments made. 
  • Frequently scrambles at the last minute to complete tasks. May consistently miss deadlines.
  • Jumps from one task to another, often leaving one task unfinished before moving on. 
  • Over-promises and under-delivers, often because you don’t say “no” to new requests.   

The Mouse:

  • Is timid about raising concerns or voicing your own opinion. 
  • Avoids conflict and is not assertive about getting your own needs met. 
  • Lacks confidence and requires too much validation and approval. 
  • Can’t make decisions and work autonomously; is paralyzed by fear of failure. 
  • Won’t take even the smallest of risks for fear of it reflecting badly on you. 

The Dinosaur:

  • Has difficulty adapting to change and may even be change resistant.
  • Struggles in situations that are ambiguous or those that require a high degree of flexibility.
  • Thinks narrowly and does not value innovation, experimentation and risk-taking.
  • Does not readily seek diverse opinions and does not easily understand others’ perspectives.
  • Likes things the way they are and makes little effort to learn, grow or develop. 

The Climber:

  • Is overly ambitious and focused on career advancement at any cost.
  • Jockeys for position and elbows into conversations and situations where you can be seen. 
  • Manages up to gain favor with senior management.
  • Makes choices that are political and self-serving without regard for the impact on others.  
  • Takes credit and deflects blame to position yourself favorably. 

The Rebel:

  • Doesn’t accept or doesn’t always abide by the established rules, norms or guidelines.
  • Pushes the envelope and tests the boundaries; tests the outer limits. 
  • Questions authority at times and asks why things are the way they are. 
  • Plays “devil’s advocate” and, at times, frustrates others who just want you to go along. 
  • Fails to honor the operating principles and business-as-usual standards that have been set. 

The Nuclear Reactor:

  • Is volatile and unpredictable. 
  • Seems unable or unwilling to control emotional outbursts and reactions to difficult situations. 
  • Can’t handle the pressure. Snaps or flies off the handle without much warning. 
  • Uses emotions to gain sympathy or convey needs that could have been addressed in other ways. 
  • Allows emotions to interfere with work performance and workplace relationships. 

The Lone Wolf:

  • Prefers to work alone and avoids working with a team.
  • Doesn’t give your full effort to the success of the team. 
  • Would sooner distance yourself from the team than work through problems with the team. 
  • Is not interested in team building, team celebrations or collaborative efforts. 
  • Hasn’t figured out how to leverage the strengths of a team to build capacity and success. 

The Intimidator:

  • Plows ahead to get things done without regard for others’ feelings. 
  • Thinks and acts quickly and doesn’t give others a chance to catch up and weigh in. 
  • Doesn’t filter messages or feedback but is so direct that others are sometimes taken aback. 
  • Shuts down when others disappoint you; lacks empathy for their reactions to you. 
  • Values speed and performance over relationships and connections. 

The Artful Dodger:

  • Denies, deflects and dodges responsibility or opportunities for improvement. 
  • Externalizes blame and refuses to acknowledge how you could have done things differently. 
  • Is defensive and unwilling to hear constructive feedback. 
  • Lashes out at those who attempt to give you constructive feedback. 
  • Cannot be vulnerable or humble enough to disclose personal limitations or growth areas. 

The One-Hit Wonder:

  • Has one core strength or significant accomplishment that is over-played.
  • Over-relies on technical expertise or a singular skill. 
  • Thinks more about execution and tactics than about visioning and strategy. 
  • Enjoys details and concrete examples. Dislikes abstract thinking and ideation. 
  • Does not have the capacity to lead others due to limited focus on your own work. 

The High & Mighty:

  • Conveys an aloofness and a sense of superiority that suggests others are inferior.  
  • Keeps others at an arm’s length; is not interested in forming strong interpersonal bonds. 
  • Can be somewhat detached and may seem cold or distant to others. 
  • Is dismissive of others’ input and contributions. 
  • Puts too much stock into their own opinion, thinking your answers & views are the “right” ones. 

The Control Freak:

  • Micro-manages the work and can’t seem to let go of even the smallest tasks. 
  • Doesn’t trust others to do an adequate job. 
  • Expects an unreasonably high standard of work and seems unpleasable. 
  • Won’t invest time and effort into developing the capacity of others. 
  • Would rather do all the work yourself even though there are others who are capable. 

Each of these career roadblocks has a negative impact on career progression and personal success. Left unchecked, these can become career dead ends rather than temporary roadblocks. 

How To Course Correct When You Hit a Career Roadblock

Acknowledging and working on the roadblock is essential. This should be done as soon as possible, preferably before your reputation is damaged and your prospects are limited. In future posts, we’ll look at career damage control and dealing with perceptions vs. realities. 

All 12 of these roadblocks and all 19 of Korn Ferry’s career stallers are something you can fix. It may take time, effort, and a willingness to step outside your comfort zone. But it can be done. Many have course corrected, and you can, too.    

If you’d like to receive a detailed report about your career roadblock, email and identify which ONE roadblock you think is the biggest issue for you. You’ll receive a  report with easy fixes you can make immediately, along with insights the impact of this issue can cause. For many, coaching is a good next step after a career roadblock has been identified. 

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