My guest today is Carter Cast, former CEO of, professor of management at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Business, and the author of The Right—and Wrong—Stuff: How Brilliant Careers Are Made and Unmade.

Takeaways from this episode:

  • Your strengths can take you far, but a weakness can sweep you in the knees. Think critically: what about you could hurt you? What about you could impede your own career progress? Where are your vulnerabilities? This may make you uncomfortable but can prevent you from derailing your own career.
  • There are five archetypes for why individuals derail their careers: Captain Fantastic, Solo Flier, Version 1.0, One Trick Pony, and Whirling Dervish (listen for details!)
  • Business is “we”, not “I”—it is complex and requires interdependence. A leader who uses “I” will have weak working relationships and is not actively engaged in listening.
  • Listening is important. Consider Clayton Christensen’s 6 to 1 ratio: ask six questions to every one statement if you want to be an innovator and leader with discovery skills.
  • Individuals who are too skeptical of change can’t adapt to rapidly changing business environments. Senior managers should be roaming the halls to find out what they don’t know, not sitting around assuming they know it all. Keep an open mind, and follow up with your team to make sure they are staying abreast of change through thought leaders, podcasts, white papers, articles, competitive audits, etc.
  • Make sure your external network is strong. We may not be able to control the support of our internal network, but if we have a strong external network we can avoid becoming one-dimensional.
  • Don’t overcommit yourself; learn to say no (and it is possible to say no in a positive way!)
  • If you feel you are derailing but none of the archetypes seem to fit, consider that you may be in the wrong context—you’re on the wrong curve, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Examine if what you are doing lines up with what you are truly interested in pursuing.

Carter Cast is brilliant, blending intense insight with the heart of a teacher (although it took him years to uncover this truth). Having been a marketing manager early in his career at PepsiCo Food Service International, he appeared to be on the fast track for promotion—until he was transferred to the Frito Lay division, an abrupt change from his previous work.  In Carter’s words, he did not react well.

“I did not respond well to the different…culture. I was always itchy and I was trying to move quickly and I didn’t understand how to grease the skids with the other departments and…align with other functions.”

This self-reflection did not come voluntarily: Carter was called into the office of his boss, who told him he was insubordinate, difficult to work with, recalcitrant, and while he was not technically fired, his boss had no interest in having him on his team. It took a long time for Carter to “resuscitate” his career, and the experience made him realize that weaknesses, even more than strengths, can determine if someone succeeds.

“My experience in business was that your strengths can take you pretty far, but, a…real negative you have, a vulnerability or blind spot can just sweep you at the knees.”

Join us as we discuss the five archetypes of derailment and how being aware of your weaknesses can keep you on the path to success. Listen now in the player above, or subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you listen to podcasts. If you enjoyed this episode or any previous episode, please consider leaving a review.

Links Mentioned in the Episode and Transcript Download

Carter Cast
Twitter – @carteracast

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