Avoiding 3 Career Derailers by Trusting Differently

Cast Carter points to five key career derailers with three of the five involving trust issues


Contributor / Carter Cast

Clinical Professor of Innovation & Entrepreneurship
Kellogg School of Management / Career Derailers

Why do talented people not achieve the levels they should in their career? Cast’s perspective points to five key career derailers with three of the five involving trust issues -- interpersonal issues, difficulty building teams and not delivering on promises. He finds that high performers are authentic, have a tendency to seek to understand before being understood and display genuine empathy, which engenders mutual trust.


I’ve done about two years of research looking at what derails talented people. Why do talented people not achieve the level that they should in their careers? And I interviewed 60 people. I talked to headhunters; I talked to HR executives; I talked to derailed people; I talked to CEOs.

There are five key derailers that impede the progress of good people—and I’ll tell you what they are quickly—and three of them of the five involve trust, trust issues.

The first one is interpersonal issues led by arrogance, insensitivity, poor listening skills.

The second one is the person doesn’t manage and build their team well. They micromanage; they’re overbearing.

A third one is difficulty adapting to change. People are especially vulnerable to this one as they age and they don’t stay current on technological changes in the market, shifts in the environment, the strategic environment that they’re working in.

The fourth one is being nonstrategic or too narrow. In this case, the person focuses on getting good at one thing at the exclusion of getting a broad set of experiences.

And then the fifth reason people derail is—it sounds simple, but it’s not delivering on promises. Your word isn’t your bond.

BUMPER: 3 Career Derailers that Erode Trust

Of those five derailers I just mentioned, three of them involve trust issues.

First, on the interpersonal issues, if someone is insensitive and doesn’t listen, they just don’t engender trust in other people. They’re seen as being all about themselves, about their career, and not being someone that actually has the entire group in mind.

And so, that erodes trust.

The second one that is involved with trust is difficulty building leading teams. A lot of times the reason people derail when they have difficulty leading teams is because they try to do the work themselves and they don’t show the trust of the group to be able to do the work.

So, they’re always looking over their team’s shoulder; they’re always correcting work that doesn’t really need to be corrected. And the team is demotivated because they feel like they’re aren’t trusted by their boss to do their jobs.

And then this third area, third derailer that involves trust is obviously not delivering on promises. This is an insidious derailer.

Slowly but surely, somebody’s well-intentioned, but they don’t deliver what they say they were going to do when they said they were going to deliver it. And people just don’t want to work them over time, because they can’t be counted on.

BUMPER: How High-Performers Avoid Career Derailment

I also studied high-performing, high-potential people for probably nine months: What do they do differently? And I could find this information by looking at 360 feedback.

So, if you look at the feedback of your peers, of your subordinates, and of your superiors in looking at how you’re rated on different competencies, high performers have several traits that are different as it relates to trust and derailment.

One is, across the board, people that were considered high potential, high performers by their organizations had a sort of authenticity about them. They were not afraid to say what they saw and to be candid and forthright in their feedback. And that engenders trust with other people.

For example, I interviewed Dick Costolo, the former CEO of Twitter.

And he said, “The most important thing about my management style that I think has helped me in my career is I say it like I see it, so people know they don’t have to second guess what I’m trying to say because I will tell them.”

And sometimes it seems like that’s a tough strategy because you’re saying difficult things, but in the long run, it saves you a lot of grief.

The other recurring theme of high performers as it relates to trust is they had a strong tendency to seek to understand before being understood.

There was this constant theme when I talked to high-performing people or I talked to HR executives about their high performers that the high performers were empathetic, they were good listeners.

And by having this attitude of “others first,” they engendered trust. People saw that they genuinely wanted, this person wanted them to succeed and wanted to help them, and they developed a much more trusting relationship.

So, those were the two biggest ones: being authentic and candid, even when it’s difficult, and seeking to understand people instead of just trying to be understood.

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Building Team Trust to Manage Change at Work

Contributor / Grover Wray
Grover Wray Human Resources Human Resources,Mergers and Acquisitions,Reputation Management,Social Psychology As a Chief Human Resource Officer, trust is fundamental to being able to ensure that employees are engaged, they are motivated by what they do and they can contribute a degree of value back to the organization, and in return the organization gives them a degree of value. And when that equation of value that the person gives to the organization is equal to the value that the organization is giving to them, then you have trust. That’s what trust is built on. And so as a Chief Human Resource Officer it’s absolutely critical to ensure that you are effectively building mental maps for all of your team members starting with those who come into the organization on day one.

Essentially a mental map is an ability for somebody to be able to anticipate and to expect what might happen. An example, a simple example would be driving to and from work. If we drive to and from work every day the same way, very soon we have a route. We don’t think about what we’re doing; we just start to drive and the next thing you know you’ve arrived at your destination and you find that you arrived without even giving a thought to how you got there.

BUMPER: Understanding Trust through Mental Maps

When I was first introduced to this idea of mental maps it was through the work that I was doing with Arthur Anderson. I got a phone call one day from a partner who said, “We are thinking about outsourcing this accounting function and I was visiting with the CEO of this company and he said you’ve put a lot of effort and time into making sure that the technical transition of this work goes smoothly. But if you’re going to be in this business full-time you better put as much attention to how you manage the people as you do the technical transition.”

I ended up visiting with the CEO and ended up visiting with all of the team members and that’s when the light bulb went on for me. It was the CEO who understood the dynamic of what was happening to his team members who had an expectation, a trust, and this trust was a very significant trust because it was in a small town. It was a few team members.

And it was at that moment that I realized that these employees could not go through a transition like this without understanding the expectations of what a new company was going to provide to them. And it was then that I realized the power of that mental map and applied that in every situation that we encountered after that, and in every situation almost to a T that process or principle worked very well, because you were addressing exactly what the issues were and the uncertainty that gets created when a mental map gets destroyed.

BUMPER: 5 Steps to Building Trust During Mergers

I realized that principle of a mental map was exactly what was needed inside a merger and acquisition or significant change situation. An employee was in an uncertain moment when all of a sudden the mental map that they had built about themselves and from the company was now gone. The trust that the organization had placed in them and they had placed in the organization was now gone. And without replacing that trust with a new map that would build new trust you would never gain the emotional commitment of the team members.

As a leader, the first thing you have to understand is the very first question that somebody has to have answered for them before you can provide any more information to them is: Do I have a job?

The next layer of that foundation is: What are my salary and benefits?

If that question is answered then the third question in that layer of questions becomes: Who is my manager?

And then the fourth question in that layer is: What is my team or who is my team? Who will I be interacting with?

And then the fifth layer, which is the most important layer, but it’s the last layer – (which is somewhat counterintuitive) is the culture. What is the culture of the organization like? What are the values of the organization? If you start with culture, which sometimes we might tend to do because we want that to be seen as a very positive thing, that’s good but I still don’t know whether I have a job. And so it’s not going to resonate with me until you answer those other foundational questions.

Follow that pattern through, and each of those pieces of the pattern put another piece into the mental map until you have sufficiently formed a mental map for that individual as they move into a new environment.
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Learning from A Bankruptcy Crisis: Trust and Transparency

Contributor / Jennifer Thompson
Jennifer Thompson Public Relations Vulnerability,Communication,Transparency I worked with a client that was in a senior-living facility in a very populated metropolitan area who had gone through a number of leadership changes in the past couple of years.

There was suspicion and there was a basic lack of trust amongst “management” for this organization. One of the things that the new management team and the CEO realized quite quickly was that the financial situation of this organization was such that they needed to declare bankruptcy in order to restructure their financial agreements and get themselves out of the rut.

And in doing so, they were quite concerned how the term “bankruptcy” would go over with their residents, senior citizens.

So, our goal in working with the management team and the CEO was to create a situation, which, first, built some trust amongst residents and other stakeholders, and then, second, conveyed the facts about the bankruptcy filing and the new financial structure going forward in a way that would not cause residents to flee in droves and would continue the stability of maintaining majority occupancy of this particular center.

Previously, other management teams had had a fairly generic approach to communication, sending out form letters and such to residents but not really taking the time to engage individually with residents and others that matter.

So, we sat down and I worked with the CEO to map out the universe of folks that “mattered” in this regard — not just the residents but their families, the media, certainly the investors and financial community, and then, to some degree as well, other governmental organizations that may or may not play a role in the bankruptcy filing going forward.

But certainly, first and foremost, were the residents and their families. It was interesting because we found that their families were a key constituency who hadn’t been communicated with prior to this particular engagement.

So, we led up to a town hall meeting, which then served as sort of the anchor to state the path forward, again, conveying facts, first and foremost. The CEO herself delivered the message, stayed available for questions and commentary and interaction with the residents afterwards.

And there was some hesitation at first, but the fact that the CEO was willing to lay everything on the line and put herself in a little bit of a vulnerable position helped the residents and the stakeholders build their trust in her because they say that she was really trying to do the right thing and be open and forthright about everything that was going on with them and would be available to be communicating with them about every step in the process along the way.

The first thing folks are often concerned about is, “Let’s get the press release right, and let’s reach out to our consumers,” potentially, and then the investors, of course, as well.

But oftentimes, as you say, when you dig a little deeper, there are other stakeholder groups out there that can be tremendously influential in helping build and foster the trust that you have with your core constituencies.

Those are relationships that companies and institutions should be building, of course, before the crisis hits because you want to have those relationships in place — and those trusted advisors that can speak on your behalf — before you need them.

For the management company of this organization, I think they came through the experience learning three or four really valuable lessons. First of those is that communication with their residents and other stakeholder groups that is tailored to the specific group is imperative for building trust.

They couldn’t just come in and have a blanket, one-size-fits-all approach to communications in general, which was what previous leadership had done.

The second thing that they learned was that being tremendously transparent, conveying facts, and being open and honest was a way that was very important for them to build and gain trust with their stakeholder groups.

The third thing they learned was that they needed a communication strategy that wasn’t just focused on the bankruptcy filing itself and the immediate days surrounding that event, a communication strategy that continued weeks and months into the future to continually engage with their stakeholder groups.
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Trust and Leadership

Contributor / J. Keith Murnighan
J. Keith Murnighan Management Leadership,Reputation Management,Social Psychology,Swift Trust,Broken Trust, Vulnerability Every leader wants to come across as competent. And what a lot of research suggests is every leader should also want to come across as warm — as interpersonally warm and caring.

So, this nice combination of competence and warmth is dynamite for leaders. It gets really positive responses from people who not only think you care about them but also understand that you know what’s going on. And that’s a powerful combination.

And if you’re a leader and have been appointed a leadership position for good reasons, people are going to think you’re smart and they’re going to give you some credit.

And think about this — think about leaders who will tell you, “You must earn my trust” versus leaders who say, “We’re starting out with 100 percent trust. You have a good track record. I’ve seen your reports. I have high expectations from you. You’ve been fantastic. Let’s take it from there” — altogether different from starting at ground zero.

BUMPER: Building Trust within Teams

When I work with companies and with leaders, I’m always focusing on the teams that they lead — the immediate groups of people that they lead. And what I want to have happen is for those teams to coordinate themselves well and trust each other.

And if they can coordinate themselves well and trust each other, they’re going to be able to take advantage of whatever abilities they have.

Add on some training programs where their abilities increase — absolutely tremendous bottom-line impact over the long term.

You can’t predict short-term — internal dynamics and their effect on the bottom line, in the short term, is not always obvious.

But in the long term, a really smoothly functioning team that’s well coordinated and trusts each other and has ability — whew! — fantastic.

BUMPER: Exploring Automatic Trust

Automatic trust is where you encounter someone, and for some reason, things click. And you find and believe that they’re trustworthy right away.

Our brains have all of these connections — interwoven connections in our brain — that activate when you say something like a person’s name or when they’re wearing a pair of glasses that you recognize that, for some reason, you have a positive association about.

So, automatic trust is a situation where you get a cue that all of sudden leads you to be more trusting than you would be otherwise. And there are lots of those cues that are possible.

BUMPER: Automatic Trust and Likeability: Creating Schemas

Liking is one thing, but we also have categories where a very likeable person is not particularly trustworthy. And we all know of them. They’re great to have a party with, but you would never loan them your car.

So, we’re pretty good at creating what we call “schemas” for different kinds of people. And we have schemas for professors; we have schemas for nerds; we have schemas for CEOs.

And we have schemas for people who are likeable but not trustworthy and schemas for people who are trustworthy but not so likeable.

Automatic trust can facilitate a better result, when you encounter one of the many, many people who truly are trustworthy, because if I come on as more trusting of you, you’re more likely to reciprocate and be more trusting of me. And we accelerate a trust-development process to both of our mutual benefit.

Other pages in Videos:

Pages in The Trust Project at Northwestern University