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Staying Straight on the Career Path

Staying Straight on the Career Path

Tips on how to avoid self-sabotage in the culinary industry

07 02 staying straight the right and wrong stuffCarter Cast: Author of “The Right—and Wrong—Stuff: How Brilliant Careers Are Made and Unmade”


Anyone who has ever been fired, demoted, demoralized or smacked down in their job knows well the blistering sting of rejection, the indignity and, yes, the injustice of it all. These pink slips, after all, are handed out by bosses who don’t recognize talent or maybe just don’t like you or feel threatened by your smarts and business style, right?

Not so much, as it happens. According to Carter Cast, a venture capitalist, professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and author of “The Right and Wrong Stuff: How Brilliant Careers are Made,” many, if not most, of the major stumbles are self-inflicted and entirely preventable.

“Derailing careers is something we do to ourselves,” he says, adding that arrogance, hubris, inability to listen, disorganization and lack of self-awareness are among the common behavioral blind spots.

Cast knows firsthand what it looks and feels like. Early in his career, while at Pepsi, his boss pretty much told him to go find another job. He did, at another division within the company, so he could sidestep the blot of being fired. Instead of passing the blame to his boss and co-workers, Cast looked inward and sought to understand how he contributed to his poor standing.

In a recent interview, Cast discussed the process of self-reflection and forward career momentum, offering pointers that apply at pretty much any stage.

Most people are a lot less self-aware than they think.

For internal self-awareness, try to figure out motives and drivers of behaviors. Externally, figure out how you come across to others; it may not be as agreeable as you think.

Have a beginner’s mindset.

Be in a constant state of beta and have a learning orientation. Stay focused on areas you need to improve. Learning agility is important, especially as you progress through your career.

Work on discovery skills.

Test and test and test some more in your job. Test new theories. See how customers interact with the food, the servers, to being in your restaurant and then ask yourself how to make the experience better.

Network with smart people who are strong where you’re weak.

If they don’t exist or aren’t available to you inside the company, look outside for mentors.

Be reflective and self-critical.

Ask your bosses and people with whom you work, “Tell me what didn’t work.” Be prepared for criticism, and don’t shut down when you hear it. It’s part of improvement.

Determine the key activities within your organization that create customer value and align your strengths with them.

Develop an ability to sublimate your ego and be open-minded to learning the truth.

Ask yourself if you are honestly open to new ideas and to improving.

Treat your boss like a customer instead of an adversary.

In short, says Cast, “We’re all works in progress. To unleash your ‘right stuff,’ be a persistent learner who listens carefully and is readily able to reach out to others for support and help.”


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