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7 bad habits that are ruining your career

7 bad habits that are ruining your career Jim Nichols

Your career success is part ability, part luck, and part how you behave. No one does everything right every time. But the demands of the day, our own natures, and our environments can cultivate bad habits that ultimately limit personal success.

7 bad habits that are ruining your career

This piece isn't about the "gimmes" of career limiting moves. Getting sloshed at the Christmas party and coming on to the president's husband -- I assume we don't need to go through that stuff. This is about small bad decisions that become habits that ultimately define our reputations. Sometimes we choose bad behaviors that seem expedient in the moment but work against us over the long haul. Here are seven such harmful short-cuts, and how you can avoid their dangers.

Keeping too low a profile

Photo credit: Jordi Paya

We're all quite busy, especially on internet time. But spending all your days and weeks at your desk reduces your effectiveness and potential career success in the long haul. It's through our interactions with others that we learn, teach, and gain the recognition necessary to rise to our fullest potential.

Being known starts in your own organization. Make an effort to be connected to people inside and outside your department. If you're at an agency, volunteer for new business. As you spend more time in the business and seek new and more responsibility, it becomes more and more critical that you be someone people know because it is only through such knowledge that they can see your promise.

Your work needs to be great, but you need to be known for people to see and understand your greatness. I don't mean you should be a grandstander; I mean you should be visible.

Think about your profile beyond the office building as well. We all need to make time to establish a personal brand within the industry. Attend a local interactive marketing association or AMA meeting. Write an article for iMediaConnection. Get your butt to an iMedia Summit, ad:tech, or any of the more than 100 digital events that take place each year. It helps you learn and share knowledge, contribute to the betterment of the industry, and be recognized for your growing expertise.

Cultivating bad relationships

Photo credit: Samantha Marx 

It can be a rude awakening for people to find out that they have developed bad reputations by dint of their abusive vendor relationships. But sellers are frequently asked for their two cents on the qualifications and suitability of marketing, advertising, and media candidates.

Who are they going to recommend? The people who refuse to meet with anyone? Who provide no feedback after an RFP? Who behave like spoiled children?

It's the same for sellers. If you go around people to get access to "higher ups" or clients, if you are unreliable, if you make more than your share of mistakes, you shouldn't expect your buyer counterparts to be in your corner when your chips are down. A big part of this is quid pro quo. Neither buyer nor seller can please everyone. But if your counterpart demonstrates professionalism, pleasant tenacity, and good ideas, make a reciprocal effort.

Burning bridges

Photo credit: Donna Barber 

It can often be tempting to go ballistic on people who are difficult to deal with. A client who provides horrible direction. A vendor who calls more often than you would like. A buyer who doesn't return messages. But mark my words, if you burn that bridge, you will need to cross it again and again throughout your career.

In 20-plus years in marketing, I have made a couple of enemies. My worst offense: On one occasion, I yelled in self-righteous indignation at what I considered someone's dreadful behavior. My outburst happened in the late '90s. To date, they have reappeared five times in my life in five different companies. It is never pretty. The bad behavior deserved to be pointed out. But it served no purpose whatsoever to flip out.

There are very few of us who don't occasionally imagine making a dramatic fireball of a scene. Don't do it. It may feel good for an hour, or a day, but I guarantee that person will be baaaaaack in your life at some point. This is too small a business to make enemies.

Forgetting the "forgotten"

Photo credit: Paul Sapiano 

Everyone has the right to feel job satisfaction for great work. Your success usually depends upon the collective effort of many folks, including quite a number who don't get recognized often:

  • The traffic person who deals with unbelievable complexity and yet somehow makes it look easy.

  • The department administrative assistant at your client who has to book an endless succession of meetings day in and day out.

  • The accounting specialist who makes all the collection calls so we can collect our paychecks.

  • The most junior person on your team who stays extra late to make sure things go off without a hitch.

There is a common denominator in every example above. In each case, the individual is responsible for homeostasis -- the maintenance of organizational stability -- rather than an Everest-esque project with a finite beginning, middle, and end. For them, doing a good job often means no feedback because things simply operate as hoped.

Many of the people who will read this have "hope and glory" jobs where a sexy achievement is evident at the end of the day. There is little glory in the maintenance of stability. In most organizations, people in roles like these are forgotten. And because they get no recognition, they feel less connected to the people and success of the company. Who can blame them when they resign four months from now for a $5,000 raise? When they've gone, you'll really see how important they were.

Don't forget them. Send them a thank-you note. On actual paper -- because nothing says "real thanks" like a dead tree. I send a lot of thank-you notes every month, paying particular attention to people in homeostasis roles. I can't tell you the number of times I have been shown one of those notes months or years later. People keep them and reread them when the crap is really hitting the spinning blades because it shows them they are appreciated.

Pause for a moment right now and think of someone on your team who fits this description. Go out and buy that person a thank-you card. Take a few minutes to write three sentences on how much you appreciate that person. Now, seal up the envelope, and put it on that person's chair when he or she is away from his or her desk this afternoon. You'll feel great, and that person will feel greater.

Doing-it-yourself martyrdom

Photo credit: Historic Brussels 

Are you someone with high standards who finds it difficult to cede control because you think you can do something better? Is it your tendency to just "do it yourself" rather than taking a few extra moments to train someone on how they should approach such a challenge?

The consequences of this tendency are to build frustration inside yourself, abdicate your role in helping develop new talent, and reduce the potential job satisfaction of the person whose job it actually is to meet the challenge.

Believe me, I know of what I speak. A few years ago, I worked at an agency where I would swoop in and fix things again and again because I was convinced that it wasn't worth the time and bother to empower others to do their jobs. Much quicker to just do it myself. The president of the agency pulled me aside one day and told me that I had to let go and let others do what they were paid to do. So I did that. And the world didn't stop spinning. Things worked out, and we were all happier in our jobs and professional relationships.

Daily practice of cynicism

Photo credit: Quinn Dombrowski 

Marketing attracts more than its share of cynics. But when we allow cynicism to rule our lives, we hamper our ability to be valuable in this constantly changing space. I guarantee that at some point in the next 12 months, you will be tasked with doing something that has never been done before. There will be 97 reasons why it is impossible. And yet you will be able to do it if you approach it with ingenuity and optimism.

Cynicism has a profoundly negative effect on those around you. It surely limits your ability, but also the capabilities of the larger team. Because if people don't think they can do something, they can't.

One place this comes up frequently is in dealing with risk-averse clients. They might have said no to all forms of innovation in the past. But if we self-censor ourselves and just get on with the stuff they are comfy with, we cease to be a valuable resource.

Undermining your own opinion

Photo credit: Threephin 

You were hired because people thought you were smart and could make a contribution. It is important to keep your ego in check, especially at the outset of your career. But make sure you grow more assertive as you gain practice and experience.

Marketing discussions require the valid contributions of everyone booked into the meeting. Stating an opinion can feel risky, but your passion and opinions are a key part of why you have a job. Avoid the dangerous habit of holding back or belittling your own opinions.

Sadly, a great deal of behavioral research indicates that the tendency to qualify one's opinion with belittling uncertainty is more common among women. Now, I know plenty of women who are very strident in giving opinions. But I also know too many who fall into this confidence trap. For those women and men who demonstrate a little too much humility, I implore you to tell us what you think.

Oh, and if you are a manager, stop any member of your team that begins their POV with a statement like, "Well, I am not sure if this is right, but..." Make them start again and state their opinion with authority. Of course they aren't sure they are right. It's an opinion. But the essences of marketing are thoughtful ideas and opinion.

Jim Nichols is vice president of branding at ROI DNA.

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"Illustration of water swirling" and "The words Your Future flushing" images via Shutterstock.

Jim Nichols is VP of Marketing for Apsalar. Jim has 20+ years experience in over 80 different categories, including developing successful positioning and go-to-market plans for more than 40 adtech and martech companies. He joins Apsalar after...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Jen (Samples) Lazarus

2012, December 24

Jim, this was a great article. Everything you said is practical and common sense, but are rarely items employees get coached upon during a performance review. Thanks for bringing us back down to earth!