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Five Self-Defeating Behaviors that Ruin Companies and Careers

By Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business Review

In turbulent times, it's hard enough to deal with external problems. But too often people and companies exacerbate their troubles by their own actions. Self-defeating behaviors can make any situation worse. Put these five on the what-not-to-do list. 1. Demanding a bigger share of a shrinking pie Leaders defeat themselves when they seek gain when others suffer, for example, raising prices in a time of high unemployment when consumers have less to spend, to ensure profits when sales are down. McDonald's raised prices three percent in early 2012 and by the third quarter, faced the first drop in same-store sales in nine years. The executive responsible for that strategy was replaced. At bankrupt Hostess Brands, bakery workers refused to make concessions (though the Teamsters did), thereby forcing the company to liquidate, eliminating 18,000 jobs. By trying to grab too much, the bakery union could lose everything. This happens to executives too. A manager in a retail company demanded a promotion during the recession, because he was "indispensable," he said. The CEO, who had cut her own pay to save jobs, fired him instead. Greed makes a bad situation worse. 2. Getting angry Anger and blame are unproductive emotions. Post-U.S. election, defeated Mitt Romney blamed his defeat on "gifts" that "bought" the votes of young people, women, African-Americans, and Latinos for President Obama. Losing the Presidency is a big defeat, but Romney further defeated future electoral prospects with public bitterness and insults. History might remember the bitterness, not his gracious concession speech. Anger hurts companies too, especially if misplaced. Years after a tragic explosion on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 in which 11 people lost their lives, BP was back in the news with a record fine and criminal charges. Former CEO Tony Hayward defeated himself and damaged the company in the public mind by issuing bitter statements about how unfair this was. Angry words leave a long trail. An employee in another company who threw a temper tantrum over a denied proposal was surprised that this episode was still recalled two years later, overwhelming his accomplishments. He was the first terminated in a reorganization. Bitterness turns everything sour.

It takes discipline to cut or consolidate some things for every one added. military leaders. Giving in to mission creep Sometimes self-perpetuated decline occurs more slowly. Believing otherwise is delusional. but I do see potholes ahead — although driverless cars are an extension of mapping software close to Google's core strength in search. and careers. 5. and knowledge of both strengths and limitations can make it easier to avoid these traps. or swallowing extra bites of chocolate — lapses cannot remain secret for long in the digital age. but that doesn't mean it will succeed at everything. national budgets go into deficit. In the ultimate example of self-defeating behavior. But should Google expand its territory to be a device maker and communications network provider. bureaucracies expand. The bakery union that fought Hostess into liquidation had solidarity. there's a cure for self-defeating behavior: Get over yourself. For professionals. which made acquired companies happy. an emphasis on values and purpose. and CEOs think with their zippers. through taking core strengths for granted while chasing the greener grass. or the bathroom scale. Adding without subtracting A related form of self-defeat is to allow bloat. cheating. thereby jeopardizing companies. foreign corrupt practices. workloads grow out of control. Trying to become something you are not while there's plenty of value in who you are can be self-defeating. smartphone photos by strangers. Bankruptcy followed. Growing without pruning is bad for gardens and for business. People can get caught in the middle — not yet good enough to compete in the new area. building a fiber-optics and mobile network? This could be mission creep. Humility prevents self-defeat.3. unrelated FBI investigations. this can mean branching out into new fields while falling behind in the latest knowledge in the field that made their reputation. a company I admire. but perhaps it. Happily. The mistake will show up somewhere — in routine audits. I can't say that this is happening to Google. countries. a sense of responsibility for long-term consequences. Thinking you'll get away with it Whatever "it" is — lying. too. Perhaps Google should focus on improving Googling. But one consequence was 17 warring R&D groups and the lowest R&D in the industry. Adding new items without subtracting old ones is how closets get cluttered. Google has enjoyed outstanding success. A technology company tacked on acquisitions without integration. while losing strength in the old area. and people get fat. A desire to serve others. . Too often that discipline is missing. 4. should have eaten a little humble pie. too many otherwise-intelligent politicians. .