How to get fired

Five fatal flaws that can bring down the ax.

A plunging stock market, crumbling budgets, layoffs and restructurings: So much of today's news is bad, so much of it can adversely affect your career, and so much of it is maddeningly beyond your control.

But there are things you can control, starting with your own behavior. Now more than ever, it's essential to ensure that idiosyncrasies and personal peccadillos don't undermine your career.

Here are five cautionary tales of real CIOs whose tragic flaws did them in.

The Toxic Temper

One CIO got everybody's attention during a meeting with fellow executives. When colleagues asked him about an attempted process improvement that didn't meet their expectations, he threw an object across the conference table and stormed out. Unfortunately for him, that was not an isolated incident. The CIO was also known to have fired workers on the spot when he was upset, says Bonni Carson DiMatteo, president of Atlantic Consultants Inc. in Wellesley, Mass., who recounted the tale.

Oddly enough, outside the workplace, the CIO had a reputation for good deeds and community service, and this saved his job for a while as colleagues tried to encourage him to show his good side at work. The human resources department offered him coaching as well anger management to help him learn to cope better.

"There were meetings between him and the HR director, where it was made clear that these behaviors weren't acceptable and that he needed to do something about it," DiMatteo says.

It almost worked. The CIO would mend his ways and tone it down for two or three months, "and then there would be another explosion," she says.

Spotting Trouble

Everyone has flaws, but some are more problematic in the workplace than others. Unfortunately, most people have a hard time recognizing their own trouble spots. Watch for these signs that could indicate that co-workers have a problem with you:

  • Meetings happen without you.

  • Your feedback and input are not sought or are ignored.

  • You're not included in strategic planning.

  • Your department suffers from high turnover, and you have a particularly hard time keeping top-tier talent.

  • People work around you. Your business-side peers seek out others in IT to handle their problems, while your staffers seek out other IT leaders or even go over your head.

  • You don't hear bad news directly from those who should be delivering it. (It could indicate that you're not good at taking criticism or handling problems.)

Sources: Bonni Carson DiMatteo, president, Atlantic Consultants Inc.; Beth Armknecht Miller, executive coach, Executive Velocity Inc.; Eileen Strider, president, Strider Cline Inc.

Finally, a peer criticized the CIO's budget. He blew up, stormed out and didn't come back to work for a few days. That's when the ax fell.

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