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The Journal Gazette

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Sunday, January 28, 2018 1:00 am

City native says self-awareness is an issue

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

Blind spots. We all have them. The trick is how to keep them from derailing your career.

“What about you could hurt you?”

That's a question Carter Cast, a Concordia Lutheran High School graduate, said he has often asked smart 25- to 40-year-olds pursuing MBAs. Surprisingly, Cast said he's never heard good answers, demonstrating an inability among even mature students to assess their weaknesses.

Cast, a clinical professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, thinks lack of self-awareness has the potential to spill into the workplace.

It's a difficult topic for bosses to discuss with subordinates, but “it doesn't mean these conversations shouldn't be had,” Cast said. “They need to be had for the benefit of employees.”

Cast became an author this month, releasing a book titled “The Right and Wrong Stuff: How Brilliant Careers are Made and Unmade.”

He reviewed academic research studies on why people fail and conducted more than 150 interviews, including with people who had some level of failure, human resources managers and executive coaches. The research and interviews took about 18 months, although Cast maintained his position as a professor and also as a partner at Pritzker Group, based in Chicago.

It was “really a labor of love,” Cast, 54, said of the book.

Cast, whose parents, William and Anita Cast, still live in Fort Wayne, has been busy with a book tour that includes visits to Seattle, Portland, Houston and Dallas. He said the target market for his book is 20- to 40-year-olds, although the 40-plus demographic might find it another resource to help coach younger people.

Along with the lack of self-awareness among students, Cast admits he was also motivated to explore failure after recalling challenges he had 20 years ago with a boss. The supervisor was hands on – perhaps heavy handed – and liked frequent updates. Cast said his supervisor's style caused his own “anti-authority gene” to kick in.

Guess who usually wins?

“You don't always have bosses you're going to see eye-to-eye with and you have to adapt to them,” Cast said. “They're not going to adapt to you.”

Through research, Cast said he discovered five reasons people fail. He created character labels for chapters that outline traits that could cause career downfalls. Here are a few of the most prevalent profiles he identifies:

• “Captain Fantastic - the Human Wrecking Balls Who Wreck Themselves.” These individuals are overly ambitious, have poor listening skills and egos that go unchecked. Ambition hinders their performance and relationships to the point where they find they lack support from others and become alienated. Then, they become defensive.

• “Version 1.0: Inflexible and Dated.” These individuals have difficulty adapting to change. They might be proficient at what they do, but have stopped learning. New technology, for example, may be something they avoid embracing or learning.

• “The Whirling Dervish: Overcommitting and Undelivering.” They're smart and creative, but don't plan effectively. “They don't deliver on promises,” Cast said.

Managing the various personalities can be challenging for leaders. Cast said it's important for leaders to be honest, good listeners, open-minded and understand what motivates those they work with. 

The first part of his book looks at “the wrong stuff.” The second half focuses on the “right stuff” – the characteristics of people who “don't derail.”

There's a myth, Cast said, that high performers are good at everything. “They stink at things,” he said, “but they know what they stink at, so they don't put their selves in positions where they're weak.”

They're good at relationship building and “bringing others along with them,” he said. They also have a drive for producing results.

“When they say they will get something done Friday,” Cast said, “they will stay late Friday to get it done.”

To share a thought, a favorite quote or other wisdom about leadership, email Lisa Green at Lead On also appears online as a blog at