Since getting into management in 1978 I have seen a lot of young people succeed in business, but I’ve seen a much larger number of people flounder or outright fail. There are only a few ways to succeed in business but there are a lot of ways to fail. Here are some of the ways I have seen people destroy their careers. Avoid these bad habits:
  • Not hitting due dates. To me, one of the surest ways to destroy your career is to develop the habit of not being on time. Whether it is turning assignments in late or getting to work late, this will kill your career at most companies. My father used to tell me it was better to be an hour early than one minute late. So many people today think that being on time is optional that you will stand out among your peers if you are simply on time.
  • Excuse making. My father also used to say: “There are two things in life: results and excuses. If you don’t have the results, I don’t want to hear the excuses.” Most bosses don’t want to hear excuses and if they hear them often enough your career will be short-lived. When you make a mistake, admit it. Don’t make it worse by coming up with a long, drawn out, convoluted story to try to avoid taking the blame. When people who report to me do this they don’t report to me for long.
  • Not responding to phone calls and emails on a timely basis. Given that most of us now have cell phones, tablet computers, and laptops, there is no excuse for not responding to phone calls within four hours and not responding to emails within 24 hours. If you regularly make your boss follow-up with you because you didn’t respond to a call or email on a timely basis you may as well start looking for a new job. In this tepid economy, bosses have too many other hiring options to put up with an employee who doesn’t respond in a timely manner.
  • Telling a customer off. I have overheard employees of mine telling a customer off when a customer irritated them. I don’t know why anyone would think they have the right to tell a customer off but I have seen too many people do it over the years. As the legendary sales trainer and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar is fond of saying, “When you’re tempted to tell off a customer remember that you can feed your ego or you can feed your family, you can’t feed them both.”
  • Not being prepared. When I first was promoted into management from a sales job in New York, I walked into my new boss’s office in Dallas without a notepad. He looked up at me and told me to go get a notepad and never come to his office again without one. His point was that I should take notes on our conversations so that I don’t forget what was said. Suffice it to say that I never walked into another meeting with a supervisor (or a customer) without a notepad.
  • Lying. Nothing will end a career with me faster than lying to me. Once I feel like I can’t believe every word someone that reports to me says, I have no use for them. Resist the temptation to shade the truth and always tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
  • Not learning from mistakes. Another saying I love is, “The only thing worse than learning from a mistake is not learning from a mistake.” I don’t mind if someone learns from a mistake as long as it’s an honest mistake and it doesn’t happen a second time. When someone repeatedly makes the same mistake, that tells me they are sloppy, stupid, or both. In any event, I have no use for them.
  • Not “doing your homework.” One of my longtime mentors stressed to me and the other people who reported to him that you never meet with a customer or supplier without “doing your homework” prior to the meeting. By this he meant that you should find out as much as possible about the person you’re meeting with. This may mean looking up earnings reports from your public suppliers or looking in your computer system to see the sales trends with one of your customers before meeting with them. Better yet, have a CRM system and check it for the latest information on your account before you meet with them. When you just “wing it” at a meeting with a supplier or customer it rarely works out well.

There are a lot of other ways to get fired but these are the top ways to lose your job if you work with me. What other career-killing moves bother you?

Jim Sobeck is president of New South Construction Supply, West Columbia, S.C., and author of the Biz 101 blog at Contact him at