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updated 8/31/2007 9:52:37 AM ET 2007-08-31T13:52:37

You know the guy. He could be right down the hall. Or looking back at YOU in the mirror. He's got the talent, the looks, the hair — but he's not going anywhere. He seems to streak past others and then, wham! Suddenly he's flat on his back watching all the tortoises cross the finish line ahead of him.

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No, he's not stupid. Nor is he incompetent, foolish, weak on strategy, or lamer than your average dude. He's suffering from a malady that afflicts just about all of us at one point or another: He's tripping over himself. He's throwing up obstacles where none previously existed. He is, in short, his own worst enemy.

I'm going to tell you about seven bombs you can blow yourself up with. There are more. But I like lucky seven, because if you pay attention, you may be fortunate enough not to stab yourself in the eyes. So pay attention!

Procrastination
Don't get me wrong: I'm a master procrastinator myself. But you need to be smart and tightly wrapped to make it a way of life.

Begin by ascertaining exactly what "the last minute" is for a given project. The night before it's due is not the last minute for a 40-page speech to investors, or a strategic-planning document that's going to be presented to the board of directors. The last minute, in those cases, is a month prior to the night before. A big project will generate many tasks that can, of course, be done the night before, but there are even more that can't. Learn to identify each type.

The great procrastinators indulge in a pre-crastinatory phase that involves the full range of thumb-twiddling, foot-tapping, and snoozing while they decide when to put the pedal to the metal. They then enjoy the procrastinatory activity, which often includes late-stage work on other projects. In this way, they are mixing procrastination with multitasking. Very 21st century.

They treat themselves, after the successful event, to a period of post-crastination, in which they ponder how to put off things more effectively in the future.

But for most employees, procrastination is dynamite. Don't fool around with it until you've attained a certain level of proficiency.

Loose fact-itis
This syndrome involves cooking up a "fact" to bolster one's position during an important meeting — a "fact" that can easily be disproved by saner and more mature minds, leaving the individual who generated it up the creek without a BlackBerry.

Once, I was sitting in a meeting with about 10 other guys, and the boss asks, "What are we going to say to security analysts about our plange rate?" I'm making up the issue here, since there is no such thing as a plange rate, but you get the idea.

So anyhow, Leonard, who is in charge of planges for our company, says something like, "We have the biggest plange rate in the world!" And the chairman says, "Can I use that stat?" and Leonard says, "Yes, well ..." and begins poring over a spreadsheet — after which he admits that we had the biggest plange rate in the world for about 5 minutes last February. A bad moment for Leonard. That's the kind of thing I'm talking about.

Hardness of listening
You have to be a really big wheel to enjoy a total lack of obligation to pay attention to other people. Many work decades to earn that right.

I knew this guy in strategic planning, Huff. He had just come from another company. About a week after he arrived, he was included in a meeting about where the corporation was headed. When it was his turn, he spoke for 20 minutes. "Blah blah blah," he said, as the chairman grew visibly restive. Finally, he was done. Then he lolled in his chair, thumbed his BlackBerry, pondered the view out the window, poured coffee from the sideboard, and gave other signs of terminal not-listening.

Everybody hated him so much afterward that he was never invited to a meaningless meeting again. A lot of planes have gone down because the pilot was hewing precisely to the wrong flight plan. Listen. Take it in. There's actually information out there that you're going to need.

Under-truthfulness
I'm not talking about lying, but the far more common mistake of being afraid to tell the boss stuff he doesn't want to hear.

Berkowitz, our former head of sales, would be called upon to give a status report at the senior staff meeting every Thursday. The problem was that he was afraid to say what was really going on. He put a nice shine on things. Later, the head of finance would paint a much more realistic picture. After a while, when they reached Berkowitz, the chairman would say, "Okay, now let's get a bunch of lies from sales." It wasn't long before Berkowitz took a package.

Over-truthfulness
I'm not saying that Berkowitz should have said, "We're having the worst quarter in our history, and nothing can pull us out." That's just stupid and crude. Better would have been something like, "We have an issue on the upside that we think we can work on with some success in the coming weeks." See? The message is conveyed without embarrassing anybody.

Senior executives deserve the truth, except when it would do neither them nor the business much good, in which case kindness is better. But truth is like chocolate: A little is a pleasure; too much can be lethal. The smart and non-self-destructive player will make the boss aware of the general outlines of the snake pit but not inundate him with enough rancid slime to wash him over the edge.

Rampant distemper
My first boss was a woman who was fine before lunch but really crabby afterward. Betty would go into a meeting with the very powerful dudes and sit there with a grumpy expression on her face. Everybody in the room, including the chairman, was afraid of her. When she spoke, they would defer to her, because her ideas were very good and very strongly presented.

It wasn't the quality of her work that eventually got her canned. It was the fact that she was what we may define, technically, as a Big Bummer. It was impossible to have a free-flowing discussion around her because she would bite your nuts off.

I'm sure you have a lot to be angry about. But if you radiate bad vibes, those who wear the stripes are going to feel them and pinpoint the source. That's not smart. Lighten up. Or at least be strategic and keep your karmic bleakness to yourself.

Bad credit/blame management
This is a tough one. A lot of people trip over this issue. Naturally, you want credit for the good things you do. This means working in such a way that (a) you are recognized as the author of the good thing in question, and (b) others are happy to give you the credit. Satisfying both criteria is not always easy. And you never want to be seen as a man who hogs other people's credit. As a rule of thumb, attempt to receive no more than 70 percent of the credit that's due you. Give away the rest.

Then there's the issue of blame. Real players never dodge it when it belongs to them. There's nothing a senior guy hates more than a craven, cowardly weasel who tries to lay blame on other people.

How you manage credit and blame is directly influenced by your relationship with your senior officer. If he wants the credit, give it to him. That's what you're there for. And if he's trying to escape blame, take it. The guy who decides your upcoming raise is the only one who needs to be satisfied in either regard.

Of course, if a peer tries to suck off your credit for something, cut off his legs. We're talking strategic management of this issue, not surrender.

© 2012 Rodale Inc. All rights reserved.

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