As the second half of 2010 is underway, it is important to implement a self assessment of your leadership skills. As a leader, it is important to cultivate your people skills, as well as, review leadership responsibilities to avoid executive derailment. What is executive derailment? It is the case when an executive or senior leader plateaus in their leadership role due to fatal flaws that led to his/her downfall. Hence, the term for this phenomenon is derailment, a metaphor of a train coming off the track. As with a train derailment, it is never intentional, usually a surprise, and causes considerable damage, both to the individual and the organization.
Five Common Characteristics of Success
Researchers at the Center for Creative Leadership define a successful leader as one who makes it to a senior leadership level and is considered to have high potential for promotion by senior executives. By contrast, a derailed leader makes it to that same level but plateaus due to a lack of fit between personal characteristics and the skills and demands of the job. Although both the successful and derailed leaders shared many of the same skills and flaws, leaders who had remained successful shared five common characteristics: (1) diversity in their career/vocation paths, (2) maintained composure under stress, (3) handled mistakes with poise, (4) focused problem-solvers, and (5) got along with all kinds of people.
Three Common Characteristics of Derailment
What are the factors and processes that may lead to derailment? Leaders who derail have 3 characteristics in common:
- Difficulty in changing or adapting. Most leaders lack the four change skills to lead and implement change. More so, they lack the skills to be flexible; and are unable to adapt to the culture of the organization.
- Problems with interpersonal relationships. Leaders lack interpersonal skills are insensitive, abrasive, intimidating in their leadership style; or are cold, aloof, and arrogant. Furthermore, these leaders have poor interpersonal communication which is a major skill deficiency that wounds others.
- Failure to build and lead a team and failure to meet organizational objectives. Most leaders are unable to build an effective team because of poor staffing ability often over manage; fail to delegate; and are unable to recognize individual’s value. Additionally, some leaders betray trust of others and are overly ambitious. Lastly, these leaders fail to meet organizational objectives because the lack team building skills.
So how can leaders prevent derailment? The first step is to understand that leadership development is dynamic and ongoing. The ability to learn and develop continually is the key for success in today’s organizations. Second, leaders must recognize that leadership requires a new mindset and new behaviours. Leaders can no longer afford to think, solve problems, and make decisions with old, inflexible mindsets. Third, leaders must adapt to ‘fill in the gaps’ appropriately that constant learning of new skills.
Leaders should therefore:
- Seek feedback in leadership roles from others, whether formally through ‘360-degree feedback’ for example or informally by asking for behavioral feedback from other trusted leaders.
- Seek developmental opportunities that will help them overcome flaws and add new skills to their repertoire. These challenges should be enough of a stretch to require change, but not so much as to court failure.
- Seek leadership development coaching and mentoring, especially during times of transition, when growth and adaptability are most needed.
In general preventing derailment is in every leader’s best interest. When leaders take responsibility for their own development, they will always avoid derailment through continually finding sources of assessment, challenge, and support. More so, it makes good organizational sense to give development priority and, by doing so, lessen the chances that leaders derail.
© 2010 Karlyn D. Henderson, M.A. All rights reserved worldwide.