The 12 common executive derailers and how to recognise them
Executive derailers are personal traits that can cause executives to fail,
even when they have the necessary knowledge and experience, and appear to have
the right skills and motivation for the job. As leaders move into more senior
positions with broader responsibility and accountability, these personal
characteristics inevitably have a greater impact. Derailers appear when an
executive overuses a strength, such as when high work standards cross the line
and become over-critical and perfectionist behaviours, when assertiveness
becomes argumentativeness, or when self-confidence taken to extremes is seen as
Sometimes derailers do not derive from strengths. They may be slightly
negative traits that have little impact at operational level, but can create
massive organisational ripples once a person is in a strategic leadership role.
Aloof Generally imperceptive, they may not understand the reactions
of others to their own behaviour and are likely to have poor insight.
Arrogant Overly self-assured, they may overestimate their own
abilities, seem self-absorbed or inconsiderate, or be perceived as too
Cautious Indecisive, too deliberate, adverse to risk or reluctant to take
unusual or unconventional actions. They can miss opportunities to capitalise on
Dependent Needing praise or reassurance, they might also be compliant
or conforming. They often avoid confrontation and taking unpopular stands.
Distrustful Argumentative, sceptical, tense, suspicious, even
paranoid. They tend to focus on protecting their own interests and challenge
Eccentric Creative and different to the point of seeming ‘odd’, they
can react badly when judgement is challenged.
Dramatic May fail because peers and people who report directly to
them resent their tendency to monopolise attention or take credit for others’
Mischievous Impulsive, impatient, unpredictable and even overly
imaginative. They are unable to learn from mistakes and may take ill-advised
Passive/aggressive Seen as overly calm and co-operative, but
aggressive tend to be privately irritable, resentful, stubborn or
unco-operative – which comes out into the open when they are under stress.
Perfectionist Often controlling and demanding. People often resent
their level of meddling and attention to detail. They are prone to miss
opportunities to become more strategic.
Volatile They have difficulty in controlling their emotions, are
moody, and quick to erupt in anger. They fail to express emotions
appropriately, with short attention spans and a history of unstable job
Low tolerance Focused tactically rather than strategically. They for
ambiguity often have difficulty stepping up to increased complexity or
ambiguity, as well as focusing on the future versus the present.
sleeping easy at night
top 10 anxieties of senior HR specialists, and how to deal with them
1 A terrifying gap between the experience levels of executives and their
The stars of tomorrow need to understand the wide range of issues that affect
successful globalisation and how to work together in a global team across
cultures. HR leaders need to regularly get process updates onto the board
2 Effective performance management
All leaders must have a hard talent development measure included in their
3 Talent retention
Review plans to upgrade talented individuals for each country and operating
unit and to align them with the relevant business plan. Nurturing line talent
champions is critical.
4 Driving consistency in HR practices and policies across
regions/countries. Cultural and other local differences can cause breakdowns in
interactions and HR policies.
Consistency across the board for HR systems and processes, such as the
5 Multi and inter-cultural leadership. Too few leaders have the business
and leadership skills or global mindsets needed to think strategically and to
manage effectively in a multinational/global enterprise.
Greater emphasis on understanding how nations and ethnic groups differ and
sensitivity to these differences when working with multi-national teams. Think
through the impact of local initiatives in the wider global context.
6 Measuring effectiveness of human
capital strategies and systems
Determine upfront what the outcomes might be from any HR investment and
establish how they will be measured. A good performance management system is a
key tool. Other measurement tools could include: Return on Investment;
succession management, retention of high potentials; productivity; behaviour
change, 360-degree surveys and behavioural interviews.
7 Leveraging technology for leadership
HR proves its worth if systems enable easier talent auditing and speedier
talent deployment. Self-service HR also frees up HR professionals to do more
8 Employee branding
Build a competency framework around company vision and values and reward
behaviours, which reflect the vision and values and positively contribute to
customers’ experience of the brand.
9 Online staffing and recruitment
Perhaps best used for large job trawls, graduate recruitment, or for low-to
mid-level positions rather than for senior roles. However, there is still no
substitute for good behavioural interviewing once the funnel has narrowed down
10 Developing the HR team
Senior HR practitioners should move from being reactive, transactional and
administration-based to being business consultants. They should take the larger
view and become closer to business. Their objective should be to make business
strategies happen through people.