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 arrogance.
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.
An example might be the moody business unit head who, when promoted, becomes
the unpredictable director and whose behaviour helps generate a culture of
uncertainty and blame.
Recognised derailer types
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
(perhaps bruising others’ egos), or be perceived as too independent (ie, not
needing or valuing others)
Cautious Indecisive, too
deliberate, adverse to risk or reluctant to take unusual or unconventional
actions. They can miss opportunities to
capitalise on good ideas
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 authority
Eccentric Creative and different even to the
point of seeming ‘odd’, they can react badly when their 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’ contributions
Mischievous Impulsive, impatient, unpredictable
and even overly-imaginative. They are unable to learn from mistakes and may
take ill-advised risks
Passive/aggressive Seen as overly calm and co-operative, but
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 because they get caught up in tactical minutiae
Volatile They have difficulty
with controlling their emotions, are moody, and quick to erupt in anger. They
fail to express emotions appropriately, and often have short attention spans.
They often have a history of unstable job relationships
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
Source: DDI based on their
research with Hogan and Hogan