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