“Executive Derailment” occurs when a person with an executive-level position is seen by others to “fail” in achieving the most important goals for the role, including business outcomes and interpersonal relationships.
Ellen Van Velsor and Jean Brittain Leslie of The Center for Creative Leadership’s reassessed and confirmed their earlier findings on derailment dynamics.
Executive derailment can occur when:
- An executive overuses or underuses a strength, resulting in a performance liability,
- Superiors overlook an executive’s performance-impairing deficiencies in personality or character,
- An executive encounters extreme market challenges or personal difficulties,
- Career advancement leads the executive to behave arrogantly.
Derailed executives typically:
- Do not achieve business objectives,
- Are unable or unwilling to adapt to frequent changes,
- Have interpersonal problems,
- Lack broad functional experience,
- Do not hire the right people and build a cohesive, readable team.
Derailment can also occur when an executive’s interpersonal skill deficits interact with adverse organizational conditions:
- Unclear organizational direction, with misalignment between corporate strategy and objectives,
- Lack of role mandate or clarity, in which the executive is not endowed with necessary power and authority to achieve the organization’s goals,
- Lack of rapport with key stakeholders including the board, the management team, employees,
- Inability to perceive, understand and respond to strategic market trends, customer priorities,
- Inaccurate prioritization and abdicating accountability for delivery, execution, performance,
- Unresponsiveness to rapidly changing market conditions and innovation opportunities.
“Derailing” personality measures were empirically differentiated from “everyday” personality tendencies by Robert Hogan and Joyce Hogan, then at University of Tulsa, with Gordon Curphy, then at Personnel Decisions, Inc.
They asked observers to rate individuals when they are “at their best” on the “Big Five” personality dimensions, also known as the Five-Factor Model (FFM) – Emotional Stability, Extraversion/Ambition, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Intellect/Openness to Experience.
This approach differs from self-report inventories because it is based on “socioanalytic theory” to understand individual differences in work performance, and avoids biases inherent in self report.
Hogan and Hogan observed a high base rate for managerial incompetence in any organizations based on validated assessment inventories.
These tools, they argue, can promote professional development by providing candid performance feedback to help managers modify dysfunctional behaviors associated with derailment.
However, this quantified feedback is valuable only if inept managers are willing to receive feedback and coaching, and develop a plan to observe and modify unproductive behaviors.
These “everyday” personality assessment scales also predicted occupational performance in addition to behavior patterns, in Joyce Hogan with Brent Holland‘s review of more than 450 validation studies predicting occupational performance across job roles and industries.
Similarly, the Five Factor model’s measures correlated with leadership behaviors, reported University of Notre Dame’s Timothy Judge, and Remus Ilies of National University of Singapore, with Joyce Bono of University of Florida and Miami University’s Megan Gerhardt.
They noted that extraversion consistently correlates with leadership dimensions, including leader emergence and leadership effectiveness.
Recent emphasis on the “power of introverts” suggests further investigation of how introverts assume and exercise leadership.
Derailment may be mitigated by developing:
- Diverse career experiences,
- Hardiness and composure under stress,
- Responsibility by acknowledging mistakes and failures with honesty, candor, and poise,
- Focus on solutions and learning from errors,
- Ability to collaborate with diverse groups and individuals
-*How do you evaluate potential for leadership success and derailment?
-*How do you prevent derailment in your work activities?
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