Prevent Top Leader Derailment

 -  9/27/12

Sometimes derailment is caused by factors outside of a leader’s control, but often it is caused by the leader’s own behavior.

Every company has a few smart, hard-charging, get-results-at-any-expense types of executives. While they do get results, whether it’s increased sales, entry into new markets or revamped finance processes, many don’t see the price of how they achieve that success. The sometimes-abrasive behavior from the executives who take on this approach can lead to disgruntled peers, demotivated teams and on-edge supervisors.

An April “Pulse on Leaders” study by leadership consultant PDI Ninth House, analyzed by University of Minnesota researchers using data from 39,000 global leaders, shows that inability or unwillingness to see one’s own faults is associated with significant career stalling or even derailment. The data revealed that people who are significant self-promoters — those considered to be out-of-touch with how their direct manager rated them — were 629 percent more likely to derail than the in-touch group.

These self-promoters can be results-driven or the type of people who moved up the organizational ladder by touting their own abilities without proven results. The office chatter surrounding these people is often, “How did he get that job, and how come no one is noticing he’s not getting anything done?”

By contrast, self-deprecators — those who consistently rate themselves lower than others rate them — were less likely to derail than the in-touch group. Specifically, moderate self-deprecators were 8 percent less likely to derail, and significant self-deprecators were 36 percent less likely to derail than the in-touch group.

Behaviors Leading to Derailment
To better understand why some fast-track leaders derail, a related study, also released in April and conducted by University of Minnesota researchers with PDI Ninth House data, identified behaviors that indicate the greatest risk of derailment. In this research more than 14,000 U.S. leaders were rated by their direct managers on 135 behaviors, representing 24 core competencies.

This study asked managers to rank leaders’ risk for derailment on a five-point scale. The results showed only 6 percent of leaders were rated a high (4) or very high (5) risk for derailment, whereas 67 percent were rated little/none (1) or slight (2) risk of derailment. The researchers then contrasted the behavior of the “likely to derail” and “unlikely to derail” groups.

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