I first read this article about Derailing Leaders by Tricia Nadaff and Maria D.Brown a month ago. It resonated with me, and I simply shared it. But something in my mind kept going back to the power of the research and the implications. It made me think about current leaders I know and those in the past – how so many executives in this region are reluctant to give specific feedback to their leaders or even engage a coach with transparency about what is concerning them.

The underperforming gaps highlighted by Naddaff and Brown require subtle shifts of behaviour that is best achieved through coaching or targeted learning content.  They prove that this timely investment could save your business thousands in revenue and hours and hours of time.  For those who won’t immediately read the full article, here are a few highlights to stimulate your thinking.

Leadership Derailment: why does it happen?

Leadership derailment can happen for a number of reasons. Even if you are a highly effective leader now, it doesn’t mean that it always stays that way. The research[1] sighted that inadequate feedback, unclear expectations, insufficient investment in development and a lack of early detection are all factors that led to leaders being derailed. Incompetence in leadership was a common theme, with more than half of leaders performing under their potential, catching the early signs of derailment and targeting coaching or learning is the best cure.

The research established the most common derailment patterns to watch out for and clustered these into four groups with potential coaching approaches. The full report highlights the behaviours these leaders exhibit and those they don’t, which provides you with a very quick checklist to see if your team members are showing early signs of derailment. Then perhaps the most useful, it provides key actions to help change behaviour. The patterns are really self-explanatory, and I could immediately visualize this type of leader and see some of my own derailing behaviours.

1. My way or the highway leader (24% of the research sample)

Whilst taking an authoritative approach is a positive attribute, it can cause others to see them as too forceful and self-centred when taken too far. These leaders tend to have less self-awareness, overestimate their emphasis on gathering input from others and underestimate their emphasis on taking control.

2. Happy follower leader (28% of the research sample)

They avoid taking charge and taking responsibility. They are easy to be around, cooperative and helpful, all great traits, but they tend to defer to authority too much. They are highly engaged interpersonally but aren’t showing up as leaders.

3. Stick to the rules leader (27% of the research sample)

They take a systematic approach to work and set specific guidelines for others. This derailer can be hard to spot, especially as the leaders’ emphasis is on creating order, structure and timelines, which are all useful. But when overused, it turns into a hyper-attachment to rules, processes and regulations. They tend to place a high value on senior leaders’ opinions and underestimate how often they defer to them.

4. Engaging lightweight leader (20% of the research sample)

These leaders are fun to talk to, charismatic and interesting, but not productive. They generate enthusiasm but don’t spend much time considering the long-term implications of their actions. Follow-through and discipline are also an issue with them.

When I read these four types of leaders, it immediately takes me back to Jung’s theory and personality preferences. But the researchers are adamant they focused on the behaviours rather than personality types, as the behaviours were then measurable, actionable and malleable.

Health Warning

It is important to note that you can’t spot derailment from a single data point or an off day. It’s also not a solution to just spot the derailment issues and ask them to stop. Coaching will be key to getting them back on track and saving the organization significant time and money.

Three Action Steps

  1. Take 10 mins to read the full article:
  2. Think about your leaders and if any one of them might at risk for derailing
  3. Talk to us at Biz or your coaching team about leadership training solutions to help leaders perform at their highest point of contribution.

[1] Study based on 16,000 leaders around the world between 2015 and 2019. The research concentrated on the least effective 10% and looked for specific behaviour patterns.