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Why Do Some Leaders Derail?

People often talk about the need for "strong leadership" whether it's in national government, their community, or their place of employment.  Naturally what is meant by "strong leadership" will depend on who you ask as well as the present circumstances.  But to fully understand leadership, it's also instructive to look at some of the reasons leaders come up short or completely derail. According to research by the Center for Creative Leadership (www.ccl.org), the five most common reasons leaders derail are:

  1. Emotional instability
  2. Defensive
  3. Lack integrity
  4. Weak interpersonal skills
  5. Too much technical expertise & knowledge

What about us and the people we work with?  Many well-educated and aspiring people peak in their effectiveness or even self-destruct for one or more of these reasons.  Whatever the reason, often this derailment comes at the expense of others and prevents everyone and the organization from excelling. When a leader or manager derails, most direct reports learn to cope by marginalizing or avoiding this person which compromises everyone.  In many instances, direct reports can become so frustrated or discouraged they resign and leave the organization or perhaps even worse, they resign and stay in the organization with diminished commitment or output.

Good leaders are introspective and willing to "look in the mirror" to better understand what strengths they bring to their role as well as what they need to work on or do to avoid derailment.  Clearly some people are not fit to lead even though they may have the role or title.  However, most people can improve their effectiveness if they know what they need to do and how to do it.  Some "how to" techniques can be taught while other lessons are better "caught" by observing and modeling the desired behaviors of others.

Most people can understand the importance of having leaders who are emotionally stability, non-defensive, and have integrity and strong interpersonal skills. But some may be surprised to learn that leaders can also derail if they have too much technical expertise and knowledge.  Think about those you work with who really do possess superior technical expertise and knowledge.  If they are not careful, such "whiz-kids" and subject-matter experts can quickly derail if they become condescending, impatient with others, micro-manage, or fail to delegate.  What do you see when you look in the mirror and what are you doing to strengthen your leadership effectiveness?


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