Derailers — Challenges Leader’s Face

Derailers — Challenges Leader’s Face


Derailers — Challenges Leader’s Face

What is a Leadership Derailer?

A leadership derailer is a behavior that limits our effectiveness and potential career success.  A derailer is a weakness or overused strength that requires improvement to realize one’s potential. A true derailer or “flaw” is caused by one’s lack of insight or inability to recognize it.  A derailer is often called the “white elephant in the room”, it’s there but no one seems comfortable addressing the issue.  Derailers can be recognized by the following criteria:

· A derailer has the potential to limit our progress and achievement of goals.
· A derailer can often be an underuse or overuse behavior.
· A derailer can be an overuse of strength.
· Sometimes, a derailer can be career limiting
· Multiple strengths cannot compensate for a derailer.
· Others tend to focus on, and emphasize our weaknesses.

If you are not sure if you have encountered derailed behavior, here is a list of common derailing behaviors:

  • Lacks Focus: Easily distracted;
  • Not a Team Player: Selfish;
  • Disengaged: Not interested or passionate, does just enough to “get by.”
  • Not Trusted: Shares confidential information, fails to keep promises/commitments,
  • Micromanages: Overly controlling; does not empower others with the freedom and latitude to do their best work.
  • Volatile: Loses his/her temper; loses patience quickly; irritable and lacks composure.
  • Fails to listen or be open to others
  • Plays favorites
  • Aloof: Distant, unapproachable, or isolated; viewed as indifferent to others; fails to build effective relationships.
  • Arrogant: Egotistical; displays a strong sense of entitlement, self promoting, brags
  • Closed-minded: Is closed to new ideas; not open to critical feedback; unwilling to consider other viewpoints.
  • Eager to please: Overly concerned with being accepted and liked; defers to other people’s opinions.
  • Perfectionist: Fails to recognize when something is “good enough;” obsessive; uncompromising.
  • Intimidates or bullies to get his or her way, threatens or blames others, never takes the “bullet” for other’s mistakes
  • Reckless or impulsive
  • Overly critical or argumentative
  • Moody and defensive
  • Quick to get angry and argumentative

Once you have identified derailed behavior, implement a plan of action to minimize further destruction to your organization. Below is a strategy to eliminate counter productivity.

10 Ways to Deal with Derailers

1.    Identify the derailer and identify the impact on others.
2.    Use an 360 Assessment or other tool to identify the detailers
3.    Provide coaching and feedback to point out the derailer.
4.    Help the individual realize the impact of their derailer.  Ask, “How is this working for you?”
5.    Identify the reason behind the derailer – what is their fear, motive, or intention? What triggers the behavior?
6.    Define effective behaviors to replace the derailer.
7.    Observe what steps were taken to improve the behavior – standing up for others, keeping confidential information confidential, etc.  Ask, “How did this action improve your relationship with others? What did you notice that was different?  What did you gain from this improved behavior?”
8.    Reinforce positive new behaviors.  Keep a log or journal. Contract for continuing the new behavior.
9.    Ask for input from the individual’s manager or peers to support the changed behavior.
10. Help the individual recognize how derailers limit career success. Give examples, share stories, explain how effective leadership competencies and models were demonstrated, contrast with stories of poor behaviors and how the behavior impacted others, and describe how someone achieved success in a leadership role.

Author: Written by Nancy Zentis, PhD. CEO and Founder, Institute of Organization Development. You can reach Nancy at


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