Your Upcoming Leadership Train Wreck

Leadership Train Wreck

We have heard “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

We have heard this for many years in and around the halls of many organizations.  That statement, in fact, holds some truth… for years many organizational scholars have known it’s not how much you know, rather how well you relate to people within the organization that really matters.

Keep in mind the word “organization” refers to nothing more than a group of people organized for a purpose — thus an organization can be a small business of 2 people, or a large corporation of thousands.

Pioneering Research

The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) pioneered research on executive derailment in the 1980’s and they continue to study the process and causes of derailment.

Executive derailment is involuntary, likened to a train coming off the track.

As with the derailment of a train, it’s not intentional. It’s almost always a surprise. And it causes much damage to both the individual and the organization.

Essentially, executive derailment reflects the inability to live up to expectations.

Keeping It On Track

CCL’s early research indicated five common characteristics that successful executives obtain:

  1. They have career path diversity
  2. They have an ability to maintain composure under stress
  3. They are able to manage mistakes with poise
  4. They are focused problem solvers
  5. They related to and got along with all types of people

Jumping the Rails

Conversely, the characteristics that may lead to derailment include:

  1. Difficulty in adapting to change
  2. Struggles with interpersonal relationships
  3. Failure to build and lead a team / failure to develop other leaders
  4. Fails to meet business objectives
  5. Having a narrow functional orientation

Preventing Derailment

Here are some key thoughts for managers

Many scholars and experts agree the first step to prevent derailment is to understand that leadership is something to be continually developed.  Leadership development is a key competency in today’s organizations.  Additionally, managers should:

  • Seek formal and informal feedback
  • Seek developmental opportunities
  • Seek coaching and mentoring, especially when growth and adaptability are most needed
  • Take responsibility for their own development

How Organizations can Help

  • Provide developmental assignments and challenges
  • Don’t limit leadership development to traditional “training” (e.g. seminars, classes, workshops)
  • Allow your employees access to “feedback intensive programs” which include a comprehensive assessment for development and gives managers a good look in the mirror as to where they are as leaders and how they impact others
  • Create a culture where failure doesn’t mean firing — allow people to learn from their mistakes
  • Build feedback into every level of the organization
  • Provide coaching for managers and executives and not just for those in danger of derailing.  Coaching should be seen as a positive developmental process.
  • Proactively manage leadership development

Ninth House, Inc conducted a 2006 Leadership Development Practices of Top-Performing Organizations study evaluating the power of leadership development programs in Fortune 500 companies.

According to the survey:

  • 70% link leadership development efforts to business success
  • 85% believe executive management commitment is essential to developing leaders
  • 85% of the companies require senior executive involvement in leadership development
  • 85% actively track the turn-over of their high potential leaders
  • 95% use external executive coaches to enhance their leadership development.

Concluding Thoughts

Even in today’s climate of downsizing, matrix structures, and virtual employees, CCL believes executive derailment is a fact of life and whether one stays in an organization or moves to another, adaptability and personal development are key elements to success even in the face of transition.

Preventing derailment is really in everyone’s best interests.

Derailment is an expensive proposition for organizations when you consider the cost of wasted salary, severance packages, and hiring a replacement. Not to mention the intangible costs of loss of morale, motivation, and productivity.

The higher up in the organization one is derailed the higher the cost and impact to the business.  It simply makes good sense to make leadership development a priority and thereby reducing the risk of derailment.

Recognize opportunities for development and grab ‘em by the horns!

Michelle (Shellie) Seyfarth, PhD is President of Seyfarth Diversified Strategies, LLC.
She serves as an executive coach, business coach, and dynamic workshop facilitator
Email | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Blog | Web

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Leadership: Courage to Know Your Strengths

Superhero at Work

I recently took part in a mock interview process with some high school seniors. One of the questions I asked was, “Can you tell me about your strengths?”

Every single student I interviewed struggled to answer that question.

On Strengths and Struggles

One of the students asked if he could talk with me some more about the question I asked.

He said, “Nobody has ever asked me about what I think my strengths are.”

He went on to say this discouraging statement:

  • His athletic coaches point out his weak technique and they make him train and practice to develop his weaker skills.
  • His teachers point out areas where he should focus on his studies
  • His parents excel at pointing out things he should do better.

Many people have become masters at pointing out other people’s flaws; however, there is a lot of research out there that supports the notion that we grow when we emphasize our strengths instead of trying to fix our lack.

For example, the Gallup Organization conducted a 30-year study revealing that spending time building upon your strengths was much more productive than logging countless hours in trying to shore-up your weaknesses. They have published a classic book, Now, Discover Your Strengths, based on their revolutionary findings.

Leadership in Focus

We are masters in knowing our flaws and our weaknesses and many of us have spent a lifetime trying to repair and fix those flaws and weaknesses while our strengths are simply taken for granted. Imagine how your life could improve if instead of focusing on your weaknesses, you could be true to who you are by focusing and capitalizing on your strengths!

It takes curiosity, courage, and a sense of optimism to determine and acknowledge what your strengths are. When you can align your strengths and your career goals — watch out!

It’s like rocket fuel for your future success!

Leaders and Managers

Great leaders know their strengths and they use them to their advantage. In 2007, CareerBuilder conducted a survey and they found that 84% of the nation’s workforce is unhappy in their job. Following are some key elements that leaders and managers can blend into their organizations:

  • Understand your employees’ talents and strengths are enduring and unique.
  • You should position and develop each employee so that their talents are turned into strengths.
  • Hire smart — surround yourself with the right people and have a well-rounded team.
  • The greatest room for growth comes from focusing on the areas of greatest strength.
According to the Gallup research, when you build your organization around the strengths of your employees:
The organization becomes more productive
You have higher employee retention rates
Increased customer loyalty
The organization outperforms its peers

Coaches Challenge: Identify Your Strengths

Discovering your strengths is placing emphasis on your authentic self putting you on the path of self-improvement and on your way to achieving even more success and happiness. Following are ten questions you should answer to start identifying your strengths:

  • What 2-3 things do you do better than your friends and colleagues?
  • What are your hopes and dreams?
  • What do you enjoy doing?
  • What energizes you or makes you feel invigorated?
  • What do you concentrate on?
  • What makes you feel strong?
  • What makes you special and unique?
  • In what areas do you excel in learning or have a sense of satisfaction in learning?
  • What are your patterns of success? (What were you doing when you achieved success?)
  • How can you capitalize on your strengths?

Be strong!  Be courageous! Face up to your natural talents!

So what are you doing to understand your natural strengths? How are you capitalizing on them? What are you doing to understand, align, and carry out a strengths-based program for your team? How are you balancing any corresponding struggles that naturally come with each strength? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Michelle (Shellie) Seyfarth, PhD is President of Seyfarth Diversified Strategies, LLC.
She serves as an executive coach, business coach, and dynamic workshop facilitator
Email | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Blog | Web

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