You may have never heard the term, but chances are good you’ve been exposed to a derailed executive. A derailed executive is someone who starts out very strongly, is successful, but then unintentionally fails—leading to demotion, firing, or early retirement. But 37% of companies report never doing anything about them.
The Center for Creative Leadership has conducted extensive research (30,000 executives over 24 years) and has identified five broad categories of reasons for derailment: 1. Inability to change or adapt during a transition; 2. Problems with interpersonal relationships (e.g., the person is described by others as insensitive, manipulative, critical, demanding, authoritarian, self-isolating, or aloof); 3. Failure to build and lead a team; 4. Failure to meet business objectives; and 5. Too narrow a business focus (defined as upward career progress in same function, unable to wear multiple career hats, and lack of awareness about the organization or competitive landscape).
Given these categories, it’s easy to see that almost anyone can be at risk of derailing at some point in their career. In fact, those who derail are commonly seen as successes in their fields because their shortcomings are not evident to others. How can you avoid derailment?
When you look at the categories, the commonality is a lack of awareness—either of other people, or of how one is perceived by others. To make sure that you are giving the correct impression, actively seek candid feedback throughout your career. Build strong relationships. That will give you practice in team building while helping you to remain mindful of how people perceive you. Enlist support during business transitions and be aware that new jobs require new behaviors and frameworks. Most importantly, actively manage your career and seek out opportunities for professional development regardless of your level.
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