The Root Causes of Leadership Failure

September 15th, 2011 by Sarah Green Leave a reply »

Adapted from Robert B Kaiser (2011)

As Zircon’s Occupational Psychologists specialise in Talent Management, we are very interested in developing Senior Leaders to their highest potential, thus helping them to avoid failure along the way. So, when the opportunity arose to attend an ABP seminar hosted by Robert Kaiser about ‘Root causes of leadership failure’ we jumped at the chance. The key findings from the seminar are summarised below.

All High Potential Leaders, whether they derail or not, possess similar positive characteristics:

– Accept responsibility
– Get along with a lot people
– Can delegate
– Build teams effectively
– Are motivated
– Are diligent

However, on average 50% of the High Potential Leaders will derail. Leadership derailment is defined as when a leader plateaus or falls off the high potential curve. So, how do we identify if the High Potential Leaders we assess will derail, if they all look the same?

Rob explained that the main characteristics which consistently predict leadership derailment are:
– Lack of business acumen
– Being reactive
– Not being strategic
– Unable to deal with complexity
– Emotionally unstable
– Unable to build a team
– Lack of self awareness
– Unable to adapt to change

The last two characteristics ‘Lack of Self Awareness’ and ‘Unable to Adapt to Change’ have been identified as the most fundamental to leadership failure and are inextricably linked. Based upon these characteristics Rob provided some useful and practical tips to determining whether a leader will derail or is on the way to derailing:

    What are their ‘dark sides’? – Zircon regularly using the HDS psychometric tool for Senior Executive Coaching. Validating an individual’s dark sides through an open discussion, can help them to gain greater insight and self understanding. It is also useful to consider how the individual reacts to this feedback; it is likely that a person who shows indifference may be likely to derail, as they may be unable to see a reason for change or a reason to manage their behaviour, in order to prevent their dark sides from emerging.
    Do they provide evidence of how they are able to learn quickly? – Learning agility is a critical part emotional intelligence and a core area of leadership potential.
    What does the candidate’s biographical data show? – Do they have a varied business background providing them with a wider perspective and greater business acumen?
    Can they provide evidence of when they have failed, but have overcome it? – A person who talks about their failure with extreme sincerity, is able to recall what went wrong and why and can tell you what they learnt is less likely to derail next time.
    Do they interact and engage a variety of people? – Do they have a number of different types of professional and personal relationships, are they able to adapt their behaviour to meet the needs of others?
    Do they have evidence of when they have coped under pressure? – How did they cope and did they still achieve results?

The seminar was very thought provoking, and provided a good opportunity to reflect upon how we assess, coach and develop high potential leaders within Zircon. Our talent model does include a number of these elements and we will definitely take on board Rob’s ideas.

If you have any questions regarding this please contact Dr Amanda Potter, amanda.potter@zircon-mc.co.uk 01737 555 862.

Source: Kaiser, R. B. (2011). Going Sour in the Suite: Root Causes of Leadership Failure.
Written by Melissa Tyson, Occupational Psychologist

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