Leadership Transition

What causes executives to derail?

DerailThe biggest predictor of executive derailment is a poor transition to a more senior role. Executive derailment is where promising leaders and executives fail to meet their expected levels of success. Easy to see when leaders resign early, are terminated, get passed over for promotions or plateau in their careers at a level lower that people expect.

The reasons why executives derail are all connected to the fact that there are significant changes as they move up the organisational hierarchy(1), are generally a result of errors they make during their first 100 days(2) and can almost always be traced to vicious cycles they develop during the first few months on the job(3).

We often use a driving analogy – drivers rarely crash when the road is straight and dry, they crash in the corners or in the wet or in the dark. Similarly, leaders rarely derail three to four years into a stable role, they derail during or post a significant change most commonly when they change roles and/or organisations or the organisation undergoes a major restructure. (The exception is when drivers fall asleep at the wheel which some leaders have done.)

The change, or the corner, is both risk and opportunity for growth or accelerated performance.

When a leader derails it results in financial costs and organisational disruption plus career damage and loss of momentum and confidence for the executive. For some leaders, it shows immediately but for others it shows later, often around the 9-18 month mark when it becomes apparent that the outcomes are just not there.

For both leaders and organisations there are multiple options and interventions to prevent derailment even when it has already started. Track the issues to the source, which in most cases with be the last significant change, and then work backwards from there to address the gaps in understanding, attitudes and behaviours.

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