This post was written by Center consultant Dr. Stefani Yorges and is reposted with permission from Leading Higher.
For most people, navigating leadership is much like walking a tightrope. You would like to be perceived as:
assertive………without being aggressive
empathetic………without being a pushover
decisive………without being hasty
trusting………without being naïve
self-confident………without being arrogant
courageous………without being reckless
Obviously, negotiating between these fine lines is no easy task, even for the most seasoned veterans of the workforce. And in the climb up the corporate ladder, the line between a strength and a weakness isn’t always clear.
The same characteristics of a driven and “go-getter” salesperson can earn her a reputation as a cut-throat manager. The meticulous, detail-oriented tendencies of a great accountant can make him a perfectionistic, micromanaging boss.
When you don’t get this balance just right, your career can suddenly stall, stagnate, or even derail due to these characteristics.
Derailers, left unchecked, can become fatal flaws
By looking at the term “derailer,” you might assume that it’s connected to an inherent weakness, which over time can lead to derailment. But a leadership derailer is more than just a minor weakness. You have a number of weaknesses that you may never need to master or improve, but a derailer requires immediate attention if you want to realize your full potential. In other words, it can become a “fatal flaw” if not corrected.
The biggest difference between a weakness and a derailer is that no strength can compensate for a derailer. For example, perhaps a leader has a weakness in public speaking. This can be compensated for if they are great at building relationships and motivating others. The same can’t be said for a leader who is dishonest. No matter how strong a person might be in other leadership competencies, this derailer will limit his or her ability to succeed.
Finding the right balance between a strength and a derailer
Early in your career, certain characteristics may be strengths for you. As you move into a management position, however, shifting expectations and mounting pressure can lead to the overuse of those strengths, damaging your reputation and hindering your ability to build a team.
Korn Ferry has identified several negative traits that are associated with derailment including passive-aggressiveness, micromanagement, and manipulation (Are Your Stars Rising or Falling? Why High-Potential Leaders Fall Off the Fast Track, 2007). If these derailing traits are too strong, they could lead the person to fail. Positive traits also can contribute to derailment when their presence is too strong. For example, trust and optimism seem positive, but too much of these traits may make leaders naive, and they may not hold people accountable for their work.
Personality characteristics that help launch promising careers can turn into crippling derailers down the line. But they don’t have to. By identifying these potentially destructive behaviors in your career, you can avoid letting your greatest strengths become your most damaging weakness.
Fortunately, derailing traits can be detected by assessments and addressed with coaching and development. Individuals willing to invest the time and energy can, in fact, alter how these derailers are expressed. With early detection, your own derailment risk can be addressed so that your career stays on track.
Dr. Stefani Yorges has put together a free resource guide that shares some of the most common mistakes potential leaders make at work. You can find it here: 15 Devastating Leadership Derailers
And if you would like further training on How to Position Yourself for a Promotion (without losing your integrity in the process), check out her free masterclass.
Stefani is a consultant at The Center and has experience as a leadership educator, consultant, and coach. She holds a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and has been teaching graduate courses at West Chester University in Pennsylvania for the past 20 years. She specializes in positive, strengths-based, transformational leadership models and has engaged with more than 100 clients as an executive coach.