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Opinion: Why it’s important to talk about leadership derailment


A simple definition of leadership derailment is to describe it as someone going off-track in their career because of any of a variety of reasons – perhaps the style of leadership they have, negative life experiences, or because of a period of stress. More than likely, the situation will be complex and will encompass more than one component.


What is interesting is that the people that we hold up to be really effective leaders almost certainly share many of the same traits and qualities as the leaders that have derailed. This is what presents the real opportunities for learning more about leadership development – in asking what it is that makes these people derail.


This is something that we really need to be thinking about as organisations move forward, because peoples’ expectations of organisations and leaders are changing. In terms of derailment, this then goes back to leadership development and the nature of how we are selecting individuals for leadership positions. Often, candidates are selected because they’ve been great at their jobs – they’ve been a great technician, for example – but it doesn’t necessarily follow that they are going to be a great leader. This means you have look again at the way you select people for leadership positions, in addition to how we support them, how we coach them, and how we identify any potential derailment factors during their development and early steps into leadership.


Doing this means you are better placed to identify when a derailment might be beginning. After all, there are indicators, but often these will not be noticed by followers. At many organisations, you might be able to identify elements of derailment, but these will often be too subtle for most people to notice on a day-to-day basis. In a leader that has demonstrated a consistent level of behaviour, however, it can be more obvious – for example, signs of stress, or a sudden inconsistency in their decision-making will likely be an evident behavioural change for their followers. Consistency, then, is important for leaders in this context as it can play a role in predicting and preventing derailment.


Michael Castle, Director of Professional & Leadership Programmes, ADUKG
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