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Why leaders go down

February 26, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Received the following in an email from Tim Irwin, trying to promote his book, Derailed. It looks to be worth reading. And no, he didn’t send me a free copy.  Not that I would mind! Here are the five stages to derailment as a leader:

Stage I: Failure of Self-Awareness

Derailed leaders manifest an acute lack of self-awareness. Knowing ourselves and our inner thoughts informs us of the needs, desires, hopes and moods of others that we might respond appropriately. It involves empathy, consideration and attentiveness to employees’ interests. Derailed leaders seem oblivious to how their behavior impacts others and the resulting failure to build a strong alignment alliance. They can’t see beyond their own understanding of their personal truth.

Stage II: Hubris: Pride before the Fall

Power provides one of the most revealing tests of a person’s character. While a failure of character manifests itself in many ways, arrogance stands as the most self-destructive. Just as humility seems to be at the epicenter of leadership effectiveness, arrogance is commonly at the root of a leader’s undoing. Arrogance is the “mother of all derailers.” The Boston Globe wrote, “Coakley’s arrogant assumption of victory was so strong that midway through the brief campaign season, she simply disappeared off the campaign trail for days.”

Arrogant leaders seem to eschew feedback that’s beneficial to any leader. They become “truth-starved.”

Stage III: Missed Early Warning Signals

Like the California train engineer who ignored blatant warning signals while texting, derailment signs are usually there, but not heeded. Otherwise-talented leaders don’t see the signals of subtle but persistent feedback about their inner state, or other’s diminishing confidence in them. Early warning signs should have jarred their attention to avoid the danger ahead. Instead, these distracted leaders barrel ahead toward the inevitable crash. Could Coakley’s election derailment have been prevented if she had paid earlier attention to the red flags?

Stage IV: Rationalization

When it finally becomes apparent that a leader is losing his or her constituents’ confidence, defenses are heightened. A siege mentality takes over, and the leader starts to rationalize. Stage IV insulates the leader from the information that could either fend off disaster or greatly limit the damage. The most damning consequence is that derailing leaders lie to themselves. Some may even believe, “I’m too important to fail.”

The derailing leader twists data to fit their world view. In an attempt to maintain psychological equilibrium, the derailing leader believes the lie, despite many warning signs.

Stage V: Derailment

What happened in the Massachusetts election seemed like a train wreck in slow motion. When Coakley aloofly rebuffed the idea of standing outside Fenway Park in the cold, shaking hands, we knew that she was bound to lose.

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