Leadership Derailment – Lessons every organisation need to learn

Leadership Derailment – Lessons every organisation need to learn

General mental ability (42.3%) is the best predictor of individual employee performance followed by job knowledge (23%) and integrity (21.2%). All the other factors such as qualification and experience only contribute less than 3%. Despite this evidence from scientific research, we find that intelligent and very bright people do not always do well especially in leadership roles. What could be the problem?

The problem is leadership derailment. Leadership derailment takes place when individuals seemingly with high potential fail to realise that potential due to personality flaws. While this problem affects individuals at all levels in the organisation, and generally in life, its negative impact is amplified as people move into leadership roles. Unfortunately personality is a permanent disposition and it rarely changes. This means whatever flaws are detected are unlikely to change regardless of coaching and training. Others have invested a lot of resources in training with marginal improvements noted but overall the leaders remain the same and stuck in their only way of doing things.

So how do you detect derailment in a leader? First, such leaders are regarded as being very intelligent and it will be evident from the way they present issues. Sometimes they have excelled academically and everyone is attracted by how bright they are. What then puzzles people is the “stupid” things they do. Most of these leaders are very cruel and use fear to lead people. They set people against each other as long as it benefits them. They love to be the centre of attraction in every interaction and love the limelight that comes from being in a leadership. They rarely care about how others feel emotionally. They are very ruthless when their authority is challenged. At every opportunity they get, they will make employees feel that they are the ones in charge and they expect people to recognise that.

In organisations you see these leaders as people who macro manage and are very volatile. Their leadership style affects how the team functions and they leave the team deeply divided all the time, as long it serves their purpose. The biggest challenge in addressing people who are likely to derail is that they lack self-awareness. They always view themselves as superior to other people and tend to exaggerate their own abilities. The fact that they lack self-awareness or the ability to self-introspect makes it difficult to give them feedback. They react negatively to feedback and tend to go after those who bring such negative feedback.

The other source of derailment is that due to shortage of skills at executive level, sometimes organisations rush to promote people into higher levels roles when they are not ready. These people will be mainly lacking people management skills. The cost of leadership derailment is huge. It is reported that in the US alone, top executive failures cost the economy $13.8 billion (Stoddard and Wyckoff, 2008). With such figures you can imagine how much it is costing Zimbabwean companies. Organisations can reduce the cost of derailment by making sure they identify the signs of derailment when they recruit the leaders into the organisation. There are reliable and validated methods for detecting the factors that cause derailment.

A number of local organisations do not pay attention to how they bring executives into the organisation. This is resulting in huge losses to the business. In order to reduce the high cost associated with derailment, organisations need to put in place credible objective assessments methods when selecting executives and all other key positions within the organisation. The tragedy that I have seen in this country is that we love qualifications and experience and we have put those as top priorities when selecting employees. This is despite overwhelming scientific evidence showing that qualification and experience add very little to individual performance (contribute only 3% of the variation in performance).

In order to reverse the losses that we read about every day resulting from erroneous recruitment, organisations need to look at better ways to select executives. One of the major challenges I see is that organisations struggle to use better employee selection methods that are objective, because once they start using these systems it means they cannot bring in their colleagues and relatives into the organisation. They are using the recruitment process; selecting relatives and friends as a means to raise their status within the organisation and the communities they live. Such practices are detrimental to the business.

Memory Nguwi is an Occupational Psychologist, Data Scientist, Speaker, & Managing Consultant- Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd a management and human resources consulting firm. https://www.linkedin.com/in/memorynguwi/ Phone 481946-48/481950/2900276/2900966 or cell number 077 2356 361 or email: mnguwi@ipcconsultants.com or visit our website at www.ipcconsultants.com

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