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Derailed Leadership: Everything You Need to Know

Arvid Buit | 13 August 2021

The type of leadership in an organization can make or break the organizational success. Choosing the ideal leadership style is, therefore, crucial if you want to achieve your shared goal. The aim is to avoid derailed leadership, which is what happens when there is a plateau in the management role or there are fatal flaws that can lead to the downfall of the organization – not just the leader. Whether intentional or not, it is best to avoid it so you can flourish and facilitate business growth.

What is Derailed Leadership?

Derailed leadership is defined as any form of leadership that failed to reach the anticipated level of achievement. In some cases, that level is reached, but has involuntarily plateaued or declined. This is a term used to describe leaders who are supposedly climbing up their ranks, but fail to do so for one reason or another. For example, a leader who is performing well suffers a derailment when they are unable to develop the skills and habits necessary to adapt to the changing situations. As the demands for their role changes within the organization they are leading, they are unable to cope. This is something that organizations must make a note of because it can end up being costly. It can impact the organization’s financial performance, as well as the morale of your team. When a leader suffers from derailment, the organization receives the brunt of that impact. It is even more important when the organization has invested a lot of time and resources towards the development of that individual’s leadership skills. As for the other employees, they can lose motivation and engagement because their leader has “failed” them. Needless to say, derailed leadership is something that you must work to avoid at all costs. But in order to do that, you must first identify the common causes in order to prevent it from happening.

Causes of Leadership Derailment

There is not one factor that can be attributed to the derailment of a leader. It can happen as a result of various factors, and it happens gradually instead of overnight. Make sure to keep an eye on these common causes so you can address them promptly.
  • Lack of collaboration – This is a common cause of derailment in leadership because personal ambitions are of higher significance than the shared goal of a team. A leader must be able to nurture teamwork within the organization’s employees.
  • Lack of leadership qualities – This is one of the most common reasons why a leader can get derailed – they are unable to fulfill the role of a leader. This lack of leadership quality can impact the company culture, so you have incompetent team members too.
  • Lack of training and development – There should be adequate training and development provided for leaders in an organization. Their skills should be constantly developed in order to unleash talent and potential.
  • Inability to change – The most effective leaders are the ones who can adapt to changes in the external environment. The lack of adaptability can cause derailment.
  • Lack of clear vision – Without a proper executive strategy in place, leaders fail to implement decisions that are consistent with the organizational values.
  • Poor selection of leaders – It starts from the hiring process. Choosing the right people to designate to certain jobs and responsibilities is crucial to the success of a leader.
  • Inability to trust – Trust is a key component in an organization. The members of the team must have trust in the leader’s skills. When there is trust, there will be more confidence in the team, and it shows in their performance.
  • Poor performance – The primary cause of derailment in leadership is the inability to manage time, prioritize tasks, and achieve accountability for the performance.

Impact of Derailed Leadership

Leadership is a vital aspect of any organization; without it, a business is set up to fail. When leadership derailment happens, the organizational performance is undermined. This is where the impact of derailed leadership is most evident. However, it has far-reaching impacts that you must also look into. One of those is the decline in job satisfaction. When you have an incompetent leader, the subordinates experience lower levels of job satisfaction. There is a possibility that your employees will quit. This is an additional burden on the organization as you have to incur additional costs to re-hire. The lower job satisfaction rate is also closely linked to increased psychological stress. When your team is subject to stress, it can directly impact their job performance. You can expect your team to under-deliver if the leader shows incompetence. The combination of low job satisfaction rate and increased psychological stress can create a toxic organizational culture. This can also be manifested in the form of abusive supervision and exhibiting unprofessional behavior in the workplace.

How to Address Derailment

Now that you have identified the potential causes and the impact of leadership derailment, it’s time to look at how you can address them. The good news is that derailment is something that you can work on if identified early. It is normal for leaders to commit mistakes, but the impact of their failure is more significant to the organization.
  • Avoid locked thinking and always strive to gain feedback from others. This is how leaders learn and develop their skills. Your ability to grow as a leader will benefit the organization in the long run.
  • Develop strategies to combat negative personality traits. At the same time, more time should be invested in selecting the right leaders with the right personality traits.
  • Train future leaders. Organizations should always invest in formal training for leaders so that they can rise up to the demands of their roles.
  • Empower leaders to become more accountable. This will make leaders more conscious of their actions and its impact to the organization.
  • Foster open communication within the organization. There should be transparency in every business decision.
Any sign of incompetence in a leader is something that must be addressed if you are to avoid seeing the organization fail. As the organization changes, the leaders must be able to adapt in order to meet the changing demands. Take note of the preventive measures and action steps listed in order to avoid derailed leadership.