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Executive Derailment

By Christine Fahnestock
Fahnestock & Associates

In the last fifteen years, the Center for Creative Leadership has conducted a series of studies about the reasons executives derail and the factors that influence executivesí success.  Some of the key result areas of that research are summarized below.  We define Derailment as when an executive candidate or incumbentís career does not reach the level that was expected of him/her.

My experience has been that knowing the common reasons for derailment can help us to prevent this for some of the hi-potential people in whom organizations are investing.  It can also help to inform movement, selection, and promotion decisions in order to leverage an organizationís strategic business investment in corporate talent. 

Four Reasons Why Executives Derail:

                  Their strengths become weaknesses.  E.g., ambition destroys their support base; brilliant management of projects becomes micro-management of high-level subordinates.

                  Their deficiencies eventually matter.  E.g., the talented, but insensitive can get by at lower levels, until oneís subordinates and peers are also powerful and brilliant.

                  Success goes to their heads.  E.g., after being told how good they are, they become cold and conceited.  Once someone acts as if there is nothing more to learn, their information sources begin to dry up.

                  Events conspire, too.  E.g., a few of the derailed apparently do little wrong, but are affected by political or economic upheavals.

More specifically individuals who derail have the following difficulties:

                  1.  Poor treatment of others

                  2.  Difficulty in molding a staff

                  3.  Difficulty in making strategic transitions when entering the executive culture or switching to an unknown area (line to staff, new division, global assignment)

                  4.  Lack of follow-through

                  5.  Over-dependence on someone or some skill

                  6.  Disagreements with higher management about how the business should be run or about strategy

For information about developing high potential talent, please contact Fahnestock & Associates.
contact Christine Fahnestock, Principal, at 860.637.0100, or e-mail:

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Last modified: November 09, 2012