A vulnerable and transparent looks t leadership failure by Bill Gentry, Director, Leadership Insights & Analytics and Senior Research Scientist writing for the Center for Creative Leadership.
I had a dream job once. Great entry salary. Stock options. Living in a city that I loved. Stock options. Dressing in a suit every day. Did I mention stock options?
And I was being groomed to become the group’s next manager. It would have been my first managerial role ever, but I was ready. I was a shoe-in.
And then one day, it all came crashing down when I failed the supervisory test and didn’t get the promotion to leadership. I eventually had to leave the organization. I derailed.
For over a decade, I have studied derailment (i.e., when high-potentials and leaders who had all the makings of progressing to the tops of their organizations suddenly flamed out and did not live up to the high expectations others had of them). And looking back, I can clearly see why I derailed back then.
You see, as an individual contributor I continually went above-and-beyond what was asked, got work done, and became known for my attention to detail, ambition, take-charge attitude, technical skills, and ability. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that! But as I mention in my book, Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For: A Guide for New Leaders, the great reputations we have as individual contributors do not work well in our first leadership position, as first-time managers and new leaders.
So what can you learn from my derailment experience?
Pay attention to these warning signs. The 5 problem areas associated with derailed managers that CCL has identified include:
Problems with interpersonal relationships
– Working in isolation from coworkers; being “lone wolves” in the organization. Being described as authoritarian, cold, aloof, arrogant, and insensitive.
Difficulty leading a team
– Unable to form and lead teams successfully. Picked wrong people to be part of teams. No eye for talent. Unable to handle conflict within their teams.
Difficulty changing or adapting
– Could not easily adapt to a boss or superior with a different managerial, work, or interpersonal style than theirs. Could not grow, learn, develop, and think strategically in their new leadership positions.
Failure to meet business objectives
– Never met “the numbers” nor achieved goals. Overly ambitious; had great ideas and laid out ambitious plans, but lacked follow-through.
Too narrow of a functional orientation
– Could not supervise outside their current function. Can’t transition from technical expert to the broad aspects of management.
I personally showed all 5, which my boss and superiors shared with me (as I went out the door):
Yes, I clearly conveyed that I had the knowledge and skills to be a great worker. But I fell short in showing people that I can work well with others. I knew I could do the work by myself, and didn’t really feel the need to include others. I honestly didn’t want to include others. I wanted all the glory myself and wasn’t willing to share any of it (problems with interpersonal relationships).