Dealing with Leadership Derailment

In the 90s, leadership development philosophies assumed that leaders fail when they are not able to manage their weaknesses; areas of low competence. However, Lombardo and Eichinger, through their study of derailed executives, found that leaders whose careers were derailed or were met with unrecoverable failures were those who couldn’t manage their strengths. While, it may sound odd, on reflection, it makes practical sense.


When under stress, we tend to rely more on our strengths and become cautious of what we are not very good at. But under continuous distress we go overboard with our strengths; so much so that they become unchecked and uncontrollable. So, in prolonged stress, a creative artist becomes disconnected with reality, unsure of what is real and what is just a figment of his imagination. A very thorough accountant tends to repeat his calculations ten times, trying to be accurate to the fourth decimal point.


For leaders and high potential talent in organisations, who have just taken up new challenges and/or deal with stress on a continual basis, derailment becomes more probable. With a lot at stake, stress increases; and leaders, without realizing, go to the dark side of their strengths. This is a critical issue for organisations as well, because a lot of resources, in terms of time and money, are spent on development of leaders. And derailment is a big loss on the ROI of such programmes.


Saville Assessment’s 3P leadership model – professional, people and pioneering, addresses areas of leader’s strengths and their corresponding risks. It provides a great framework for organisations to manage executive derailment risk; not just to them, but also to the organisation and people around them. To understand these better, let’s look at the 3 P model which aligns leadership styles/behaviours to organisational/business impact areas.

Based on the Savile Assessment’s research on 18 leadership styles, most common leadership derailers have been identified:


  • Professional Leadership:
    • Perfectionist: Too much emphasis on getting things just right at the expense of the larger context or big picture
    • Procedural: Too much focus on following rules and cautious action at the expense of seizing new opportunities
    • Critical: Too much emphasis on spotting problems at the cost of encouraging contributions from others


  • People Leadership:
    • Obliging: Too accommodating and inclusive which may lead to agreeing on less effective actions
    • Autonomous: Too much focus on doing things independently that one may not include other parts of the organisation
    • Expressive: Too dominant and interactive that other’s views may get overshadowed


  • Pioneering Leadership:
    • Disruptive: Excessive focus on innovation which could disrupt ongoing work and loss of productivity
    • Unpredictable: Too change and action oriented which could create a reactive state of constant flux and instability
    • Daring: Excessive focus on grabbing opportunities which could expose the organisation to unnecessary risks


These risks need to be identified and managed especially when leaders take up a new challenging assignment, get newly inducted into an organisation and are identified for succession to critical roles. Management of derailers requires awareness of risk factors, creating strategies to keep them in check and seeking support from other stakeholders / relationships.


These risks can be measured using the Professional Styles instrument. To know more about this, write to us at You will find a sample report on the risk model here.



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