Dark Side of Leadership

Dark Side of Leadership

Several professionals have tried to identify what makes a leader successful. Various theories exist to conceptualize leadership. The reality is that we often do not know what makes a leader successful, however from academic evidence to anecdotal experience, we can quite clearly identify the things leaders so that make them unsuccessful.

These behaviors are often labelled “Leadership Derailers” in the academic and popular literature. This article deals, briefly, with some of these derailers. What we can do to identify it and how to overcome it. 

What is a leadership derailer? 

A derailer is a leadership behaviour that can get in the way of the leader being successful. So a derailer is not simply a weakness. The main difference between a derailer and a weakness, is that under the right circumstances a derailer can and often is actually a strength. Take “micromanagement” as an example. We all know that micomanaging is a key downfall of leaders. However, this management style is a style whereby a manager closely observes or controls the work of subordinates or employees. This could be seen as “results orientated” and in the right environment (e.g. where the team has low skills) this could be a positive.

This style gets the leader derailed when it is applied to teams where this behaviour is unnecessary. For example in specialist teams or in self-managed teams.

Before we get to ways to overcome this dark side of leadership, let us quickly establish the most common derailers:.

Bob Hogan and his team identified the following common derailers:

  • Excitable: moody, easily annoyed, hard to please, emotionally volatile
  • Skeptical: distrustful, cynical, sensitive to criticism, focused on the negative
  • Cautious: unassertive, resistant to change, slow to make decisions
  • Reserved: aloof, indifferent to the feeling of others, uncommunicative
  • Leisurely: overtly cooperative, but privately irritable, stubborn, uncooperative
  • Bold: overly self-confident, arrogant, inflated feelings of self-worth
  • Mischievous: charming, risk-taking, limit-testing and excitement-seeking
  • Colorful: dramatic, attention-seeking, interruptive, poor listening skills
  • Imaginative: creative, but thinking and acting in unusual or eccentric ways
  • Diligent: meticulous, precise, hard to please, tends to micromanage
  • Dutiful: eager to please and reluctant to act independently

This list is created and labelled by the Hogan Development Survey (HDS). At Capacity Trust we have consultants who are trained to administer the HDS. (You can find out more by clicking the link: I want to identify my derailers.The list is not exhaustive and different authors call the derailers by different names, but a general consensus exists that concurs on the type of bahaviour in question.

So, what can you do to overcome leadership derailers?

1.) Identify your blindspot

As we mentioned earlier in this article. Derailers are often strengths . Sometimes derailers are called, strengths overused. This means that you probably got to where you are as a leader by applying these skills. The challenge is not to just continue with what worked in the past, but to actively evaluate your behaviour in all areas and to see if the behaviour is still creating success or not. Several assessments exist that allows us to identify derailers. This could be a great start.

2.) Know your “stress”

With the responsibility of leadership comes the responsibility of self awareness. Daniel Goleman in his book Primal Leadership writes that the primary role of the leader is to create an environment where people can engage with their jobs. If the leader therefore is not in the right mental state this will be an impossible task. Therefore as a leader you need to know what stresses you out. Often when we are stressed out we rely on actions that normally works for us. These actions are often the derailing actions that need to be identified and mitigated.

3.) Practice new behaviours

Once you have identified the things that make you stress and default back to your derailing behaviours you have to start practicing new behaviours. For example, if your tendency is to come up with new ideas and be flexible (derailer: Imaginative) you should try to focus on one area at a time. Using problem solving techniques such as the 6 Thinking Hats to explore each idea before moving on to the next one.

4.) Get help

If you are struggling to overcome these derailers, there is always help. Enlisting the help of an executive or life coach will help you to have a sounding board. Coaches can also assist to identify what your derailers are as well as assist to create strategies to overcome it.