Manage and Reduce the Risk of Leadership Derailment in Your Organisation

Leadership derailment has been a much-discussed issue over recent years, particularly given its negative role in limiting the extent to which individuals may make the most of their talents in leadership roles.

Changes within various sectors, retail, banking, healthcare, Government and the automotive industries to name but a few have revealed numerous examples of this. For instance, overly confident leaders, who were reported to have dismissed dissenting voices and ignored risk, may have done well in the good times but are beginning to fall hard and fast with the shifts and changes in the current macroeconomic outlook.

Many of the challenges organisations are now facing can, in part, be traced back to poor decision-making by their leadership teams, characterised by a culture of risk-taking and an emphasis on short-term gains. An example of this is what’s currently unfolding in the retail sector. What took place that led to the 2008 banking bailout, and the recent ‘diesel-gate’ scandal.

Without doubt, we will look back on the handling of the current pandemic and make the same observations.

Derailment tends to occur when leaders progress ‘up 
the ladder’ capitalising on their key strengths, but fail to develop more widely, ultimately being unable to deliver when confronted by circumstances that require a broader range of capabilities.  As Einstein once said, ‘if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.’

Personality and Derailment

The personality of an individual plays a key role in this process from a psychological perspective, with increased risk of ‘extreme behaviours’ occurring when under acute or continued pressure or when exposed to novel, high risk circumstances.

Much of the early research in this area relates to the clinical understanding of personality disorders, such as ‘antisocial personality’ within which individuals may show scant regard for the feelings of others, or ‘narcissistic personality’ whereby an individual’s self-belief and self-esteem reaches a dangerous point where their appraisal of situations becomes highly unrealistic and negatively impacts others around them.

These ‘dark-side’ tendencies are the key to understanding managerial and leadership failure. They are not forms of mental illness; they are flawed interpersonal strategies that prevent managers from building a team, forming alliances, and gaining support for their objectives and outcomes.

Whilst these extremes are relatively uncommon in the workplace, behaviours of a similar but often less exaggerated nature are in fact more frequent amongst individuals who are under significant pressure and finding it difficult to cope or perform in a work context. Typically, these characteristics are only likely to occur when the individual in question is experiencing stress and may be an extension of what may otherwise have been the source of their success to date.

So, what can be done to address derailment factors and manage the risks for individuals and organisations?


Put simply, forewarned is forearmed. For the individual, self-awareness is key. For people in leadership roles, helping them develop an understanding of aspects of their personality which could lead to derailment and then proactively managing these is an important part of ensuring stable
high performance and career progression.

Assess for Derailment Factors

When it comes to assessment for senior roles and identifying individuals with high potential, there is a strong rationale for including personality assessment as a way of identifying aspects of their personality, which under certain conditions may derail them.

Focus on Reducing Business Risk

From an organisational perspective, ensuring that potential derailment factors are a key aspect of leadership development is likely to have clear benefits in terms of managing and reducing risk to the business. This can help avoid the situations outlined earlier, where clear strengths were acknowledged at the expense of any behavioural areas for concern.

Coaching and Development

In a developmental context, addressing potential derailment factors is not simply a case of sending someone on a training course to learn some useful skills (although this has its place). Rather, considerable personal development and experiential learning is likely to be required for someone to learn to accept, better understand and finally manage their derailment factors. With this in mind, coaching leaders to tackle their derailment factors is likely to result in improvements over a period of time.


Derailment represents a significant development challenge for individuals as well as being a key concern for organisations wishing to manage the risk of leadership failure. Assessment of personality traits can highlight derailment factors and provide a deeper insight into where and how an individual will derail.

This information can be used when selecting new leaders to mitigate against the derailment potential associated with their personality. It can be used as part of a structured development programme for managers whose profiles exhibit the potential for derailment.

In this regard, putting in place the necessary assessment, developmental and coaching support is critical to ensure leaders are aware of their own potential risks and are able to grow with the challenges they face and manage these.

Talentpraxis Group is well placed to support your selection or development processes, and for an informal discussion followed up by a free trial of how we assess personality and identify derailment factors, reach out by sending us a message on the ‘Contact Us’ page or booking a time to speak at a time to suit you using this online calendar.