Leadership and leadership failure are frequently covered topics in today’s business press. In Why CEOs Fail , Dotlich and Cairo state leadership failure is generally tied to individual behavior. CEO’s are generally bright, savvy individuals with experience and a good record of success. The authors believe CEO failures occur, not because of insufficient intelligence, but because leaders often act in illogical, irrational ways, usually unconsciously. This poses a vexing question. “Why do such obviously talented leaders also make poor decisions, alienate key people, miss opportunities, and overlook obvious trends and developments?” Do CEO’s have a weak moment, a loss of judgment, or is it something more fundamental?
Dotlich and Cairo identify eleven “derailers”, deeply ingrained personality traits which can negatively affect leadership style and actions. These hardwired characteristics, often begin as strengths, but when overused can become detriments. The authors believe these “derailers” are the fundamental source of leadership failure.
Why CEOs Fail outlines the eleven “derailers” which can cause CEO’s and other leaders to fail. These behaviors are listed and defined as follows: Arrogance was defined by the authors as “thinking everyone else is wrong”. Leaders with this trait can become so convinced of their opinions, they ignore and irritate others resulting in decreased communication and teamwork.
Dotlich and Cairo define the next “derailer, Melodrama, as the use of exaggerated emotion or actions to hold the attention of an audience. Leaders inclined towards melodrama in the extreme can experience separation from others, decreasing dialogue with coworkers, and difficulty in making decisions.
Volatility, defined as “uncontrolled mood swings” often becomes an impairing behavior when leaders “become a slave of their volatile nature not masters of it.”
The authors believe the next “derailer”, Excessive Caution, causes leaders to fear making the wrong decision. Instead of making any decision, a cautious leader may procrastinate, conduct more research, and actually make the problem bigger.
Habitual Distrust is defined by Dotlich and Cairo as “a continual focus on the negatives.” Distrustful leaders are often skeptical regarding other’s motives and can create work environments where suspicion becomes a virus. Eventually, workers fail to accept feedback and nobody relies on anybody.
The authors define Aloofness as “disengaged and disconnected actions.” Aloof leaders often possess management styles which cut them off from people, ideas, and information. Aloof behavior tends to accelerate during periods of stress.
Mischievous leaders think “rules are made to be broken.” This derailer appears when a manager challenges tradition by acting impulsively without taking into account the impact of their actions.
The next derailer, Eccentricity, is described as “being different to be different.” Eccentric leaders can be brilliant idea generators who create unique environments. However, the authors note there can be a thin line between unique innovation, and confusion and irritation.
Passive Resistance is a behavior where a leader “says one thing and does another.” This derailer can result in confused and angry direct reports and alliances and teams which fall apart.
Perfectionist leaders are known for “getting the little details right and the big things wrong.” These leaders may have difficulty with delegating and often place stress upon themselves when projects are not being done efficiently.
The last derailer, Eagerness to Please, is defined by the authors as “always wanting to win the popularity contest.” CEOs and other leaders with this trait avoid conflict even at the expense of productivity.