10 Reasons for Executive Failure

By Eva Rykrsmith on June 25, 2009 15 Comments

A derailed executive is an previously-named high-potential employee who has reached the middle management level, only to find that there is little chance of future advancement (as previously thought) due to a misfit between job requirements and personal skills. Thus, the executive either plateaus or leaves the organization altogether. That is the original CCL studies definition. Sometimes the term also refers to leaders who experience big failures after reaching the executive spot and, more recently, those involved in ethical scandals.

Whatever your definition of a bad leader is, most have several of the following 10 leadership shortcomings:

Lack of energy/enthusiasm: OK so some people are less visibly enthusiastic than others, thanks to a personality trait called introversion. But there’s an effort to be made, no matter what your personality style, to covey and inspire energy and enthusiasm in your team. And there is NEVER an excuse for complaining. Either do it, change it, or leave it.

Accepting your own mediocre performance: If you don’t hold yourself to high standards, you can’t be responsible for others’ performance. Worse, yet, making excuses for your own mediocre performance. There are plenty of options for learning and development. Use them.

Lack of clear vision and direction: Too much doing and not enough thinking = Bad idea.

Poor judgment: This includes making poor decisions. Ask your team for advice. They may have data, ideas, and knowledge that you don’t.

Refusal to collaborate: There is a downside to being too independent. When you see other team members as competition, you miss out on getting their support when you may need it.

Not walking the talk: When you set a standard for behavior or for performance, hold yourself accountable as well! If people see you violating your own rules, your word will not be respected.

Resisting new ideas: Don’t turn down others’ ideas if you cannot offer a better solution of your own.

Not learning from mistakes: It’s ok to make a mistake. Most people won’t blame you for that. It’s when you make the same mistake. Over and over and over. And then complaining about it and/or shifting the blame.

Lack of interpersonal skills: Too mean, too harsh, or too detached. Being ignorant of others’ emotions and your impact on them is not a sustainable behavioral style if you want your company/department to succeed.

Failure to develop others: By this point, the focus on your individual performance is old news. The question now becomes, what can your people accomplish as a collective group?

These may sound like obvious flaws. They’re not. It is so easy to be unaware of your own bad behavior and people are very unlikely to point it out, especially if you’re the boss. I like this list because it is very comprehensive. Another upside of is that all of the shortcomings are behavioral. That means even if you possess all of these undesirable characteristics, you can change and improve. Improve how? Here’s an article about what you can do instead.

There was a whole ton of executive derailment research in the late 80’s and 90’s and they found four common themes, over and over:
• problems with interpersonal relationships
• failure to meet business objectives
• failure to build and lead a team
• inability to change or adapt during a transition

Looking at the list above, those four factors are certainly still playing a role in derailment today.

The Original
Thanks to Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman of Zenger/Folkman for the research. They studied executives who were considered ineffective and/or have been fired:

Study 1: 360-degree feedback data was collected on more than 450 Fortune 500 executives. Then the common characteristics of the 31 who were fired over the next three years.

Study 2: 360-degree feedback data from more than 11,000 leaders was analyzed. The 10% who were considered least effective were identified. They then compared the ineffective leaders with the fired leaders to come up with the 10 most common leadership shortcomings.

15 Responses to “10 Reasons for Executive Failure”

  1. Matt Cheuvront says on: 26 June 2009 at 4:16 am

    Great stuff Eva – and you're right, these seems so completely obvious but companies miss the mark all the time, losing track of their vision, refusing to take and embrace constructive criticism, non-acceptence of new business trends and technologies. These are all things that happen far too often that lead to corporate failure. In the end, it's about continuing to evolve as time goes by. Those businesses and entreprenuers who adapt to their environments ultimately achieve the highest level of success.

  2. Eva says on: 26 June 2009 at 6:15 am

    And that is true not only for companies but people as well. As we gain more experience we gain more confidence. While that is generally good, it does have its downsides, including neglecting to pay attention to others' needs. Thanks for your comment Matt!

  3. Neil Kevin says on: 8 October 2009 at 3:31 am

    Great post. This post will really help those executive who have made such kind of mistakes. Its very useful post.


  4. geekcoach says on: 27 January 2010 at 6:41 pm

    This is a terrific list of potential derailers. In coaching technical people, I also see issues with resistance to “playing the corporate game” and lack of broader management skills. Thanks for the post!

    • Eva Rykr says on: 28 January 2010 at 5:42 pm

      Thanks for reading… I liked this list from both a career perspective (my own) as well as a coaching/management perspective (what to look for). I was a bit surprised to not see political skill in there (as you put it, ‘playing the corporate game’), but if one is able to get to the executive level, perhaps that’s not an issue.

  5. Rashid Maula says on: 2 February 2010 at 6:51 am

    Thaks Eva Rykr. I am working as General Manager HR in a manufacturing concern and thru my working experience I have learnt about so many traits that a good executive needs to develope within himself to avoid failure in his professional life……
    But when I read your 10 reasons for Executives failure I very clearly understood that still we do have many things to learn from our past experiences.

    Thanks again for such a nice blog posting.

    Would certainly love to listen from you.

    With best regards,

    Rashid maula

  6. Lavern Klingen says on: 2 April 2010 at 10:54 am

    snappy little title, LOL

  7. Chris Tenga says on: 23 April 2010 at 10:04 am

    Thanks for a fantastic article. When I train TMBP Mentorship Course, I encounter executive mentors who express frustration over the fact that despite their best effort, their managerial proteges sometimes just ‘fall from grace’ and dissapoint not only them as memtors, but also the organization that is both investing and counting up to these proteges as a future talent asset. Keep up updating us.

    Chris Tenga (Talent Consultant, Zimbabwe)

  8. Caroline says on: 27 July 2010 at 2:33 pm

    I’ve read about four of your articles today and loved every one of them. Keep up the awesome writing– I’ll be back to this blog for sure.

  9. Memory Nguwi says on: 23 February 2012 at 8:22 am

    Good article. I also think that too many executives fail because they do not want to face reality. In difficult times executives need to face reality by doing an honest evaluation of themselves. It is only though an honest assessment of the current situation that correct strategies can be devised.

    I would also like to know from you why people fail to execute agreed strategies. Strategic plans are done every year but nothing gets done. do we have a personlity type that generally does not want to execute and how can this problem be addressed.

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  Copyright © 2010 Articles by Eva Rykrsmith | Art credit for square in upper right hand corner to Michael D. Edens