Ever wondered what separates great leaders from those who struggle to make an impact? While leadership qualities such as vision, charisma and determination often hog the spotlight, there’s another side to the leadership equation that’s equally compelling — the leadership derailers.
’Derailing’ means going off track, and when discussed in the context of leadership, derailers are behavioural traits that get in the way of progress. As Reetu Raina, VP & global head-talent management, Amdocs, rightly puts it, “Leadership derailers push one away from the target and define one’s behaviour under challenging situations. Identifying derailers and working on them is crucial as it explains how leaders interact and lead their team.”
In the realm of leadership, ‘derailers’ are cautionary tales that can have profound consequences:
Pointing out one of the most common leadership derailers, Anjali Byce, CHRO, Sterlite Technologies, opines, “Behaviours such as risk avoidance, if unchecked, can stifle long-term growth and innovation, jeopardising competitiveness.” Leaders who are excessively risk-averse may resist exploring new markets, adopting new technologies, or making strategic investments that could drive growth. This can result in stagnation and missed competitive advantages.
“Leadership derailers push one away from the target and define one’s behaviour under challenging situations. Identifying derailers and working on them is crucial as it explains how leaders interact and lead their team.”
Reetu Raina, VP & global head-talent management, Amdocs
Another common derailer is the unwillingness to seek feedback. “When leaders fail to seek feedback, they miss out on valuable insights and opportunities for improvement. Furthermore, leaders who avoid seeking feedback may hinder their own growth and development,” cautions Pradyumna Pandey, head-HR, manufacturing, Hero Motocorp.
Raina points out, “Being overly task orientated and without empathy, can also derail leadership.” While such leaders may be efficient task managers, they may come across as insensitive or unapproachable, leading to reduced team morale and cohesion.
Pandey draws attention to the fact that humility and empathy play a crucial role in the context of leadership behaviour. Since lack of empathy can hinder the ability to build a strong team, Pandey feels that “leaders should acknowledge their limitations and not assume they know everything.” He rightly asserts, “Humility is essential to capture the diverse perspectives of team members. Being open to learning is an important aspect of effective leadership behaviour.”
A myopic focus on short-term gains can obscure the organisation’s broader mission and potential. Myopic leaders may ignore potential threats or opportunities that lie beyond their immediate field of vision, which can lead to missed opportunities and long-term negative consequences. “Micromanagement, in turn, erodes creativity and the opportunity for employees to build muscle in new areas,” asserts Byce. When leaders micromanage too much, it can make employees feel less committed and hinder their ability to contribute innovative ideas.
“Behaviours such as risk avoidance, if unchecked, can stifle long-term growth and innovation, jeopardising competitiveness. Leaders who are excessively risk-averse may resist exploring new markets, adopting new technologies, or making strategic investments that could drive growth. This can result in stagnation and missed competitive advantages.”
Anjali Byce, CHRO, Sterlite Technologies
Intimidation is yet another major leadership derailer. It breeds a culture of fear, stifling creativity and leading to missed opportunities and disengagement. “Rather than garnering respect for a leader, intimidation causes an employee to disengage. It destroys an efficient team environment and takes an employee to an emotional state where he is more worried about managing his boss than improving team efficiency,” opines Raina.
“We, at STL, believe in coaching as opposed to instructing, creating an atmosphere that prioritises psychological safety, wherein individuals feel confident to voice their thoughts, share their ideas and embrace their true identities,” reveals Byce. “This fundamental ethos is integral as it doesn’t solely focus on task completion but also ensures that every team member feels valued and empowered, serving as the catalyst for our collective success,” admits Byce.
“Aggression, lack of self-awareness and reactive behaviour are some more common leadership derailers,” points out Raina. Agressive leaders often create toxic work environments through forceful approaches. In such place, those lacking self-awareness struggle to understand their strengths and weaknesses, hindering personal growth and relationship building. Furthermore, reactive leaders impulsively respond to situations, leading to hasty decisions and a lack of strategic thinking.
Identifying and addressing these derailers is crucial to fostering a culture of inclusivity and calculated risk-taking, which, in turn, leads to a more innovative, collaborative and thriving workplace.
“Leaders need to be open to feedback and not fear being challenged. Transparency in receiving feedback is crucial because diverse perspectives are valuable for leadership growth and effectiveness.”
Pradyumna Pandey, head-HR, manufacturing, Hero Motocorp
Building a team that is ‘more like me’ creates a missed opportunity to balance extremes in leadership styles, further reducing diversity of thought and innovation.
“Applying a standard approach across situations and teams can also manifest as a derailer. Therefore, yet another imperative is for leaders to build agility in their leadership style, i.e. being able to flex their style to address the varied situations and needs of the team,” enunciates Byce.
Transitioning into a leadership role requires self-reflection, feedback and assessment to identify strengths and areas needing improvement. Hence, it’s crucial for new leaders to move from a ‘me’ to a ‘we’ mindset. This shift involves honing communication skills, embracing empathy, mastering delegation, nurturing a growth mindset, refining decision-making capabilities and setting a clear vision for the team’s direction.
Another aspect is introspection, where one assesses one’s strengths and weaknesses, enabling one to leverage one’s strengths and concentrate on areas that need enhancement. “In today’s context, there are scientific methods for identifying these areas, such as various psychometric tools that facilitate self-evaluation. However, the key lies in being open to receiving feedback,” points out Pandey.
Additionally, “Self-assessment broadens one’s prospective as a leader. Whenever faced with a difficult situation, it’s a good idea to take a step back and process the situation with a calm mind,” advises Raina.
Furthermore, “Leaders need to be open to feedback and not fear being challenged. Transparency in receiving feedback is crucial because diverse perspectives are valuable for leadership growth and effectiveness,” opines Pandey.
Recognising the need to help new leaders shift their mindset, while transitioning from individual contributors to leadership roles to be successful, Byce explains how their ‘Accelerate’ programme has proven significant. “Our ‘Accelerate’ programme invests in grooming future leaders. It’s designed to equip employees with the necessary skills and support as they step into leadership roles. This approach is crucial in building a leadership cadre that values psychological safety, coaching and fostering an environment where individuals feel empowered to contribute their best,” she adds.
“There isn’t a ’one size fits all‘ approach that can be used to identify positive traits and derailers for leaders transitioning into their new roles. The critical factor to remember here is that while transitioning from being an individual contributor to a leadership role, one must be equally aware of one’s growth drivers and derailers,” concludes Raina.