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Why Future Leaders Derail on Their Path to the Top

Five reasons why rising stars don't always reach their potential.
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You know who they are: the young talents everyone eyes as executive material. But these high-potential stars don’t always pan out.

According to an article in Fast Company by Jim Bolt--founder of Bolt Consulting and Executive Development Associates (EDA)--there are five reasons why (results are combined):

  • Ego: 53%
  • Developed too quickly: 36%
  • Self-serving: 30%
  • Repeated failure: 29%
  • “One-trick pony”: 23%

Bolt gathered this data when EDA surveyed 20 leaders at 16 different companies. In Bolt’s view, two of the most interesting interviewee comments were:

“If they have strong results, but they sacrifice team members or the bigger picture, or are too self-serving, they would no longer be considered high potential.”

“They might have expectations of the rate they're going to move up. They think that they should be moving up very quickly and when they don’t, they lose patience. They can become disillusioned.”

But these are not the only reasons high-potential employees derail. Some of them need to work on the art of getting results from others, according to a Kellye Whitney article in Talent Management. Whitney explores the topic with David Peterson, who at the time was senior vice president at Personnel Decisions International (PDI). 

”Someone who is hard charging, smart, and aggressive is much more likely to get great results, but if they don’t learn to temper that to include other people, to get buy-in, to build alignment with other folks, they may alienate people or cause additional friction down the road,” observes Peterson. (Peterson is now director of learning and development, at Google. PDI is now PDI Ninth House.)

Whitney continues: “Peterson said he often sees people promoted early in their career for getting good results because they’re smart. Yet, any individual at a certain level who’s smart can do a great job. It’s when leaders begin to ascend the higher rungs of the career ladder that the potential for derailment appears. Then it’s not so much the ability to get results that’s most important; it’s working well with others--being able to incite performance in direct reports and teams--that becomes most important.”

Of course, identifying derailment factors is one thing. But how can executives get their future leaders back on the right trajectory? Bolt posed this question to his group of 20 leaders. Here are some of their answers:

Confront them with the facts of the issue

Involve a coach or mentor to correct the behavior

Consider reassignment

According to Bolt, this was a typical response: “I take a very directive but guiding leadership style that quickly addresses the issue as soon as it develops. One should identify and mitigate the undesirable behavior by leveraging fact-based, first-hand, specific examples, and suggesting behavior that would be more appropriate.”

This article was originally published at The Build Network.

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Mar 10, 2014

THE BUILD NETWORK STAFF

The Build Network staff curates provocative, actionable leadership advice for executive teams running sustained-growth companies.




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