There are a lot of reasons why careers of otherwise functional or technically competent leaders derail. Most of us know many of the obvious ones: volatility, inability to control emotions (sometimes labeled as the more familiar "anger management issues"), or talking too much and not listening enough.

I even almost derailed my own leadership career years ago due to emotional immaturity - which has been shown to be a big "watch out" for young leaders who have climbed the leadership ladder quickly and find themselves in big positions at relatively young ages.  

All of these are common challenges that are pretty easy to spot. Beyond spotting them, most of us try to get out of the way of leaders who do these things.

What many leadership coaches will tell you, though, is that there are other derailers that are subtler and not as obvious that can be just as detrimental to your career. In fact, as strange as it may sound, you can derail even if you are a nice leader with good functional capabilities, a level-headed demeanor, one who is well liked, and who listens well.

Who wouldn't want to work for that person? As it turns out, even this person could derail for very different reasons.

Here are two things to watch out for that aren't as obvious as yelling at people but could be just as problematic:

1. Too eager to please

Marshall Goldsmith - one of the pre-eminent leadership coaches out there today - has labeled this as "the disease to please." It is an interesting concept. It is about being overly concerned with being accepted and liked. If we are trying too hard to please others, we may come across as inexperienced, junior, or not having conviction of our own about the things that really matter. We may even overly defer to other people's opinions.

I've worked with some teams who feel that their leader is too eager to please. The team members themselves often start to question the credibility of their leader and how much that leader is going to advocate for things when or if anything ever gets dicey (which always happens at some point or another).

This isn't to say that you shouldn't care if you are accepted and liked. There's a lot of research out there that shows how important it is to find common ground with other people as a means towards influencing them. Effective leaders have to be able to influence.

The goal for any of you who may be "people pleasers" (I'm one, too) isn't to do a 180 and become a proudly defiant leader whose goal is to make sure everyone knows without a shadow of a doubt that you aren't trying to be anyone's friend around here. It is really about balance and ensuring that others know that you do value the relationship but that there are lines and areas where your conviction will come through - even if it doesn't please someone else in that given moment.

2. Lack of confidence

Sometimes, lack of confidence goes hand in hand with our need or desire to please. It is often about being overly concerned with making mistakes. Sometimes it shows up as indecisiveness or risk aversion.

I've worked with a good number of new leaders who suffer from a lack of confidence. I did earlier in my career, too. In many cases, they are their own worst enemies because they don't want to make mistakes that they feel will cause others to question if they are truly capable and competent to be in that leadership role.

Ironically, others often see them in a different light and are expecting them to make decisions, take some risks, and even make a few mistakes. When that doesn't happen, that's when they question if the person is really ready to be in that leadership role.

Similar to being too eager to please, it is about finding that balance. No one wants to work with the overconfident leader who always knows the answer, makes decisions that he or she shouldn't be making, and takes irresponsible risks. Those leaders derail for the opposite reason - often labeled as arrogant. 

So here's the good news. If you're a leader who isn't getting in trouble for throwing chairs, talking over people, and doing immature things, you are already winning half the battle. But if you are also one of those humble leaders who worries about your ability to be a great leader or who may try really hard to be accepted, make sure you keep those things in check, too.

Published on: Jul 9, 2018