Derailing Behaviors And Leadership Impropriety

Why do leaders and other celebrities risk everything they have worked so hard to build – fortune, job, reputation, family, and in some cases their freedom? We now have a group of CEOs embroiled in sex scandals (e.g., Harry Stonechipher, Mark Hurd, Brian Dunn and many more) and illegal activities (e.g., Ken Lay, Dennis Koslowski, and many more). When leaders who appear to have everything decide to risk it all and get caught, it can be quite difficult to understand why they choose to let it happen.

There are some habits and derailing behaviors that develop for some leaders which cause them to go into a downhill spin and lose everything. Research has shown that when power is abused, these derailing behaviors take a toll on them. Sydney Finkelstein outlined five poor habits of leaders who derail that include the following: a deep belief they can control the company, believing they have all the answers, and being overly concerned with their image.

In my recent Leadership Excellence article, I discuss why these derailing behaviors happen and what organizations can do to prevent executive failure and these costly behaviors from happening.

How Do I Get Promoted? – Identify Your Advocates

cps how do i get promoted 004

In my previous blog, I discussed why it’s important to build your followership. The next step is to identify those advocates who can help you in your career. Advocates are those internal and external stakeholders that have some interest in your success and can influence your success.

For example, your direct manager should be easy to picture meeting these two criteria. Let me stretch your notions of advocates and suggest your boss’ boss with whom you may not have a lot of day-to-day contact. Or, the CFO or CHRO of your organization. Their interest in your success or failure is not as relevant to your boss’ interests, but they do have some level of interest in your success. The reasons for this are:

  • As a senior leader of any organization your responsibility is to ensure that there is a strong bench of talent and talent pipeline to help meet business goals.
  • Turnover is very costly to organizations. So losing a leader, especially a high performer, could end up costing your organization 2X to 6X your annual compensation depending upon your job level.
  • Having a high performing leader go to the competition is not very desirable and retaining talent should be in their best interests.

One special circumstance where identifying your advocates is critically important to your success is when you get promoted or hired into a new role. It’s essential during the first 90 days of your tenure to identify and spend time with your advocates to ensure you are successful.

Your Team and Peers

It’s really important not to lose sight of advocates you work with day-to-day. Your team members and peers can play key roles in your success or failure, so start with these individuals and build effective and trusting relationships.

For example, your direct reports have a lot to do with your success in general. In particular, if there is “noise” coming from your team that you are a poor leader, then that starts to make its way through formal and informal channels and can be devastating to your career. If your company conducts employee engagement surveys or uses 360 degree feedback for development or appraisal, there are ways the positive and negative of your leadership come out.

Peers are helpful if they advocate your leadership and contributions. To be realistic, if your manager wanted to promote you, would he or she get unanimous support from the team or a mutiny? It often happens where peers become bosses. So building and maintaining strong working relationships with your peer group is very important to your success.

Best And Worst CEOs In 2013


Every year Sydney Finkelstein, professor of management at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, releases his Worst CEOs and has added a list of the Best CEOs. It is very interesting to me to see what separates the best from the worst and it provides some lessons for all senior leaders.


Ron Johnson – formerly J.C. Penny. He tried to take a winning strategy from Apple and apply it to the retailer. He pushed it in spite of critics and failures. This is a classic mistake of applying a poor strategy to a company that was completely different.

Thorsten Heins – formerly Blackberry. He couldn’t execute his strategy and plan and ended up moving to other phones and applications.

Eddie Lambert – Sears. He took a winning strategy from hedge funds to the retailer. It just didn’t work since he overlooked merchandising, customers, and operational excellence.

Steve Balmer – Microsoft. Under his leadership the company’s stock has declined by 35% while Apple stock has appreciated 1900%. He had the company that could change the future but going with Zune for music, Windows-based phones and Bing for search let his new competition take their marketshare.


Jeff Bezos – Amazon. His relentless pursuit of the customer, coupled with innovation, has led their stock to increase 220X since 1997.

John Idol – Michael Kors. He is a strong marketer and a great leader who practices best management approaches.

Akido Toyoda – Toyota. He is a visionary leader who has enabled the company to retake the #1 position as automaker.

Successful CEOs create winning strategies for their particular markets that work in their companies. Executives who fail take strategies from previous companies and try and apply them to a new company. This losing strategy inevitably flops because the leader fails to take input from the external market and internally when their direction goes awry. I don’t understand why Boards of Directors continually hire CEOs with a questionable track record and allow them to try again to be successful. It just goes to show how there is a dearth of great leaders to run our complex global companies.

The Introverted Leader

cps leadership performance enhancementA colleague of mine, Jennifer Kahnweiler, wrote the book, “The Introverted Leader,” which offers advice and tips on how introverted leaders can use their strengths to excel and fill in critical gaps to their success.

In my 20+ years advising senior leaders, I remember two executives (both CEOs as CHRO) in particular who were introverts and successful in their own ways. One was a stereotypical brilliant leader who lacked social connectivity. His leadership was based on his expertise and position of power along with his business acumen. That is what he used to lead others.

The other CEO developed the behaviors needed to inspire and motivate others and could display these in front of employees, analysts, customers, etc.  He would come out of his office with his “game face” on and was able to inspire with referent power. His strengths also included his strong ambition, analytical abilities, business acumen, and values.

What I learned through these experiences early in my career is that you are who you are. Being a successful leader is about understanding your strengths to leverage and identifying those areas that get in the way of your effectiveness. It’s important to continuously seek feedback and/or receive executive coaching for sustained leadership performance enhancement. If you don’t have a network in place that is providing you feedback on your leadership and to help you identify blind spots, then you run the risk of failing to address critical factors necessary for your success.

Lessons in Leadership: Discover Your Blind Spots with Feedback

What’s in your blind spot? Are you getting the feedback you need to be successful? Are you frustrated with your career stalling? What helps leaders get promoted and deliver higher results was candid and direct feedback about their leadership from bosses, peers and employees. This feedback was channeled into effective development programs with specific actions to overcome their blind spots, thus leading them to promotions and career success.


For leaders at the top of any organization, feedback is a rarity. Executives seldom get feedback about their leadership style, annoying behaviors, personality quirks, or other actions that make it challenging for them and their team members to be successful. While debriefing a leader I was coaching, he expressed that what he most liked about the coaching process was receiving unbiased and direct feedback. After he received feedback on his leadership behavior and style, he was able to address the blind spots identified and make successful leadership improvements in just 3 months.

Current corporate news are full of stories about CEOs who are terminated or resign due in part to performance issues, errors in judgment and other potential blind spots. The costs of these high-profile departures to shareholders have been documented to be tens of millions of dollars. Mark Hurd, former HP CEO in 2011, and Brian Dunn, former Best Buy CEO in 2012, were terminated due to poor judgment about their personal behaviors.  Another example of an ex-CEO with a blind spot is Jeff Kindler, who was let go from Pfizer after a mutiny of senior leaders.  Jeff’s leadership issues (bullying, intimidation, etc.) seemed to go on for years without any required change.

When I read these career epitaphs, I always wonder if they were getting unbiased and objective feedback about their leadership issues and blind spots. My guess is nobody had the courage to confront them and as a result, everybody ends up suffering. Learn from these public failures and ask your peers, team members and bosses for feedback on how you can improve as a leader.

Leadership skills development

How Great Leaders Inspire

Simon Sinek, author of the book “Start With Why”, talks about how to become inspiring leaders by starting with the simple concept of why. His Tedx Talk at Puget Sound explains how leaders who start with why have the ability to inspire and he gives examples such as the Wright brothers and Martin Luther King, Jr.

He says everyone knows what they do, many people know how they do it, but very few people know why they do it. The why is a person’s (or company’s) belief, cause or purpose, not to be confused with the result (money, profit) of what they do. He refers to these three as the Golden Circle:

cps golden circle 001

Most people and companies start from the outside circle to explain what they do, then move inwards. Simon advocates leaders and organizations should reverse that process and start with the inside circle and explain why you do something. He said, “We follow those who lead not because we have to but because we want to.”

This concept applies to leaders inspiring others as well as organizations motivating people to buy their product or service. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” he said. Simon uses Apple as a great example of a company who successfully explains why they do something which creates loyal customers who buy-in to the company’s purpose. What Apple does and how they do it is secondary to why they do it. “The goal is to sell to people who believe what you believe.”

View Simon’s Tedx Talk and learn the importance of changing your way of thinking from what you do to why you do it. Great leaders and successful companies know the key to inspirational leadership: “Those who start with why have the ability to inspire.”

How Do You Prevent An Executive From Derailing?


It is disconcerting to read about the recent wave of executive leadership failure which are in areas that are not directly related to their performance. These types of failures have to do with policy, moral or ethical violations.
One of the most famous cases was Bill Clinton who showed remarkably poor judgment getting involved with an intern. He’s not alone, though, several other politicians and public servants including Eliot Spitzer, Mark Sanford, and John Edwards have made bad moral decisions which cost them their jobs and ended their political career.

In the for-profit arena, Mark Hurd (Former HP CEO) was one of the most recent public company failures for improper conduct. Brian Dunn (former Best Buy CEO) was terminated for having an affair. Christopher Kubasik (Former Lockheed Martin CEO) and General Petraeus (Former CIA Director) resigned for sexual improprieties. To say these could have been prevented is an understatement.

It is very important for senior leaders to have someone they trust and who serves as an objective and unbiased executive leadership advisor whose is responsible for pointing out the risks of these types of derailing behaviors. It is lonely at the top and very few people inside the organization will speak up and criticize the boss, especially when the leader may not be approachable or “open” to criticism.

Having a trusted and confidential executive leadership coach and being accountable to someone else can help prevent such lapses in judgment and save the leader, company, shareholders and the country a lot of pain and anguish. After all, as CEO or senior leader you have too much to risk when discussing issues with the Board or any other person who has a fiduciary responsibility to the company. I can’t help but wonder if more of these lapses occur and are just not revealed. For example, Brian Dunn’s fall from grace happened after a tweet was sent mistakenly setting off a chain reaction.

If you are a senior leader and do not have an outlet to discuss leadership issues and opportunities then you are at risk for not being effective and worse, losing your job. Ask your HR department or a peer CEO for suggestions on executive leadership coaches you might contact as a third-party resource to assist you. It is a complex job and it is not a sign of weakness to get some outside confidential help.

Prevent Executive Failure

Helping New Leaders Succeed: New Leader Onboarding Toolkit

As part of Corporate Performance Strategies continued dedication to help new leaders succeed, we offer a New Leader Onboarding Toolkit. This resource provides a sample 90-day transition plan and outlines the 3 phases and key objectives for new leaders to focus on during their first three months in their new position.


Research shows that about 50% of newly appointed leaders fail to meet expectations within the first 12-18 months in their leadership role. Our proven executive coaching tools and methodology have helped leaders improve their performance and effectiveness to keep up with new job requirements, changing roles, higher expectations, and other performance-related challenges.

We offer several leadership resources on our website including articles, whitepapers, videos, self-assessments and more. Visit our website today to take advantage of these complimentary tools and begin to improve your leadership performance today.


Build Your Inspirational Leadership

build your inspirational leadership

It is important to be able to inspire others to follow your lead and direction. Motivating others is great, so when they meet your expectations there would be a tangible or intangible reward. This is an external reward for performance paradigm that works pretty well in most cases. In other words, if you do this for me I’ll give you this reward.

What is even more compelling would be to inspire others to achieve greater levels of performance because they want to follow your lead and believe in your vision. For inspirational leaders, the followers are inspired by something intrinsic to themselves, a conscious choice to put out extraordinary efforts to achieve success.

When we think of inspirational leaders the list of leaders that immediately come to mind include JFK, MLK, Gandi, and many others. These leaders are in rarefied air for sure. I have worked with hundreds of leaders, and have not encountered anyone that meets these standards. However, I have worked for and with some very inspirational leaders who have used their introverted and extroverted styles to inspire organizations to achieve remarkable results, even when their teams may have believed it was near impossible to do so.


For example, here is a vision created by a General Manager to inspire a well-run plant to achieve even greater results and to make changes to move to the next threshold in performance: To be the preferred solutions provider and partner to customers operating a world-class, data-driven, and employer of choice facility.  

At first glance you might think it is pretty straight forward and easy. However, this operation was not “preferred” by customers and it was far from “world-class, data driven, and employer of choice.” They were operating as the most profitable plant in the North American region yet they were still far from these aspirational levels.

Another recent example is Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s new CEO and her vision: Yahoo is about making the world’s daily habits more inspiring and entertaining. It’s not just enough to have the vision, but it’s also important to have Mission, Values, and Goals that can be used to guide and measure achievements.


Also, you can begin to influence your peers and colleagues to follow your lead and help you be successful in your organization. You don’t have to be a strong extrovert to be inspirational. Using the right words, process and continually communicating your vision can help you inspire people in ways that are very gratifying for you as a leader.

create compelling vision statements

Are You Managing Or Leading?

Recently, an HBR blog titled “The 3 Differences Between Managers and Leaders” outlined the three key differences as excerpted below:


managing vs. leading

You’re probably counting value, not adding it, if you’re managing people. Only managers count value; some even reduce value by disabling those who add value.

By contrast, leaders focus on creating value, saying: “I’d like you to handle A while I deal with B.” He or she generates value over and above that which the team creates, and is as much a value-creator as his or her followers are. Leading by example and leading by enabling people are the hallmarks of action-based leadership.


Just as managers have subordinates and leaders have followers, managers create circles of power while leaders create circles of influence.

The quickest way to figure out which of the two you’re doing is to count the number of people outside your reporting hierarchy who come to you for advice. The more people who do, the more likely it is that you are perceived to be a leader.


Management consists of controlling a group or a set of entities to accomplish a goal. Leadership refers to an individual’s ability to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward organizational success. Influence and inspiration separate leaders from managers, not power and control.

Based on the work we do with leaders, I would add 3 more key differences between managers and leaders to this great list:


Often when delegating, managers will explain what and how things should get done. Leaders do far less of this and instead describe why something is important or why it’s required in order to give their followers the big picture and vision.


This is a great quote about leadership and gets to the essence of the differences between managers and leaders. Managers tend to focus on control and doing things “right” according to standards, expectations, requirements, rules, etc. Leaders focus less on the implementation details and more on the end results by steering their teams to the most productive and impactful ends.


Managers tend to be most concerned about making mistakes and proceed cautiously with regard to delegating, deciding, and risk-taking. Leaders understand the importance of people making mistakes in order to learn. Leaders empower others to tackle issues and opportunities in their own way while fully realizing mistakes may be made and they encourage learning and development based on these mistakes.

Just ask yourself how you rate yourself as a manager or leader and identify any gaps. Create your own personal action plan to change your approach to help build your leadership potential. It’s all about balance. You have to master both management and leadership skills and know when to emphasize one over the other. It’s the balance of these skills that you have to get right in order to be successful in your context. The lower the position is in the organization, then the more “managing” skills are required, so be prepared as you move into more senior level roles to really change this balance to incorporate much more leadership skills.