Change & Innovation: Personal Crisis Derails Performance and Leadership, A Two Step Approach to Get Back on Track

Katrina Patterson
Legal Conflict Resolution Expert

Despite how intertwined personal and professional life may be, many leaders in the face of personal crisis, remain steadfastly on track.   There are leaders who seem to thrive under pressure, whether personal or professional.

What is leadership derailment?

McCall and Lombardo in a study conducted for the Center of Creative Leadership in 1983, first introduced the concept of managerial, professional and leadership derailment.  This study, along with other studies and research, has provided the language for a phenomenon that may have been observed, but was not specifically identified, and still often goes unnoticed.

Derailment defines those leaders, who experience significant success throughout their careers but fail to reach their full potential professionally because they “come off the tracks.”

Why do leaders derail? 

Causes for derailment are classified into three categories: skills, perception or awareness, and personality.  Over time these categories become enmeshed, so a leader’s skills, perceptions, and personality traits can individually or jointly cause them to derail.

It is widely recognized that leaders derail because they have one or more of the following challenges.

  • Fall short of business objectives and performance
  • Appear inadequate for broader leadership, and limit their areas of expertise
  • Struggle with building and leading a team, and falter in interpersonal relationships
  • Resist or fail to change
  • Allow personal problems to impede professional performance

Step 1

Acknowledge the relationship between personal life and professional performance.

Too many organizational cultures are in denial regarding the relationship between a leader’s personal side and their professional performance. In the face of a leader exhibiting characteristics of an impending derailment, some organizations fail to act appropriately.

Acknowledging a legitimate relationship between personal crisis and professional performance opens the door for properly identifying, diagnosing, treating, and preventing that which could otherwise end in unnecessary derailment.

Step 2

Have the institutional fortitude to confront leadership derailment and examine the root cause.

Sometimes an organization deals with the warning signs of derailment, without giving attention to the underlying causes. Why does this matter? Because failure to acknowledge the root causes of the relationship between personal crisis and professional performance will affect leadership, organizational culture and operating results. Disguised and undiagnosed personal crises are a prescription for leader dysfunction and organizational poor performance.

Change & Innovation: Personal Crisis Derails Performance and Leadership, A Two Step Approach to Get Back on Track
©Katrina Patterson 2015