16 Tendencies that Will Derail Your Career


In our July post we outlined 4 common and costly behavioral traits that we notice consistently in our executive coaching engagements that stall or kill a leader’s career. It was one of our most read posts and people wanted more. In fact, one subscriber even said, “Aren’t there more than four?”


The answer, of course, is yes there are more than four career killers. We’ve noticed 16 pretty common derailers as we work with people across leadership levels, gender and industry. So, we decided to dedicate this post and the next post to introducing those derailers. They are avoidable, but you have to know about them first.

Here are the first 9 derailers. 

Overly Focused on Results Tendencies


Leaders who are overly focused on results and don’t emphasize relationships enough tend to derail themselves though the following behavioral tendencies.


Being Smart (versus aware): This is the first mindset shift I talk about in my book Unite! The 4 Mindset shifts for Senior Leaders. It’s the constant need to be right, to prove your worth and demonstrate to others that you are the (technical) expert and the one with the answers. That tendency derails relationships, isolates a leader and doesn’t enable a business to scale.


Overly Controlling: This strong autocratic tendency to control one’s environment, speak up about problems, and challenge the system can be extremely positive. When overused, though, it can lead to such negative outcomes as a lack of delegation. The big issue with this as leaders rise to higher levels is not just the lack of handing over a task but also the inability to scale a business and operate at the right level. The collateral damage to the people around these leaders includes not feeling valued and trusted, which eventually leads to disengagement.


Arrogance is a tendency when overly results-oriented leaders overuse their strength of confidence. People experience this behavior as egocentric and superior, and this destructive tendency shuts down conversation and innovation (after all, the arrogant leader already knows the answer!) and can ruin relationships.


Unapproachable: This is a tendency where the leader finds safety by keeping people at a distance. Boundaries between personal and professional are black and white and the leader fails to acknowledge other’s ideas, connect with people in hallways and set a tone of open communication. The biggest downside of this tendency? Not hearing the truth from your people.


Overly focused on compliance (instead of commitment): Here the leader tends to formulate a vision and immediately implement it. Leaders like this are usually motivated by change, challenge, and controlling their environment and don’t spend much time getting anyone’s buy-in. Or, they recognize that they need buy-in and ask for input simply to garner support for their position, not because they care what others have to say. As a result, people tend to be compliant around this pushy style instead of owning and being committed to the direction in which the organization will move. It’s not uncommon for team members to spend an enormous amount of time managing around these leaders who are set in their way of doing things and demonstrate an unwillingness to bend. Such leaders come across as trying to convince others as to why their idea is best, versus actually listening and embracing alternate ideas. They are often distanced from the truth of what goes on in an organization. People respond by either complying, or they ignore the input and do their own thing anyway. Either way, reactions are driven by the leader’s unapproachable style and fear of repercussion.

Overly Focused on Relationships Tendencies

Then there are leaders who are overly focused on relationships and not enough on results. They risk experiencing these career derailers.

Wanting to be liked too much. These highly people-focused leaders overuse their strengths when their desire to be accepted gets in the way of making the tough calls. It’s not uncommon for these leaders to ruminate about their interactions with people for days and delay having the difficult conversations. What’s the impact? Usually there’s a direct connection to one or more line items on the income statement.


Passivity is when leaders don’t voice their perspective and too often defer to others. They justify this tendency with statements like, “I only want to speak when I have something meaningful to say.” I see this tendency most in humble leaders, people who don’t need to be in the spotlight. That is refreshing in small doses, but its overuse makes those leaders seem like rollovers, people who don’t control or lead, who don’t step up or know what they’ve accomplished. They miss opportunities. Overly passive leaders don’t instill confidence in their peers or in the executives above them.


Avoidance is similar to passivity, but it’s mostly about how a leader responds in conflict. Leaders have to be willing to take risks and put their perspective on the line. In many ways, it’s a vulnerable behavioral set. Sometimes those risks are in accountability conversations. Other times it’s when they need to step up to provide a perspective. That’s what they are paid to do. But with this tendency, leaders prefer to avoid those conversations, and they fail to hold people to the high standards that are necessary for moving the business forward.


Focusing on consensus (instead of commitment): The tendency here is to be a people pleaser, where the leader is overly concerned about making everyone happy.  The consequential decisions that leaders have to make are too complicated to focus on agreement. They involve too many constituents and stakeholders. So, the shift for the more passive leader is from focusing on getting consensus to winning commitment.

What’s Next?


The first step is to build awareness on where your career derailers may lie. Everyone has one or more. What has the potential to derail you?


Seek input from others so that you can uncover your blind spots (weaknesses that you do not know about). Those will always derail you first.


Want more help? Want to accelerate change? Want to change perceptions that others have of your leadership style and impact? Consider bringing in our executive coaching services or one of our leadership development programs for your emerging or senior level leaders.


And, stay tuned for our next post where we’ll introduce the next 7 derailers that cross both the Results and Relationships tendencies.