Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What causes a leader to fail?


It has been said that, "if you want to lead then you need to read." I have found the above statement to be true for several reasons. Yet this post isn't about the reasnons to read but about what I have read.

Derailed: Five Lessons Learned From Catastrophic Failures of Leadership by Tim Irwin, Ph.D. 

Essentially Dr. Irwin chronicles six CEO's and why they failed (derailed) as leaders of the companies they were in charge of. 

In the books forward Patrick Lencioni says, " warned that this book is not really about six famous leaders who derailed. It is about you. And me. And anyone who ever decided to accept a position of leadership. No one is immune from derailment."

His assessment is on target. Tim Irwin does begin by telling the stories of six CEO's:

  • Bob Nardelli: Former CEO of Home Depot
  • Carly Fiorina: Former CEO of Hewlett-Packard
  • Durk Jager: Former CEO of Proctor & Gamble
  • Steven Heyer: Former CEO of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide
  • Frank Raines: Former CEO of Fannie Mae
  • Dick Fuld: Former CEO of Lehman Brothers
Dr. Irwin writes that leaders derail for basically four reasons (or lack of these four):
  1. Authenticity
  2. Self-management
  3. Humility
  4. Courage
He continues, "Derailment occurs in a predictable progression--a process that those who derail seem to follow. Derailed leaders progress through five stages as they head toward their demise." (p.89)

The five stages he chronicles are:
  1. A Failure of Self/Other Awareness
  2. Hubris: Pride Before The Fall
  3. Missed Early Warning Signals
  4. Rationalizing
  5. Derailment
Yet Irwin doesn't simply tell us about CEO's that derailed and the stages that derailed leaders go through, but also the lessons we can learn, "The purpose of Derailed is to shed intense light on our vulnerabilities--the irregularities and small cracks and fissures that can cause us to derail, whether we are leaders, emerging leaders, or simply navigating a career." (p. 160) Those five lessons are:
  1. Character Trumps Competence
  2. Arrogance Is The Mother Of All Derailers
  3. Lack Of Self/Other Awareness Is A Common Denominator Of All Derailments
  4. We Are Always Who We Are...Especially Under Stress
  5. Derailment Is Not Inevitable, But Without Attention To Development. It is Probable.
Without a doubt this book is one that all leaders or those on a path to be leaders should read. Dr. Irwin has even set up a free Derailment Personal Risk Assessment online that anyone can take. 

If I had to sum up the book in just a few sentences I would say the following:

"When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom" & "Pride goes before destruction a haughty spirit before a fall." (Prov. 11:2 & 16:18 N.I.V)

So what have you read lately that you would recommend? Please let me know!


image taken from Dr. Tim Irwin's website  

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