Terminate or Turnaround: Preventing Executive Derailment

On April 5, 2011, in Blog, Leadership, by Christine Glasco

Career derailment (an unplanned detour in an otherwise good or great career) happens every day to individuals at all levels of the organization. When career derailment happens to associates, professionals, or supervisors the implications or fall-out is typically a localized problem for the individual, the boss or team.

When derailment happens at the executive level, there are enterprise issues with far-reaching implications, e.g., on the attainment or non-attainment of mission critical objectives; potential team dysfunction; additional responsibilities and accountabilities required of peers; or the boss’ discomfort and embarrassment due to having selected and ‘vouched’ for a ‘C’ or ‘D’ player.

I have researched and observed first-hand what triggers derailment and the reasons why derailment occurs. Marshall Goldsmith best sums up one of the major contributors to derailment: “Positive beliefs about ourselves help us become successful. These same beliefs can make it tough for us to change.” Because an executive has always been successful, it is almost impossible for him/her to believe that career failures or derailment might also happen at a future date.

Companies have employed a number of approaches for handling failing executives: implement an aggressive development plan, delay and hope for a behavioral or performance turnaround, reassignment or immediate termination.

In a survey of 224 executives conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership:

  • 81% have seen derailment at their level in their organizations
  • 78% have personally encountered the causes and dangers of derailment
  • 37% report that they “do nothing” with weak performers
  • 37% keep derailed executives in their current role but phase down their responsibility and influence
  • 35% shifted derailed executives to dead end jobs
  • 10% quickly dismiss a weak executive performer

Here are the steps I recommend to engineer a career derailment turnaround:

Acknowledge the Problems Sooner Rather Than Later
Most of the executives I have coached who have been reassigned, passed-over or terminated have indicated that they ‘felt’ some changes, differences, nuances, strained communications, boss/CEO/Board challenges 12 to 18 months BEFORE THE EVENT. Most ignored the feeling, or if acknowledged, they worked even harder to overcome the negatives.  The best approach to turning around a career is to fully acknowledge the problems. Acknowledgment also includes taking stock; gaining more information; taking assessments to uncover your values, strengths, areas for development; assessing the culture and identifying where your values, strengths and leadership competencies are and are notin alignment with the organization culture, etc.

Develop a Strategy and Take Action

Sometimes executives feel that they should participate in a development program, hire a coach, have a talk with the boss, etc.  All of these options are useful depending on the circumstances.  However, overcoming executive derailment requires a strategy that includes repairing a faltering reputation by identifying the organizational key influencers who are supporters, those who are neutral and detractors and executing a massive re-engagement process.  A successful strategy also requires examining numerous data points, planning for the needs of a variety of constituencies, a framework of actions that build on each other, etc.

Involve a Confidential Advisor

Identify a knowledgeable, experienced confidant who can help you develop your strategy and provide information, support and new alternatives.   A peer can be your confidant; however, executing a career resurrection or orchestrating a graceful exit on the advice of a peer can place you in a very vulnerable position.  Enough said – find a professional coach!

Monitor Progress

Develop a milestone, check point and red flag system.  Decide on the critical signals you must seek out and understand along the way to ensure that you are making enough headway to guarantee ultimate success.

Reassess and Decide Whether to Stay or Leave

After several successful milestone achievements, reassess and decide if you can successfully complete the turnaround.  Ultimately – sooner or later – you have to realistically decide if you can turn the tide and complete the turnaround in the company’s preferred time frame.

Questions for you to consider:

  1. Have you ‘felt’ changes in your work environment that you have not acknowledged or examined?
  2. Have your past successes blinded you to the possibility of derailment or failure?

© All rights reserved.

Christine M. Glasco consults to company executives, business owners and non-profit leaders on strategic leadership and career management/career transformation solutions. For a complimentary copy of Five Tips to Transform Your Executive Career to help you be more effective in your career, go to www.christineglasco.com

Email: info@christineglasco.com Phone: 1.940.367.0837

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2 Responses to Terminate or Turnaround: Preventing Executive Derailment

  1. […] If you look closely at their answers, it is possible to begin to outline an Early Warning System template: […]

  2. […] insight on the actions that positively impacted his career and the actions that ultimately led to a career derailment.  (Note: a Backstory, or the dramatic revelation of secrets, was first introduced by […]

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