Leadership derailment is often a hidden issue but we see some very public examples: Fred Goodwin, RBS, £24billion loss; Carlos Ghosn, Nissan, Financial misconduct; Dick Fuld, Lehman Bros, largest bankruptcy in US history; Bob Diamond, Barclays, Libor scandal.

The risk of potential derailment can easily be ignored because the thing that often derails someone is an overused strength. Like the Hogan behavioural descriptor Bold – ‘seeming fearless, confident, and self-assured; always expecting to succeed’. Undoubtedly a strength but those that score highest here won’t admit mistakes or learn from experience when under stress.

This is a scenario chapter lifted from my ebook – The Coaching Question, a Guide To Commissioning Coaching.

Business Case

Aside from the damage a leadership derailment can have on the business (reputational risk, legal cases etc), the cost of replacing an executive is a lengthy process likely to cost more than twice their starting salary.

On one hand – the cost of a Hogan survey and a coaching package is a minimal insurance premium to pay versus the risk of an executive derailment. On the other, a leader who can use strengths properly, without the damaging effects of the extremes will be even more effective and therefore deliver even more value.

Challenges

In order for coaching to be relevant here the organisation has to take leadership derailment as a serious risk.

Once identified, often the challenge in these scenarios is speed. Something may have happened to bring things to a head, e.g. a promotion where the extra challenge uncovers a derailment risk. Having coaches you know can work in this space ahead of time is useful. Qualification in Hogan HDS can be very useful.

The leader in question may not accept the scenario presented, and may be defensive to start.

Case studies

1. The role was regional CEO for a global FMCG company where the territory not only strategic, it had the highest growth rate in the group. This was a critical appointment and the VP HR had concerns. The candidate was a superb fit for the company’s aggressive growth ambitions. They had the right cultural background, and had a sterling record in delivering results and was ‘razor-sharp’. There was a ‘but’ however. The selection process used the Hogan Dark Side tool and the candidate had four of the thirteen potential derailers and was clearly a high risk. With the group CEO overriding her concerns, the VP HR rapidly put some coaching in place. I was selected from a pool of three Hogan certified coaches. There was evidence from stakeholders that the client had started to derail when the coaching started. They had to deal with several high-stress events but with coaching support, changed their approach and limited their original derailing tendencies. They have grown the business significantly, ahead of the already aggressive targets. They have learned new strategies to manage their strengths, now have a stable business and a solid reputation with the Group CEO.

2. This role was head of a new specialist business unit in a global relocation company of 2,000 employees and £200m turnover. The client was promoted to the executive team but was found to be disruptive. Their business area had also recently experienced some critical failures. This was a classic derailment scenario with the client’s strengths becoming weaknesses. He was the best salesperson in the company by far; an individual brought in when large deals needed to be closed, bringing in the biggest, most strategic contracts, charming key clients when required. The coaching requirement was to keep him delivering, help him correct the deficits in his business and most importantly, change his sometimes destructive and inappropriate behaviour with the executive team. All three of the organisation’s goals were met with the Group CEO reporting a transformation in the client’s behaviour and significant business improvement. The client’s personal experience was that the coaching was “life-changing”.

What can coaches offer to help prevent derailment?

The Hogan ‘Dark Side’ survey can be incredibly useful in potential derailment scenarios and is recommended. Like any other behavioural change coaching, a 360° survey by telephone interview is recommended. Unlike online or competency-based surveys, interviewing key stakeholders allows the coach to probe further into patterns that appear, and inquire into systemic factors.

Dependent on the severity and/or ingrained nature of the derailment factors, a program here can easily extend beyond the standard 6 sessions but the value of stopping any derailment is usually very clear making justification much easier.

Close involvement of the line manager and HR is beneficial and strong contracting is needed at any three-way meeting.

You can request the whole of The Coaching Question here.

Executive Coach Gregor Findlay helps leaders and leadership teams be the best they can be so they, in turn, make the biggest positive difference for themselves, their people and society.