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For most people, navigating leadership is much like walking a tightrope. 

leadership development, leadership styles, leadership skills, leadership characteristics

You would like to be perceived as:

assertive…………………………….without being aggressive

empathetic……………………….without being a pushover

decisive……………………………..without being hasty

trusting……………………………….without being naïve

self-confident………………….without being arrogant

courageous………………………without being reckless

Obviously, negotiating between these fine lines is no easy task, even for the most seasoned veterans of the workforce. And in the climb up the corporate ladder, the line between a strength and a weakness isn’t always clear.

The same characteristics of a driven and “go-getter” salesperson can earn her a reputation as a cut-throat manager. The meticulous, detail-oriented tendencies of a great accountant can make him a perfectionistic, micromanaging boss.

When you don’t get this balance just right, your career can suddenly stall, stagnate, or even derail.

Derailers Defined

By looking at the term “derailer,” you might assume that it’s connected to an inherent weakness, which over time can lead to derailment.  But a leadership derailer is more than just a minor weakness. You have a number of weaknesses that you may never need to master or improve, but a derailer requires immediate attention if you want to realize your full potential. In other words, it can become a “fatal flaw” if not corrected.

The biggest difference between a weakness and a derailer is that no strength can compensate for a derailer. For example, perhaps a leader has a weakness in public speaking. This can be compensated for if they are great at building relationships and motivating others. The same can’t be said for a leader who is dishonest. No matter how strong a person might be in other leadership competencies, this derailer will limit his or her ability to succeed.

Finding the Right Balance

Early in your career, certain characteristics may be strengths for you. As you move into a management position, however, shifting expectations and mounting pressure can lead to the overuse of those strengths, damaging your reputation and hindering your ability to build a team.

Korn Ferry1 has identified several negative traits that are associated with derailment including passive-aggressiveness, micromanagement, and manipulation. If these derailing traits are too strong, they could lead the person to fail. Positive traits also can contribute to derailment when their presence is too strong. For example, trust and optimism seem positive, but too much of these traits may make leaders naive, and they may not hold people accountable for their work.

Personality characteristics that help launch promising careers can turn into crippling derailers down the line. But they don’t have to. By identifying these potentially destructive behaviors in your career, you can avoid letting your greatest strengths become your most damaging weakness.

Detecting Derailers

Fortunately, derailing traits can be detected by assessments and addressed with coaching and development. Individuals willing to invest the time and energy can, in fact, alter how these derailers are expressed. With early detection, your own derailment risk can be addressed so that your career stays on track.

As a leadership coach, I have worked with hundreds of clients from a wide variety of organizations. As a result of this experience, I’ve had the opportunity to gain insight into why some people move up quickly and easily in their careers, while others derail, never reaching their full potential.

I’ve put together a FREE resource guide that shares some of the most common mistakes I see potential leaders making at work – mistakes which undermine their performance and prevent them from leading at the highest level.

This guide contains 15 of the most common mistakes that potential leaders make at work. Keep in mind, most people don’t make all 15 mistakes – but many do make more than one. I’ve found that the more mistakes you make, the less likely you are to achieve your full career potential.

How to Get Your FREE Copy

You can get a free copy of The 15 Devastating Leadership Derailers by clicking the button below.

Hazucha, J. (2007). Are Your Stars Rising or Falling? Why High-Potential Leaders Fall Off the Fast Track. Minneapolis, MN: PDI International.


I believe you have untapped potential within you. How much farther can you go? How much more impact could you have?

Yes, there are obstacles in your path. Barriers to advancement can be a good thing – they ensure only the best rise to the top. But I can give you the tools you need to overcome those barriers.

Getting promoted to higher levels of leadership (and thriving there) requires navigating 4 very specific transitions, or shifts, necessary for success. The Leadershifts coaching intensive describes each of those transitions in detail and shows you how to master them.

The dozens of tiny moving parts around making these 4 critical shifts has become the “Achilles heel” of many a high-potential leader. You, on the other hand, will have access to a revolutionary road map to success. In this coaching intensive, you’ll discover how to:

  • make 4 specific transitions, or shifts, needed to succeed at higher levels of leadership
  • raise your awareness to eliminate self-defeating patterns of behavior
  • communicate with confidence
  • maintain your composure when things go wrong at work
  • create an optimistic and inspiring vision that moves people forward
  • build trust with a stronger, more supportive network of sponsors and mentors
  • increase your leadership agility so you can adapt your behavior to fit new job requirements


Dr. Stefani Yorges

I am a psychologist and professional leadership coach. I partner with people who want to rise to their full potential so they can have an increasingly greater impact on others.

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