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Gillian Hyde

Psychological Consultancy Ltd

Director

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What happens when corporate leaders and managers ‘derail?’

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People dictate what organisational culture is, not location, sector or size. Research by Schneider (1987) asserted that ‘the people make the place’; that people are attracted to and recruited into organisations where they think they will fit. Over time, in ways that are outside of individual awareness, organisations maintain the characteristics of the high-status people within them. As a more distinct culture emerges, the organisation tends to attract and retain people of a similar personality, thus reinforcing the culture.

So what happens when corporate leaders and managers start to go off track? What is the impact of the particular derailers that are prominent in different cultures?

Bob Hogan, a prominent psychologist and expert in personality assessment, has identified three personality tendencies than can lead to management derailment:

  • Moving Towards – characterised by acquiescence, ingratiation and conformity
  • Moving Away – withdrawing from others, discouraging involvement
  • Moving Against – this cluster is all about persuading, influencing, charming, seducing. 

Using a wealth of accumulated data from the Hogan Development Survey (HDS), PCL has found that different derailers have more prominence in different walks of life. This has led to the realisation that derailers may have cultural biases. For example, being withdrawn, hard to reach and quietly intimidating is more acceptable in a public sector culture simply because it is more usual.

Analysing different sectors within PCL’s database, we found the public sector and emergency services had a higher proportion of individuals in the Moving Away cluster than did the private sector or, indeed, other industries such as finance.

Based on an assessment of over 5,500 individuals, PCL’s research shows that, on average, public sector employees are more cautious and socially anxious than their private sector counterparts. Furthermore, public sector employees are less likely to display the same levels of persuasive, influential, self-confident and innovative styles of behaviour found in the private sector.

'Self-conscious'

Being more self-conscious and concerned about failure may inhibit managers from voicing their opinions or making the independent contribution they are capable of. They may also become more inward looking and uncommunicative when under pressure and find it hard to ask others for help or advice.

So, while the public sector is less at risk of the managerial excesses typically associated with the private sector, including arrogance, bullying, dogmatism or flamboyant and poorly thought-through innovation, there is also a downside to the Moving Away tendencies of this group. These disadvantages can have an equally counterproductive impact on the individuals, their colleagues and the organisations they work for.

Derailing in certain sectors

Furnham (2010), in his book ‘The Elephant in the Boardroom’, suggested that not only can there be optimal levels of derailers, some derailing tendencies are in fact useful in specific sectors. Those who are sceptical and mistrusting may fit in well in R&D departments, or security. Imaginative and idiosyncratic people may actually be encouraged to think up ever more unusual ideas in more creative and innovative cultures. Attention seeking, flamboyant types may suit careers in advertising, the media, perhaps fashion or the dramatic arts. A final example would be the fussy, picky, diligent types who fit in organisations that emphasise ritual, plan every detail in advance, are thorough, conforming, hierarchical, and have elaborate rules, policies and procedures.

However, the issue still remains that having too much of any of these tendencies could lead to either failure to achieve high positions in management or management derailment. This embedding of derailer types in different organisational cultures also has implications for coaching. Coaching around derailers needs to take into account the organisational culture that the individual is working in, and the extent to which it is ‘accepted’ behaviour or is a particularly unusual characteristic for that type of organisation. 

For example, when coaching a group of senior engineers PCL found that their derailers tended to fall in the Moving Away and Moving Towards clusters. The skills that had served them well as more junior engineers – attention to detail, being questioning and critical, self-motivated and independent – were now interfering with their ability to lead and manage others. 360° feedback on these managers consistently revealed deficits around strategic awareness, having a vision for the organisation and the charisma to sell their ideas.

While their particular derailers were in line with the culture of the organisation, as their managerial responsibilities increased, so these tendencies tipped over into being counterproductive and dysfunctional. Coaching these individuals required them to radically re-think their usual style of interaction This is no easy task, but one where training and coaching can make a difference and help individuals overcome their own derailers to have a new focus on involving others, persuading others, and being more strategic and influential.

Author Profile Picture
Gillian Hyde

Director

Read more from Gillian Hyde
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