Detecting High-Potential Derailers

Assessment, intervention, and development are key to helping leaders overcome potential hurdles in their careers.

A significant number of high-potential leadersare at high risk to derail in their careers, according to research by Korn Ferry, which analyzed nearly 40,000 360-degree surveys and more than 9,000 self-assessments of leaders around the globe. More than a quarter of leaders (26 percent) who were rated by their bosses as having high potential also were seen by their bosses as having high risk of career derailment.

The Korn Ferry research analyzed derailment risks in several dimensions of leadership, including competencies, traits, and drivers.

Competencies: Competencies are the basic skills or abilities a leader needs to succeed, such as strategic mindset and decision quality. When Korn Ferry researchers analyzed results of 360-degree assessments, they found that high scores on negative stallers and stoppers are more predictive of derailment than simply low scores on needed competencies. Those stallers and stoppers include: key skill deficiencies, failure to staff effectively, and being non-strategic.

Traits: Traits are personality characteristics that could be considered “hard wired” such as social astuteness and general cognitive capacity. Korn Ferry identified several traits that are associated with derailment, including: volatility; micromanagement; and being “closed,” which often means being unable to take advantage of different perspectives and being resistant to change.

Drivers: What personally motivates and drives leaders is directly connected to how engaged they are on the job, and low engagement is a key indicator of derailment. Often, the lack of engagement is due to poor cultural fit—a mismatch between the leader’s motivators and what gets rewarded in the culture of the organization.

According to Stu Crandell, Korn Ferry senior vice president, Korn Ferry Institute, assessment, intervention, and development are key to helping leaders overcome potential hurdles in their careers. “It’s important to assess for the good and the bad,” he says, “and to create a development culture where leaders become more self-aware of possible shortcomings and how to overcome them with the help of their organization.”