Leader Derailment: The Impact of Self-Defeating Behaviors

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Leadership and Organization Development Journal




Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to examine whether self‐defeating behaviors are correlated with leader derailment, and to compare self‐defeating behaviors to the previously identified derailment theme “Problems with Interpersonal Relationships”.

Design/methodology/approach: Deans at AACSB International‐accredited business schools were surveyed about “Problems with Interpersonal Relationships” and self‐defeating behaviors (SDBs) that one to two of their derailed direct reports may have portrayed. SDBs were analyzed for their strength of association with derailment and compared to the derailment theme “Problems with Interpersonal Relationships.”

Findings: Results indicated that SDBs are multi‐dimensional and those behaviors that involve interaction with others were significantly associated with leader derailment. Further, the results suggest that SDBs were significantly more indicative of derailment than were “Problems with Interpersonal Relationships”.

Research limitations/implications: The small sample size may limit the ability to generalize the results of the study. Further, the lack of a comparison group of non‐derailed leaders does not rule out the possibility that they may also exhibit SDBs.

Practical implications: As the baby‐boomer generation leaves the workforce over the coming years, the demand for competent leadership will increase dramatically. Companies need to understand the underlying causes of derailment and take appropriate steps to minimize its impact.

Originality/value: Previous research on self‐defeating behaviors has focused on an individual's potential to derail. This study is unique in that it links SDBs to practicing leaders and relies on supervisor ratings (rather than self‐reports) of SDBs.