Managing Your Personal Faults:
Preventing Executive Failure

I’ve been reading up on wisdom, what makes a leader wise in business, and what leads to executive failure. I think it’s time to address ways to prevent failure. We know so much about failures you’d think we should see them coming. On a personal level, what can each of us do?

In all cases of executive failures, there have been warning signs that people chose not to heed.

While it’s hard to admit to your personal flaws, not doing so risks failure and never achieving your potential. It’s one of the prime reasons to work with an executive coach, where you can learn to face flaws and manage them in your favor.

Businesspeople like to think of themselves as realists, but the fact is that wishful thinking, denial, and other forms of avoiding reality are deeply embedded in most corporate cultures. Let’s face it, denial is often a way to harness the positive power of optimism and put it to work for you.

Behind closed doors, with your coach or mentor, you can face hard facts and learn to manage your faults before they turn into failures.

Review the list of 11 common causes of derailment. Chances are you will recognize a couple of them as part of your personality. In fact, some of these characteristics serve you well in getting ahead in your organization.

Here are three things you can do to take a closer, realistic look at your “dark side.”

  1. Do an adversity analysis. Take a long hard look at your three biggest failures in your career.  Ask yourself the following questions:
  • What behaviors in these circumstances didn’t serve you well?
  • What would your worst critics say about how you acted?
  • Do you see a theme or pattern in your behaviors?
  • Do any of the 11 derailers fit this pattern?

In what way did you contribute to the failure?

2. Do a feedback session with your direct reports. Ask them to report to you with brutal honesty about your behaviors. This can be delivered to you in the form of a confidential anonymous report, or delivered as a group in person, but you must reassure them that nothing will be held against them and follow through with this promise. Ask them these questions:

  • What do I do that drives you nuts?
  • How do I force you to work around me rather than with me?
  • When I’m under stress, what do I do that you think is counter-productive?

3. Work with your own coach, mentor, or trusted confident. An external coach works well for reviewing your dark side, as they are non-judgmental, professionally trained, and not politically involved with your organization.

In order to get value from talking with someone, you must have complete trust in the person and process. You must be willing to expose your vulnerabilities in order to grow beyond your usual psychological defenses. Just knowing that other executives have these common derailers and that they are not unusual can make it easier to admit them and learn how to manage them.

These steps are tough. I don’t think anyone should attempt to work on their flaws without a trusted adviser. That’s what coaches like myself do. And yet, there are many smart executives who avoid coaching because it’s scary to admit and examine personal flaws.

Don’t wait until the wheels fall off. Get a tune up. Take as much care of your executive self as you would your car. You’re worth it.

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