Derailment - the act of self-sabotage

Derailment - the act of self-sabotage

27 July 2017

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At some point in your career, you will no doubt have found yourself on the receiving end of this relatively poor example of an interview question: What is your greatest strength? It is a chance to humbly brag to your potential employer about the attributes that you feel will enable you to serve a company well and can provide an insight in to how you like to work and what your motivation is.

So, for example, you might offer that you are sales-driven, compassionate, organised or attentive to detail. You tailor your answer to the job and suggest a strength that you think will impress your employers both in the interview situation and once you start a new position.

But, what happens, when your key strength also presents itself as a problematic characteristic? This phenomenon, also recognized as self-sabotage, is called derailment.

We’ve all perhaps been in a situation where, in looking for a bit of paperwork tidied away, we have uttered a phrase such as “I’m too organised for my own good.” Our key strengths can actually derail our attempts to cultivate a successful and productive leadership career. How do we avoid this? And how extreme do our characteristics need to be before they become a barrier?

Let’s start with the latter. When does competitive become aggressive? When does compassionate become weak? When does organised become compulsive? There can often be a fine line between ideal attributes and barriers to productivity. That is why many companies insist on psychometric or emotional intelligence testing as part of the interview process. It allows them to weigh up which attributes a candidate possesses excessive levels of, and ultimately, weed out those who would be unsuitable in that particular working environment.

A key way of avoiding these strengths becoming issues is to develop a clear level of self-awareness. If you are aware of the potential problems, you can exercise control over them. You can stop your need to sell becoming off-putting to customers; you can stop your compassion from allowing your employees to walk all over your good nature; you can stop your love of a tidy desk meaning everything is squirreled away where no one can find it.

Like most things in life, it’s about striking the right balance. There will always be certain elements of your personality that are more dominant than others – you simply have to temper and balance these attributes in order to make yourself a productive effective leader and a team player. Any behaviours that would typically be seen as excessive in a workplace environment have to be tailored to meet the task at hand. Otherwise, you will likely find yourself alienating other members of staff or potential employers.

Leadership is a fickle thing. We are always told to play to our strengths and here we are, learning that our strengths may be our downfall. It can be a tricky process to prevent ourselves from being overcome by our own best intentions.

If you are looking for advice or guidance on exercising highly effective leadership in your own role, I would be more than happy to speak with you confidentially. Click here to see my details. 

Written By Barry Lee

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