If you were on a path of self destruction as a leader, you would want someone to tell you about it, right?  Read on to learn how you can become derailed and avoid this experience.  Derailed is the title of a book by Tim Irwin.  I was not aware of Tim when I first came across his book, but Patrick Lencioni (author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team) provided an introduction to Tim’s book – that got my attention.

Tim profiles 6 well known leaders whose CEO positions derailed – they fell right off the tracks.  The six are: Robert Nardelli (Home Depot), Carly Fiorina (Hewlett Packard), Durk Jager (P&G), Steven Heyer (Starwood Hotels and Resorts), Frank Raines (Fannie Mae), and Dick Fuld (Lehman Bros.). He notes early on that “derailment often results from a failure of character. Character forms our perspectives, guides our decisions and influences how we treat others.”  He goes on to say that all 6 of the profiled CEOs failed in one way or another based on 4 critical qualities of character: authenticity, self-management, humility and courage.

Tim goes on to say that character trumps competence all the time.  No one would argue that each of the profiled CEOs were competent in their field. Competence can take you to places that your character can’t sustain you.

Presented below is some of Tim’s commentary of the four areas of character. Leaders should take note of how they are doing in these critical areas:

1.    Authenticity – Individuals don’t trust someone when they are not sure if the person is real and truly committed to the well-being of the organization and its employees.  It has been said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. When we see people who are actually who they appear to be, we call them authentic.  There is alignment between the inner person and the outer person…between their beliefs, values and behavior.  They do and practice what they say is important to them. Leaders with authenticity are viewed as trustworthy.

2.    Self-management – May be best defined as skill, insight, sensitivity, impulse control and persistence applied in the particular environment in which we work and live.  Those who derail often fail to self-manage effectively.  Self-management helps us regulate what we do and also what we say. Self-and other-awareness employs the ability to discern our own thoughts and feelings as well as the thoughts and feelings of others.  Those who derail seem to lack this ability to discern.

3.    Humility – Humility is not about being self-deprecating or arrogant.  It is about self-forgetfulness, remembering in our jobs we are seeking to serve others.  All jobs have a “that’s why I am here” factor.  The “why” is usually to serve a customer or to provide information or resources to someone who serves a customer.  Humility is about an accurate self assessment, but it is also the freedom not to inflate who you are, what you are doing or the importance of your title. The opposite of humility is arrogance and can usually be evidenced by the use of the power that comes with the title.

4.    Courage – Courage is not being unafraid.  It’s about choosing to do the right thing under difficult circumstances.  Courageous individuals are not caught up in their own importance or presuming that they are somehow more virtuous than others. Courage emanates from our resolute beliefs and core convictions. Convictions reflect what we are convinced is true and noble. The absence of courage makes us tentative.  Tentativeness makes us conflict avoidant, over-controlling and cautious; we experience excessive need for approval.

How did you do in these areas?  If you recognize you need to improve, congratulations – you are being honest and authentic.  Now, get some help, whether internally with a trusted mentor or externally with a qualified leadership coach.  You will be glad you did!