ABCs of Derailment

Over the course of several feedback sessions, I’ve noticed that the vast majority of individuals prefer the euphemism over-used strengths to derailers when speaking about results on the Hogan Development Survey. I hadn’t really put much thought to this phenomenon until I came across an article in Talent Management magazine by Anthony Gigliotti. He presents the literal analogy of over-used strengths to weight lifting; further, too much lifting or over-exercise can be detrimental to our muscles which are the mechanism to achieving performance. Gigliotti argues that a break-even point occurs when using strengths that, when exceeded, quickly become unfavorable. Achieving a balance between maximizing strengths while mitigating the harmful effects is the obvious challenge. This article continues with several coaching techniques for talent managers to support strong leaders, which I have adapted into a model closely resembling behavior analysis:

Focus on how a strength contributes to success

Focus on how a strength detracts from success

Identify the cues or breakeven point BEHAVIORS
Strategic self-awareness / modification COACHING

Gigliotti’s first set of techniques are largely situational. Tasking a leader to focus on contextual clues or others’ reactions to gauge positive or negative impact is asking a lot. This could add complexity to an already overwhelming feedback session. When interpreting the HDS, a light-bulb moment can occur if you draw the connection to various antecedents that trigger derailers such as specific groups of people (i.e. boss versus direct report), or simply provide examples of when, where, or what setting the leader has received feedback they have been excitable, diligent, etc. This modification also controls for perceptive ability.

The second technique is largely the same. In a Hogan example, the excitable scale starts out as energetic and intense means to an end; however, becomes over-used when yelling or volatile reactions emerge. Keep in mind there are situations that never quite cross the line into derailing behavior…think of the Wall Street trading floor or an effective prosecutor.

Finally, the last strategy of behavior modification through strategic self-awareness is hinged on accurate results, a willingness to change and a strategic coach who can tie all these pieces together. The reason a 1:1 model doesn’t completely shake out in this instance (consequence ? coaching) is due to: leaders failing to see the impact of their derailing behaviors on others, actor-observer bias, and/or negative reinforcement via their office ‘bulldozer’ reputation.

Gigliotti effectively states, “Regardless of the excuses, effective leadership requires constant reputation management. If over-exercised strengths are damaging productivity, effectiveness or working relationships with others, then it’s time to consider a modified approach.”