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Are your Leaders’ Personality Types on the Attack, Defence or Straight-up Shooters?

By Amber Woodley

Amber Woodley

Last weekend I watched a friend play a fiercely competitive netball match. Over the past few years, both teams in this match had been constant rivals so the pressure was high with the tension increasing as the game progressed. Both teams were going goal for goal until the last quarter, when my friend's team began to struggle. The pressure of the game became too much for some of the players and they lost 55-49. Why did they end up losing after playing so well for three quarters of the game? They clearly had the skills and experience required to win.

Playing NetballAs a close observer of the game, I believe they lost because some of the players were unable to handle the stress and the intensity of the game. The Centre began to get frustrated when passes to her were intercepted so she started to give up. The Goal Defence began to argue with the umpire and disagreed with the majority of their calls. The Goal Shooter became quite critical of her team members’ mistakes and vocalised her disappointment in them. The Goal Attack attempted to get involved in every play, believing that she could improve the situation and ended up dominating over her own team members.

During the intensity of the final quarter some of the player’s negative personality traits manifested in behaviour that derailed their individual performance and the performance of the team. Over the years I have been involved in numerous coaching sessions with leaders and it still surprises me how prevalent derailers are not only in leadership, but also sport and life. But most importantly it reminds me of how impactful they can be to leaders' performance in the workplace. “Derailers” are used to describe certain personal qualities and learned behaviours that get in the way of effective performance. They are significant because they undermine a leader’s effectiveness and can lead to failure even when the person is equipped with the competencies, job experience, and organisational knowledge needed for success. These “dysfunctional” tendencies tend to show up after prolonged exposure, during times of stress, when managing heavy workloads, when making a transition to new challenges or roles, or even when they are feeling so comfortable that they forget to actively manage their public image.

On the netball court, these behaviours manifested in volatility, argumentativeness, perfectionism and attention-seeking, causing ineffective performance—resulting in a lost game. In the workplace derailers can significantly impact a leader’s ability to lead a team successfully and have a positive and credible impact as they continue to move into more senior roles.

Today’s fast paced environment has resulted in leaders being thrown into roles of increasing scope and responsibility whether they are ready or not. Too often this means that leaders are unprepared to handle the complex nature that a more senior role can bring where stakeholder scrutiny and the cost of failure is exponentially higher. Predicting which leaders can navigate these transitions demands an evaluation of personality factors that influence how leaders will respond to this vastly greater challenge, pressure and visibility.

DDI’s High Resolution Leadership Research indicates that these hard-to-develop personal style attributes—both positive traits or “enablers” (that help forge leader success) and dysfunctional traits or “derailers” (that trip them up)—differ across three leadership levels: Strategic Executive, Operational and Mid-Level. At the strategic level, with roles shifting towards greater enterprise accountability, responsibility for achieving a long range vision and making higher risk complex decisions, we have seen the emergence of an “Enterprising” Profile in which executives are exhibiting stronger levels of ambition, resilience and slightly greater interpersonal sensitivity to be successful. These same leaders are also less inclined to be vulnerable to derailers like Volatility, Avoidance, Perfectionism, Approval Dependence, Arrogance and Risk Aversion as they learn to manage the pressures associated with executive level roles. Attention Seeking tends to be the only derailer that increases for Senior Leaders as their confidence helps them pursue and win centre stage.

Just as a netball player needs to understand and manage the potential negative implications of their personal style on the netball court, a leader must recognise and manage the consequences of their personal style under the pressures of the workplace. To do this, leaders need to seek and receive feedback on how to manage derailers to keep risks to their performance in check, avoid complacency and to recognise personal triggers for dysfunctional behaviour. Derailer management is a discipline that requires focus and follow through. While managing derailers is not easy, progress can be achieved when leaders respect the importance of derailer management to their ultimate success—as well as the undesirable consequences if they do not.

For more trends and research into leadership personality, skills and experience based on a synthesis of more than 15,000 leadership assessments, see DDI’s latest research—High Resolution Leadership.

Amber Woodley is a consultant for DDI Australia.

Posted: 01 Jul, 2016,
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