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Traits of Spectacularly Unsuccessful People

Some senior managers ruthlessly eliminate anyone who might undermine them.

May 29, 2004
Related Topics: Training & Development

Coaches say that when they work with senior executives they see these problems repeatedly: not listening to challenging ideas, stubbornly sticking to the successful formulas that got them to the top, and treating subordinates in a condescending or insulting manner.

    Sydney Finkelstein, a professor of management at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, warns in his book Why Smart Executives Fail that ignoring leadership problems can cascade into the collapse of whole companies and the loss of millions--or even billions--of dollars.

    Based on 200 interviews with business leaders, Finkelstein identifies seven habits that characterize what he calls "spectacularly unsuccessful people":

  1. They see themselves and their companies as dominating their environments.

  2. They identify so completely with the company that there is no clear boundary between their personal interests and corporate interests.

  3. They seem to have all the answers, often dazzling people with the speed and decisiveness with which they can deal with challenging issues.

  4. They make sure everyone is 100 percent behind them, ruthlessly eliminating anyone who might undermine them.

  5. They are consummate company spokespersons, often devoting the largest portion of their efforts to managing and developing the company image.

  6. They underestimate major obstacles.

  7. They never hesitate to return to the strategies and tactics that made them and their companies successful in the first place.

    Scott Blanchard, CEO of and co-author of Leverage Your Best, Ditch the Rest, says he agrees with the list. "It’s all connected around hubris," Blanchard says. "These executives start to believe they are a dominating force in the market, they ruthlessly get rid of people who challenge their opinions, and other problems follow."

    The problem, Finkelstein says, is that often when executives reach the CEO level, it is too late for them to benefit from coaching because the traits are so deeply embedded.

    "There are some senior-level executives, even CEOs, who know the value of coaching," he says. "But it is better if you can get to these people years before as part of the leadership program in a company."

Workforce Management, February 2005, p. 57 -- Subscribe Now!

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