Sunday, October 20, 2019

Derailed: Five Lessons Learned from Catastrophic Failures of Leadership (2009) by Timothy Irwin, Book Review

Derailed: Five Lessons Learned from Catastrophic Failures of Leadership (2009)
by Timothy Irwin, PhD

Derailment means "off the rails." To be a derailed leader means to fall short of inner character that result in outer disaster. Maybe it's better to say that a derailed leader is not a ‘leader' after all. In the second section of this book, Irwin, a consultant on leadership development, shares about six famous leaders who greatly derailed, namely: Robert Nardelli, Carly Fiorina, Durk Jager, Steven Heyer, Frank Raines & Dick Fuld. Irwin doesn't shame these six high profile leaders because their derailments are known to the public and were reported from respected media. In their cases, fraud was not the reason. "What ultimately caused the derailment of the individuals profiled in upcoming chapters was a failure of character!" write the author. "The big lesson is that no matter how brilliant, charming, strategic or commanding in the presence a leader is, the consequences of a failed character are extraordinary disabling and will bring down even the strongest among us."

But ultimately, this book is not about them… it's about us – you and me, especially we who are in a leadership position and/or authority. It's about how we can avoid derailment and recognize the early warnings of it. As Patrick Lencioni, the author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, warned, "No one is immune from the derailment." I take the message of this book seriously and I thank Irwin for making it clear, urgent and essential for aspiring leaders like me. I've been to the dark valley of my character flaw. I went to prison because of it. A minor crime, I assure you, but a serious lack of character issue. If Irwin knew me (and if I'm famous), I can have a long profile chapter in this book! How did derailment happen? First, we must understand that it's a process. A slow but sure progression. Stage 1: A Failure of Self/Other-Awareness > Stage 2: Hubris, Pride Before the Fall > Stage 3: Missed Early Warning Signals > Stage 4: Rationalizing > and then, of course, Stage 5: Derailment.

Why did derailment happen? As Tim Irwin already says: a failure of character. Most good leaders have high IQ but most fallen leaders have low CQ (Character Quotient). "Character is the foundation of great leadership. We have to get this right to stay on track." There are three (3) tests of character: 1) Does the leader have a strong moral/ethical guidance system that functions well in ambiguous situations? 2) Does the leader make decisions just for expediency? And 3) Does the leader handle adversity with grace? To "stay on track" is an exercise of character. Tim Irwin outlines four character-based qualities that can help leaders to do just that:

#1 Authenticity (My strength that can be my weakness too)
#2 Self-Management (Very essential. Leader leads him/herself first)
#3 Humility (remind me of Lencioni's values: Smart, Hungry and Humble)
#4 Courage (I love the story of his father, Jim Irwin)

In the last section of this book, Irwin shares some practical suggestions, tips and axioms. He lists Five Critical Lessons In Leadership and Five Critical Habits of the Heart. To know about it, you have to read this book. It's worth the price and your time (by the way, I bought it during the sale for only RM10!). I fully recommend it. Although for me it comes in a bit late – remember I shared with you about my derailment incident – I'm glad that I learned from it quickly. I resolve by God's grace and guidance that I want to improve my character personally and as a leader. As Tim Irwin closes this book: "We must keep intense light on our character as well as continue to become more and more competent at what we do."


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