Spending time with my dark side

As preparation for an upcoming project, I read 2 interesting books this Saturday – “Why CEO’s Fail” and “The Wisdom of the Enneagram.” Both books explore various personality types in great detail and explore both the best and worst of these types.

I found “Why CEO’s Fail” simpler to digest and thought I’d share what I took away. This book was written by an executive coach and a Professor from Columbia Business School and built on the 11 derailers that Robert Hogan’s famous psychometric assessment popularized. The 11 derailers are –

  • Arrogance – you are right and everyone else is wrong
  • Melodrama – you always grab the center of attention
  • Volatility – your mood shifts are sudden and unpredictable
  • Excessive Caution—you’re afraid to make decisions.
  • Habitual Distrust—you focus on the negatives.
  • Aloofness —you’re disengaged and disconnected.
  • Mischievousness—you believe that rules are made to be broken.
  • Eccentricity—you try to be different just for the sake of it.
  • Passive Resistance—what you say is not what you really believe.
  • Perfectionism—you get the little things right and the big things wrong.
  • Eagerness to Please—you try to win the popularity contest.

Each of these derailers has a chapter dedicated to it with many examples of the sort of behavior exhibit by folks who have derailed (and, in some cases, folks who managed to take corrective action in time). The examples were largely from executives the authors had coached. It was particularly relevant for senior executives because, as the book observes, “a CEO’s jokes are always funnier and his/her insights are always more insightful.” That is a fantastic observation. Of course, the book is very relevant to every one of us.

I found it helpful to walk through the 11 derailers too. I realized that my biggest issues when I was going through my teens were – melodrama, an eagerness to please and perfectionism. I worked on melodrama and eagerness to please by spending time thinking about what I stood for and what I wanted. I’ve worked hard on the “perfectionism” (or what I describe as pseudo perfectionism as the core issue really is fear of failure) by learning to let go of the outcome. This is hard and an ongoing process.

The two biggest derailers that remain are arrogance and mischievousness. A combination of arrogance and pseudo perfectionism were the reason I started blogging here every day. Writing about my failures and focusing on developing my learning mindset muscle have helped me a lot over the years. Mischievousness, on the other hand, is one I expect to struggle with for the longest time. As the book describes it, this means I’m prone to starting to breaking rules for the sake of it (rebel without a cause) and start many a project without really completing any. I’ve attempted to combat this by over indexing on the idea of making and keeping commitments. But, it is hard nevertheless.

So, why does all this matter? Every one of these derailers is the flip side of a great strength. In fact, in almost every case, they are just overused strengths (typically under stress). As a result, we can never really get rid of them. The path forward is to accept that they will always be with us, be aware and accepting of them when they show up, and then learn to develop systems that help us deal with them consistently.

The first step, of course, is understanding that they exist.

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