My account

Careful recruitment will avoid hiring a leader that ‘derails’

Firms should consider the traits of leaders that ‘derail’ organisations when recruiting into senior positions, looking for the qualities they don’t want leaders to possess, as well as those they do.

This is according to occupational psychologist Professor Adrian Furnham, who advised delegates at this year’s People in Law Conference to carefully assess leadership candidates before recruiting them into top positions.

Various studies show that around half of business leaders “fail”. Prof Furnham said the root causes of leadership “derailment” are troubled relationships, a lack of self-awareness and being unable to respond appropriately to change – many of which are not easy for a person to change.

Some of the most common characteristics of superior leaders, according to managers, are honesty, competency, imagination, supportiveness and maturity. However, many of these are difficult to gauge during job interviews.

Ultimately, unsuccessful leaders do not learn from their failures, Prof Furnham said.

“The issue before us is selecting or promoting people to positions of significance… who will take that organisation into greater success or failure. We know how important that is, and most of us spend time and effort trying to find these magical people who will do it,” he said.

“The question is, should you spend money on selection [e.g. via executive search or recruitment consultants] or should you spend money on training? It seems to me that training leadership is not that easy.”

Prof Furnham said the leadership selection process should involve four areas:

  • Doing a background check on the candidate, including inviting 360 feedback or references from previous employers and peers
  • being wary of self-confidence and charm, as these are sometimes characteristics that can damage organisations
  • looking out for “dark side” characteristics, such as being self-confident, cynical or perfectionistic. Most people have characteristics that fall into this category, but when they are too prevalent in business they can become damaging
  • consulting an expert to assess characteristics they want to “select out” during the recruitment process.

He also urged firms to be wary of other factors that can allow leaders and organisations to fail, including employees who are too afraid to challenge decisions that could harm the business, and a lack of processes to stop malpractice from happening.

“You don’t get fire without heat, fuel and oxygen. In organisations that fail, you need the bad guy, but you also need the conducive environment that allows them to get away with stuff,” he said.

Related content


Join us

Membership grants your firm a wealth of benefits, including access to:

  • Events across the UK
  • Discounted tickets for our awards ceremony and conference
  • Access to preferred suppliers
  • Biannual drinks events
  • Our forum and knowledge bank
  • Premium content, including original research documents and articles