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Why CEOs Fail

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Why CEOs Fail

The 11 Behaviors That Can Derail Your Climb to the Top and How to Manage Them


15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Arrogance, aloofness, volatility – these personality flaws and their ilk are guaranteed to end your career as a leader.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Applicable


If you wonder why all those superstar CEOs suddenly veered off course, executive coaches David L. Dotlich and Peter C. Cairo offer an engaging work of psychoanalysis to answer your question. Leadership failures can result from 11 character traits, either deep-seated personality faults or qualities that once were beneficial but became problematic. The authors offer recognizable case studies and specific advice to bolster their case that these flaws derail leaders. The culprit characteristics can seem a bit general, an inevitable concern in a book seeking simple explanations for human folly. recommends this easy-to-digest volume to leaders and those who endure them. This is just the ticket for bosses who want to address their possible personality pitfalls before they commit career suicide.


The Eleven Ways to Wreck Your Career

Leading an organization is increasingly challenging and complex. It’s so difficult that some two-thirds of CEOs fall short. They fail in spite of hard work and sterling intentions. These ambitious, competent people wind up fired, demoted or stripped of power due to 11 common personality flaws that can kill a CEO’s career. These "derailers" often emerge in times of stress, chaos, or conflict - exactly the pivotal moments when a leader can least afford them. But once you recognize these weaknesses, you can address the mistakes you’re making because of them. Having one or two of these flaws might not have stopped you on your way up the career ladder, but now that you’re the CEO, your weaknesses will be magnified. Begin by asking yourself if you have any of these problematic personality traits:

  1. "Arrogance" - You think that you’re right and everyone else is wrong.
  2. "Melodrama" - You need to be the center of attention.
  3. "Volatility" - You’re subject to mood swings.
  4. "Excessive caution" - You’re afraid to make decisions.
  5. "Habitual distrust" - You focus...

About the Authors

Executive coaches David L. Dotlich, Ph.D., and Peter C. Cairo, Ph.D., are partners in CDR International. Dotlich is a former executive vice president of two corporations. Cairo is on the faculty of the Columbia University Business School. Dotlich and Cairo are the co-authors of Action Coaching and Unnatural Leadership: Going Against Intuition and Experience to Develop Ten New Leadership Instincts.

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