So far in this series we have unpacked what we mean by derailment and explored the different ways our strengths can cause us issues. In this final post in the series, I’ll share some steps we can all take to protect ourselves against derailment.
We can summarise this as: investing in our development and creating protective habits, before things become tough.
What we can do about it
1. Learning about ourselves
The better we understand ourselves and monitor our behaviour over time, the more likely we are to notice the warning signs of derailment before they become problematic for us. This includes reflecting on where our strengths lie, where these serve us well, when we tend to overplay them and specific situations that may be a risk for us.
Of course, building our self-awareness and monitoring our behaviour is not a one-off exercise. We are all constantly changing and developing with new experiences. Because of this, it is helpful to invest time to develop habits and activities over for longer-term that allow us to stay in touch with who we are.
Getting to know ourselves better can be made easier by getting feedback from trusted others. Their perspective on us can often fill in the blanks and allow us to better understand the impact we’re having on others.
We can also use valid and scientific questionnaires to get an insight into qualities like our personality and motivation. These can be especially useful when facilitated by a trained coach or development professional.
We can also use journaling to help us reflect on our experiences and our response to different situations, to help us become more aware of our thoughts, feelings and behaviour over time.
2. Learning about our environment
As we explored earlier in this blog series, whether our behaviour is helpful or unhelpful is contextual, and frequently the behaviours that might be terrible for us in one context serve us really well in another. The more we understand about our working environment, the challenges we face and the people we work with, the better equipped we become to adapt effectively.
Very practically, we might benefit from safe but stretching opportunities, that help to prepare us before we take our next step. This could be taking on a demanding assignment, a secondment or deputising for our manager while they’re away. This is also where developing skills such as listening, observing, and perspective-taking are invaluable, as they help us to remain tuned-in to our environment and the people we work with over the long run.
3. Building our resilience
Stress is one of the key risks in terms of derailment, whether it is prompted by increased seniority or just a change in our working life. Because of this, developing healthier ways to respond to pressure can help to mitigate the risk of derailment. True resilience isn’t about avoiding stressful situations or setbacks, or even just staying calm when faced with problems, but about finding opportunities for learning when we experience difficulty and keeping our levels of stress in check.
If we train ourselves to focus on what we have learnt about ourselves, or our environment or other people when things become more challenging, we can use that learning to support personal growth which helps us to respond more effectively to challenges in the future. This is where mindfulness can help, along with activities that support us in reflecting on and making sense of our experiences, such as journaling or supportive relationships with a coach, mentor or even a trusted friend or colleague.
True resilience isn’t simply about bouncing-back, it’s about growing through the difficulties we encounter.
4. Clarifying our values
If we are clear on our values and how our behaviour is aligned or misaligned with them, it can help us to avoid behaving in more automatic ways that might be problematic for us. Minimising derailment is primarily about managing our behaviour more effectively, so it is serving us well in our current working context, but this needs to be bounded within what we want more broadly in our lives.
If we start to behave in ways that are not aligned with our values, either because of external pressures or demands or because of our own automatic behaviour patterns, then we run the risk of losing sight of what will give us meaning and purpose. Our work and our wellbeing can suffer as a result.
It’s about building a wider behavioural repertoire, but one that is in keeping with what really matters to us. Working with a coach can be extremely beneficial here, as can taking time to reflect on our values.
5. Reflect on whether your work is working for you
Sometimes the factors that worsen the risk of derailment can be attributed to the organisation rather than the individual. For example, organisations that place undue pressure on employees, reinforce toxic behaviours or cultures, or fail to provide opportunities for effective onboarding and development can exaggerate derailment risks.
If, however, we are clear on our values and what behaviours we are willing to or want to develop in relation to those values, we can make the decision to either influence change – if we are in a position to do so – or to remove ourselves from an environment. While there may be some practical challenges as to whether this is possible, coaching can help us to reflect on our options and find a way forward that gives us meaning and purpose through the work we do.
This final step highlights that organisations also have an important role in minimising the risk of derailment for their employees, by reducing sources of unnecessary and excessive pressure, addressing toxic working cultures and supporting employees to transition effectively to new roles. If you are in a position to influence organisational culture and norms, it can be helpful to reflect on where your organisation might be able to improve and what practical steps might be taken to start moving in the right direction.
In summary, derailment needs reframing. It is not just a risk for a small number of high profile executives but for all of us – if we let our strengths get the better of us. It is not just about us as individuals, but about our organisation and the features of our working environment.
Most importantly, it is not inevitable, and the more we learn about ourselves and our working context the better equipped we are to mitigate the risk.