5 derailed leaders archetypes

The five types are: Imposters, who lack self-awareness and self-esteem; Rationalisers, who deviate from their values; Glory seekers, who are motivated by seeking the world’s acclaim; Loners, who fail to build personal support structures; and Shooting stars, who lack the grounding of an integrated life.

All five archetypal leaders described here frame their life stories in the model of an all-conquering hero. This approach may work well for musicians, actors, or athletes who excel as solo performers. It fails when one leads a team, precisely because being a hero is not empowering to teammates or subordinates.

The role of leaders is not to get other people to follow them but to empower others to lead. They cannot elicit the best performance from their teams if they are in the game primarily for themselves. In the end, their self-centeredness keeps other people from leading.

1. Imposters

Imposters rise through the organisational ranks with a combination of cunning and aggression. They understand the politics of getting ahead and let no one stand in their way. They are often unabashed students of Machiavelli, determining every angle to advance as they execute their game plan. They are the ultimate political animals, adept at figuring out who their competitors are and then eliminating them one by one. They have little appetite for self-reflection or for developing self-awareness.

Having acquired power, Imposters may not be confident about how to use it. They are beset with doubts about handling the responsibilities of leadership. Because their greatest strength is besting internal opponents, they are often paranoid that underlings are out to get them.

Paralysed by doubt, they are unable to act decisively. Their inaction leads to poor results and external challenges, so they attack their critics and cut themselves off from internal feedback. Their most competent subordinates see their lack of influence on their leader and move on to greener pastures or else slip into paralytic submission.Meanwhile, people remaining in the organisation do not feel empowered, so they sit back and wait for their leaders to make decisions.

2. Rationalisers

To people outside their organisations, Rationalisers always appear on top of the issues. When things don’t go their way, they blame external forces or subordinates or offer facile answers to their problems. They rarely step up and take responsibility themselves.

As they advance and find themselves facing greater challenges, they transmit pressure to their subordinates instead of modulating it. When pressuring subordinates fails to produce the numbers, they cut funding for research, growth initiatives, or organisation building in the effort to hit immediate goals. Eventually, these short-term actions catch up with them. Then they borrow from the future to make today’s numbers look good, or stretch accounting rules, rationalising that they can make it up in the future.

Unfortunately, their actions only make the future worse. So they turn to more aggressive schemes, such as reporting future revenue streams in quarterly sales or filling customer warehouses with inventory. When these short-term actions fail to stem the tide, they resort to even more desperate measures. Ultimately, they become victims of their own rationalisations, as do their depleted organisations.

3. Glory seekers

Glory seekers define themselves by acclaim of the external world. Money, fame, glory, and power are their goals, as they pursue visible signs of success. Often it seems more important to them to appear on lists of the most powerful business leaders than it does to build organisations of lasting value.

Their thirst for fame is unquenchable. There are always people with more money, more accolades, and more power, so no achievement is sufficient. Inside, these people feel empty. Sometimes the emptiness creates envy of those who have more, a quality that is hard for outsiders to comprehend from someone who seems to have it all.

4. Loners

Loners avoid forming close relationships, seeking out mentors, or creating support networks. They believe they can and must make it on their own. Not to be confused with introverts, Loners often have a myriad of superficial relationships and acolytes, but they do not listen to them. They reject honest feedback, even from those who care about them.

Without wise counsel, Loners are prone to make major mistakes. When results elude them and criticism of their leadership grows, they circle the wagons. They become rigid in pursuing their objectives, not recognising it is their behaviour that makes it impossible for them to reach their goals. Meanwhile, their organisations unravel.

5. Shooting stars

The lives of Shooting stars center entirely on their careers. To observers, they are perpetual motion machines, always on the go, traveling incessantly to get ahead. They rarely make time for family, friendships, their communities, or even themselves. Much-needed sleep and exercise routines are expendable. As they run ever faster, their stress mounts.

They move up so rapidly in their careers that they never have time to learn from their mistakes. A year or two into any job, they are ready to move on, before they have had to confront the results of their decisions. When they see problems of their making coming back to haunt them, their anxiety rises and so does the urgency to move to a new position. If their employer doesn’t promote them, they are off to another organisation. One day they find themselves at the top, overwhelmed by an intractable set of problems. At this point, they are prone to irrational decisions.

Adapted from

George, B., 2010. True north: Discover your authentic leadership (Vol. 143). John Wiley & Sons.

5 derailed leaders archetypes

The five types are: Imposters, who lack self-awareness and self-esteem; Rationalisers, who deviate from their values; Glory seekers, who are motivated by seeking the world’s acclaim; Loners, who fail to…