11 Personality Traits that can destroy a Leader’s Career

Several words can be used to describe what “successful leadership” is, including influence, power and authority.  That said, I agree with the definition that successful leadership is the extent to which a leader can “build and maintain highly effective teams”. No matter how charismatic or influential a leader is, what counts is the know-how to interact with and help teams operate efficiently.

This concept is central in Relational leadership. Here, the focus is placed on the ability of the leader to develop meaningful professional relationships, which help create useful alliances as well as fruitful collaborations. However, achieving collaboration doesn’t just happen. According to Prof. Robert Hogan, it requires a leader to be highly skillful at getting along with others as well as getting ahead by receiving the support needed by teams and the wider organization. For these reasons, leaders greatly benefit from knowing the eleven personality traits that define aspects of interpersonal behavior detrimental to collaboration. To sustain a stable career, it is essential to understand how the eleven traits negatively impact the ability to interact with others and hinder chances of being chosen for senior leadership positions.

In this article I introduce the eleven derailers as presented by Prof. Robert Hogan and explain how they can be managed effectively. Each type of derailer is typified by a manipulative strategy and an unconscious message which directly impacts their teams. Identifying the differences between these is crucial to understanding and then moving beyond the derailer, as I will show.’


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Excitable describes an emotionally volatile person, one that is highly energetic and intense one day, then disappointed and demotivated the other – one that is optimistic about a project now, then pessimistic and skeptical later on. Typically, leaders who score high on the excitable scale can be perceived as very moody and temperamental. For this reason, people often feel they have to hold back with them.

As Prof. Robert Hogan once stated, the manipulative strategy they use to lead and the unconscious message they send out when levels of stress are high is: “Do what I want or I’ll throw a fit”. And the most common questions colleagues ask when dealing with them is “What mood is he/she in today”.

Leaders who score high on the excitable scale, can benefit from emotional management techniques. These include learning to recognize the signs that they are about to lose control and leave the room for a while. Pausing helps them remain calm and clearheaded. It is vital to recognize that emotional volatility can upset colleagues, reducing their motivation and, eventually, their productivity.


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Skeptical describes a person who tends to doubt others and assumes they have bad ulterior motives. Although leaders who score high on the skeptical scale have high political awareness, are astute and perceptive, they often act with mistrust of people and institutions. They can be consumed with what can go wrong instead of looking at solutions and taking decisions.  They believe that “you can’t trust anyone but yourself”.

The manipulative strategy and unconscious message they send out when under pressure is: “Don’t defy me or I’ll retaliate”.

 Leaders who score high on the skeptical scale, can experiment with acting in a more friendly and engaging way.  It also helps them to identify two to three key people in the workplace and begin collaborating with them. While collaborating, they should practice holding doubts and assumptions to themselves. After all, not everyone is a traitor or a wrongdoer.


Cautious typically describes a person who is reluctant to take risks and requires second and third opinions before going ahead with something. Essentially, cautious leaders are afraid of failing and would rather not make any mistakes for fear of being criticized. They can be indecisive and even hesitant to express their point of view. They can come across as unassertive and often avoid taking controversial positions in public. For these reasons, they may delay decisions and prevent teams from progressing as fast as their competitors.

When under stress, a common manipulative strategy and unconsciousness message is…Do what I want or bad things will happen to you.

First of all, leaders who score high on the cautious scale, would benefit from describing the learning opportunities associated to the mistakes they make. Secondly, they could experiment with providing spontaneous suggestions and solutions rather than always offering carefully considered answers. Last, having the courage to stand up for themselves and their teams when needed is something they would need to practice more.


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Reserved describes a person who comes across as independent and detached.  Reserved leaders generally value one’s private time and space and would rather be working from their own private office than from an open plan floor. These are the type of leaders that withdraw at times of intense stress. Essentially, they give the impression of being tough – focussed on tasks rather than people.

The manipulative strategy and unconscious message they send out when levels of stress are high is “Do what I want or I’ll never speak to you again”.

The first coaching tip I would give leaders like this is to engage with their teams one hour every day, be it because of a meeting or an informal lunch. The second one is to practice recognizing the expression of positive or negative feelings others may show during interactions. The third is to practice observing other people’s reactions and discern whether they have been demotivated or encouraged by what has been said or done.


Leisurely describes a person who often come across as co-operative and pleasant to deal with but covertly procrastinates and puts off unwanted tasks. Essentially, leaders who score high on the leisurely scale show passive-aggressive tendencies.  The behavior you see is in fact opposite from what they think inside. In a meeting they may promise one thing but eventually do another.

Their manipulative strategy and the unconscious message they send out when under pressure is: “Do what I want or you’ll be sorry.”

One way to mitigate high leisurely tendencies is to begin to make less promises but ensure that they are fulfilled and followed up. Another exercise I recommend doing is to identify two people within the team each week and practice giving honest feedback. No need to give lip service: say what you think, say it transparently.


Bold describes a person who is unusually self-confident, feels entitled and unwilling to admit mistakes. Despite the fact that leaders with high scores on the bold scale are assertive, energetic and fearless when facing challenging tasks, they are at risk of too much self-promotion and unhealthy competition for the simple purpose of getting ahead. Essentially, their ego causes them to be dominant and, at times, intimidating. They believe that they deserve special treatment and when things go wrong, it is never their fault.

When levels of stress are high, the unconscious message they send out is: “I demand you do what I want. Do it now because I am who I am”.

What helps leaders who score particularly high on the bold scale, is to begin sharing credit with their teams when projects are completed successfully. Naming, thanking and rewarding team members who have helped them achieve their targets is a good practice.  Being competitive within the organization may not be the healthiest way to relate to colleagues, especially because the real competition is outside the organization. And last, use self-confidence and energy to motivate not only themselves but others too.


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Mischievous defines a person who is charming and, therefore, fun to be with. However, leaders who score high on the mischievous scale are at risk of manipulating others to serve their own agenda without showing remorse for doing so. They are those who take risks and often test the limits without considering the consequences of their actions.

When pressure is high, the unconscious and manipulative message they send out is: “If you do what I want, I will love you”. 

Leaders with strong mischievous tendencies would first benefit from partnering with a colleague who is humble and down to heart. Second, they would do likewise from learning to apologize to those they may have used for their own purpose without hiding behind overelaborated excuses.  Third, recognizing that a successful and stable career depends on relating to others with authenticity and honesty, would also have a positive impact. Mischievous tendencies can only create a reputation of being a selfish and unscrupulous leader – a reputation that, long term, is highly detrimental for any type of career.


Colorful describes a person who is sharp-witted, expressive and attention-seeking. A drama queen would be the appropriate description of a person who scores high on this scale.  Although leaders with a high tendency to be colorful make a strong first impression, they often run the risk of monopolizing attention at the expense of others. They are those people who tend to dominate meetings by constantly speaking, interrupting and even talking over others. What is more, they need constant stimulation and get bored easily.

The manipulative strategy and the unconscious message they send out when pressure is high is: Do what I want, and I’ll entertain you further.”

 Leaders who score high on the colorful scale would benefit from practicing active listening, asking questions and paraphrasing what others say during meetings. What can help them as well is to write daily to do lists with clear tasks and specific objectives to increase their focus.


Imaginative refers to a person who thinks highly creatively and, at times, in odd ways. Although leaders who score high on the imaginative scale are very bright and innovative, they have the tendency of throwing millions of ideas on the table that they eventually can’t or don’t execute. The leaders who typically launch several initiatives without following them up. For these reasons, they are at risk of being perceived as eccentric.

When levels of stress are high, the manipulative strategy and unconscious message they send out is: “Do what I want and you will be amazed at the result”.

The first coaching tip I usually give to leaders who are highly imaginative is to partner with a mentor they trust to ensure their ideas are practical and executable before they make them public. The second tip is to work only on those ideas that seem to be well received by the board, their teams and mentors. The third one is to collaborate with a colleague who is good at implementing ideas and has a practical and pragmatic approach to it.


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Diligent refers to a person who is hard-working and highly compliant. Although leaders who score high on the diligent scale have high standards of performance for themselves and others, they find it hard to delegate tasks and often micro-manage their staff. What is more, they can be inflexible about schedules, rules and procedures.

When under pressure, the manipulative strategy and unconscious message they send out is: Do what I want because there are rules. And when rules are not respected, there are serious consequences.

The first coaching tip for such leaders is to practice delegating tasks and leaving teams to work on their own for some time, allowing space for mistakes. The second is to focus on completing projects rather than working on delivering perfection. And the third one is to regularly book one day off in the diary to experiment with creative activities away from the workplace.


Dutiful describes a person who is ingratiating and always eager to please. Although managers who score high on the dutiful scale are excellent team players and supportive of corporate decisions, they are those who struggle to say “no”, especially to their boss. They are always preoccupied with keeping the boss happy at the expense of their teams. Dutiful leaders over-rely on the guidance of advisers before making decisions.

When pressure is high, the manipulative strategy and unconscious message they send out is: “Do what I want because I am in charge. Be loyal to those who are in charge”.

 Leaders who score high on the diligent scale would benefit from showing independent thinking, even when it is not aligned with their boss’ thinking. The practice I recommend here is to begin to say “No” to requests that are unreasonable, no matter whether or not they come from a team member or the boss.

Learning to manage “derailers’ can make a significant difference in the professional life of managers and leaders alike.  As an executive coach, I can say that successful leaders take good care of the way they relate to and are perceived by others, inside and outside the organization.  At bCoached we work closely with our clients to uncover their derailers and support them in their leadership journey.  For more information on how we can support you, contact us directly: silvia@bcoached.org