by Dr Amon Myeni

Leadership responsibility

Leadership derailment disaster faces black executives

Leadership derailment disaster faces black executives
Leadership deficiency

Leadership derailment is a serious disease in South Africa. It is estimated that about 60% of current leaders will derail at some point. Leadership derailment occurs when a person who is entrusted with the responsibility of leading others, fails dismally to perform the task of being a leader to such an extent that he or she gets fired, demoted, arrested or simply resigns from the organisation.

It is important for the reader to be aware that leadership derailment is a universal phenomenon that attacks all leaders regardless of race, creed or colour.

In this article, a definition of leadership derailment will be provided, followed by a discussion of possible causes of leadership derailment. Effects of leadership derailment on the derailing leader and also on the organisation will be explained, followed by a discussion on the strategies that need to be applied in order to avoid leadership derailment.

What is leadership derailment?

To answer this question, one needs to ask more fundamental questions: would you allow a doctor who is not certified to operate on you? Or would you travel on a passenger jet that is piloted by untrained people?

Of course, your answer would definitely be a no! no! no! And yet, when it comes to leadership, we seem to appoint people who are not adequately trained in the science of leadership!

Leadership derailment is simply a condition that arises out of lack of leadership training. Placing people in leadership positions without ensuring their proper training is a violation of their human rights including the rights of those who will ultimately suffer as a result of leadership disorders that will be perpetrated by the untrained leaders.

What are the causes of leadership derailment?

Leadership derailment is caused by a number of behavioural variables that may include the seven factors that have been identified by Dr Amon Myeni as follows:

•   Cultural values

Derailing leaders come from a different African cultural background, and that does affect the choices they make as leaders (our organisations are based on the Western culture).

•   Tokenism

Derailing leaders are pushed into positions for which they are not adequately trained.

•   Factionalism

Derailing leaders seem to support those who agree with their thinking to the point where they ignore those who do not necessarily agree with their choices.

•   Hypocrisy

Derailing leaders do not 'practise what they preach'; they say one thing and act differently.

•   Narcissism

Derailing leaders attach a high value on themselves and their individual achievements to the point where they fail to acknowledge the contribution made by others.

•   Kingdom approach

Derailing leaders are those who believe they will stay in their powerful positions forever and, as such, they fail to groom others.

•   Self-alienation

Derailing leaders are detached from reality, since they do not give themselves time to learn about what is going on below them.          

What are the effects of leadership derailment?

•   Low esprit de corps

Esprit de corps denotes a philosophical position that prevails deep in the minds of the members of a group. It is the inner feelings of loyalty that members of a group have toward one another (all-for-one and one-for-all). Leadership derailment has the potential of splitting the group into two opposing camps.

•   Negative attitude

Leadership derailment has the potential of inculcating the culture of negativity where people within the organisation end up feeling alienated.

•   Low confidence

Leadership derailment leads to mistrust where employees feel unappreciated, which will result in employees displaying low confidence toward their work.

•   Hopelessness

When challenges brought about by the derailment of their leader begins to take effect, some employees may begin to develop a feeling of hopelessness that may plunge them further into the abyss of vulnerability.

•   Low self-esteem

Leadership derailment has the potential of lowering the self-esteem of employees, which in turn may affect their confidence. High self-esteem is closely related to high confidence.

When a group becomes alienated from the decision-making process in respect of their work, chances are that the group would become unenthusiastic about their work and they will develop the 'we don’t care' attitude.

•   No determination to succeed

A group who has low morale in terms of its chances to realise the set goal will invariably display low determination to carry on with the project, which may lead to the phenomenon known as satisficing (doing the minimum that is expected).

•   No mutual support (sabotage)

Mutual support is closely related to esprit de corps. Members of a group who have high positive morale tend to support one another because they are aware that the success of individual members leads to general success of the group ('we are in this together'). Leadership derailment, on the other hand, tends to breed sabotage where employees are pitched against one another instead of supporting one another.

•   Disloyalty

Loyalty to the organisation means that group members are prepared to sacrifice additional income that they may receive if they elect to leave and get employed by another organisation. The opposite of loyalty is staff turnover, where people decide to resign in large numbers because of low morale they experience in their organisation as a result of leadership disorders.

Can leadership derailment be avoided?

Leadership in general is a behavioural activity that defines a relationship between the leader and the group (followers or employees). Leadership derailment can be corrected through training and coaching, as long as the derailing leader is prepared to undergo behavioural changes. However, training and coaching must be undertaken early before the leadership derailment reaches a “state of paralysis” where the severity of the leadership disorders has become fatalistic.


Leadership derailment disorders are prevalent in South Africa among black executives, where it is expected that about 60% of them will derail because of lack of training in leadership development. Leadership derailment is a main destabiliser of organisational performance and, as such, it contributes to low levels of organisational productivity which in turn affect our gross domestic product – thereby contributing to our inability to compete globally.

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Issue 58