Notre Dame’s firing of its football coach Charlie Weis in 2009 is an example of a derailed leader. Since the 1980s, we have studied managers who had all the makings of achieving the highest levels in their organizations — only to be fired, demoted, or to plateau below expected levels of achievement.

By comparing successful managers to those who derail, we has identified 5 specific factors that increase a leader’s odds for derailment:

  1. problems with interpersonal relationships;
  2. difficulty building and leading a team;
  3. difficulty changing and adapting;
  4. failure to meet business objectives; and
  5. too narrow of a functional orientation.

Though he may have exhibited several of these factors, I believe the fifth — too narrow of a functional orientation — ultimately led to Weis’ downfall and firing at Notre Dame.

Weis worked his way up the football ladder under the tutelage of two well-respected professional football geniuses, Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. He eventually became an offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots under Belichick, and helped coach the offense to many victories, including several Super Bowl victories. (This year, the Patriots are back in the Super Bowl, and Belichick is still at the helm.)

Many touted Weis as an offensive guru and 5 years before his firing, he landed his dream job as head football coach of the University of Notre Dame (Weis in fact graduated from Notre Dame years before). Expectations however were ultimately too much for Weis and his record of 35-27 fell far below people’s expectations. On November 30, 2009, Weis was fired.

One of the derailment factors, “Too Narrow Functional Orientation,” considers a manager’s ill-preparedness for promotion and a manager’s inability to supervise outside of their current function. Weis had all the ability to coach offense; however, football is more than just offense.

His teams at Notre Dame lacked the defense and special teams play necessary to succeed all-around. Your team can score 30 points a game (which is a lot for offense in football), but if your team relinquishes roughly that many points per game as well, it’s tough to win.

As a leader, it is obvious that there are several skills, talents, and abilities that helped you get to where you are. But if you do not broaden your skill sets, or have people around you that can help complement your strengths or are there to help out with your weaknesses (or better yet, give you the development you need to turn your weaknesses around), your overly narrowed functional orientation can derail your career just like it did with Weis.

Soon after, Notre Dame hired Cincinnati head football coach, Brian Kelly. Ironically, Kelly is known for his defensive mind — completely opposite from Weiss.

Leaders like Kelly — or you — can avoid derailment by broadening their skill set, or at the very least hiring a really good offensive coordinator and special teams coach to supplement his weakness. Think about how you can do the same.

Photo Credit: Patterbt

3 thoughts on “Derailment on the Field

  1. Mike says:

    I must inject that a good leader is one who has the ability and skill set to unite a group towards a COMMON GOAL. If everyone isn’t on board together, the team, no matter how good will indeed fall short.

  2. Mike says:

    I must inject that a good leader is one who has the ability and skill set to unite a group towards a COMMON GOAL. If everyone isn’t on board together, the team, no matter how good will indeed fall short.

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