Derailment is an interesting word, conjuring up images of a burnt out executive – a modern day Icarus, falling to earth with melted wings. Coming off the rails implies a loss of direction, focus and purpose; a minor human tragedy often accompanied by a major corporate problem. If only our modern day hero or heroine could stay on the straight and narrow path to success, steadfast in their determination to succeed.

But is derailment really like this? After all, don’t things that move on rails have a limited set of options for manoeuvre – certainly forwards at differing speeds; sometimes backwards but never off at a tangent where no track has yet been laid?

Isn’t derailment less of an issue of losing focus, perspective, energy and alignment and far more about loss of autonomy and flexibility? Consider the conscientious, industrious manager who is determined at all costs to win a contract. Winning at all costs becomes a compulsion and being perfect is the driver. She will be ok as long as she doesn’t make a mistake and she’s only as good as her last success.

Or consider the leader who at first appears enthusiastic and energetic – raising the morale of the team until something goes wrong and then being moody, critical and difficult to please as he feels hurt and rejected in the realization that it’s impossible to please all of the people all of the time. In both cases these leaders persist with a style that has ceased to be helpful.

So perhaps derailment isn’t such a useful term? Perhaps we should not be looking for early signs of departure from a well-trodden approach but more the preparedness to adopt a different style when things change. Maybe in uncertain times quiet confidence, being grounded and being able to make a choice based on personal autonomy will be the hallmarks of potential?