Executive Coaching Connections, LLC

By Peter C. Cairo PhD, David L. Dotlich PhD

Reviewed by Terre Tuzzolino, MA, Evanston, IL, USA

Why CEOs Fail? Even the authors admit, it could just as easily have been titled ‘Why Leaders Fail.’

Authors David L. Dotlich (former executive at Honeywell) and Peter C. Cairo (former professor at Columbia University) set out to answer the questions of ‘why do obviously talented leaders make poor decisions, alienate key people, miss opportunities and overlook obvious trends and developments?’ And, ‘why do leaders who genuinely want to do the right thing end up doing the wrong thing?’

Dotlich and Cairo identify eleven derailers they’ve consistently found in senior leaders and CEOs.

  • Arrogance: You’re right and everybody else is wrong.
  • Melodrama: You always grab the center of attention.
  • Volatility: Your mood swings drive business swings.
  • Excessive Caution: The next decision you make may be your first.
  • Habitual Distrust: You focus on the negatives.
  • Aloofness: You disengage and disconnect.
  • Mischievousness: Rules are made to be broken.
  • Eccentricity: It’s fun to be different just for the sake of it.
  • Passive Resistance: Your silence is misinterpreted as agreement.
  • Perfectionism: Get the little things right even if the big things go wrong.
  • Eagerness to Please: Winning the popularity contest matters most.

Each chapter in the book covers one of the derailers. Chapters provide real world examples of leaders you’ll recognize, diagnostic tools to determine if the derailer applies and action steps leaders can take to avoid the derailer or to manage it.

Reading this book is like sitting down with a trusted coach who has your best interest at heart and won’t let you wriggle away from bad behavior. Both Dotlich and Cairo are executive coaches themselves and founders of CDR International.

This book is an excellent companion to our coaching conversations about mental models. One of the diagnostic tools – “when you’ve crossed the line” – echoes our belief that even mental models that need reframing have a positive side. It’s those pesky negative consequences that no longer serve us and can, in fact, derail us.

Whether you read a chapter that applies to a current situation or read the entire book, I recommend that you add ‘Why CEOs Fail’ to your coaching toolkit.


Dotlich, David L., and Peter C. Cairo (2003). Why CEOs Fail: The 11 Behaviors That Can Derail Your Climb to the Top-and How to Manage Them. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.