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16 Faux Pas That Can Disqualify An Internal Senior Leadership Candidate

Forbes Coaches Council
March 20, 2022

Having the right qualifications and experience doesn’t always guarantee someone a leadership position in their company. While internal candidates are typically considered for such positions first, there are some mistakes one can unknowingly make that will boot them out of the running.

From personality quirks to misaligned priorities, internal candidates for senior leadership positions are judged on it all. Here, 16 members of Forbes Coaches Council discuss the seemingly minor faux pas that could instantly put them out of the running for such positions.

Featured members share mistakes that can disqualify candidates for leadership positions.
Forbes Coaches Council members share mistakes that can disqualify an internal candidate for a senior leadership position. PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE INDIVIDUAL MEMBERS.

1. Putting Personal Agenda Ahead

Putting your personal agenda ahead of the company’s is a major mistake. At the senior leadership level, you must subjugate your personal agendas to that of what is best for the company. Many times, the demonstration of an agenda superseding that of the company will disqualify a candidate for senior leadership roles. - Michael Mirau, ProActivship Group

2. Spending Too Much Time Recounting The Past

Sometimes there’s a misunderstanding surrounding time: past, present and future and where to focus. Candidates can spend too much time recounting their past accomplishments, failing to connect to how their skill set supports the future. They may also spend too much time on the present issues and challenges without regard to situating themselves as the right person to navigate into the future. Touch on all three. - Wendy Fraser, Fraser Consulting, LLC

3. Mispronouncing Someone’s Name

One faux pas is mispronouncing someone’s name or assuming how they’d like to be addressed. You have to make the effort beforehand to learn how people pronounce their names and practice them. Also, never assume people want to be addressed by their first name when you first meet them. Be formal and use their title and last name until they tell you otherwise. This is true in all situations, not just an interview. - Gregg Ward, The Center for Respectful Leadership

4. Claiming The Credit For Hitting KPIs

Hitting key performance indicators (KPIs) is usually the internal candidate’s advantage when applying for leadership positions. Many candidates make the faux pas of claiming the credit for the win in the interview. Leadership is about the project, program and portfolio management, depending on the level. Leaders are responsible for bringing together the right people, processes and timelines to achieve company KPIs. - Tracy Levine, Advantage Talent, Inc.

5. Showing Lack Of Emotional Intelligence

A major faux pas would be showing a lack of emotional intelligence in a sensitive situation. The higher up someone gets in the hierarchy, the more important soft skills become. Leaders need to be able to have difficult conversations, handle sensitive incidents and navigate in a world where there is a lot of awareness and vigilance around discrimination and sexual harassment. - Rajeev Shroff, Cupela Consulting

6. Lacking Confidence In Self (Especially As Women)

I often see women undervaluing themselves. They will present what experience they haven’t got for the role, rather than the seven out of ten things they can do. Unfortunately, this can show the interviewer a lack of confidence. Leaders have to demonstrate they have areas to grow as well as showing why they are an excellent fit for the role. Leaders must not put any doubt in the interviewer’s mind. - Sandra Pinnington, The WLA (Women Leaders Association)

7. Overselling Accomplishments, Underselling Vision

While selling yourself is an important part of any search process, internal candidates run the risk of overselling their accomplishments, which will likely turn off senior leaders. Internal candidates have institutional knowledge, but also baggage, and they need to share the credit for past accomplishments while laying out a clear and distinct vision for the future. - Jonathan H. Westover, Utah Valley University & Human Capital Innovations, LLC

8. Feigning Knowledge Of Company Matters

Feigning knowledge of company matters, which isn’t there, is a grave mistake. What's even worse is offering an opinion on that to ‘show’ you know. Depending on the seriousness of the situation, words are remembered and can be caught out at a later stage or taken into the wrong context. Always conduct yourself with integrity. There is no shame in lack of knowledge, only in creating untruths. - Arthi Rabikrisson, Prerna Advisory

9. Being Negative And Having A Highly Critical Attitude

Nobody likes negativity and a highly critical attitude of the existing leadership. Therefore, sharing your ideas on improving and driving results should be discussed positively. Using positive language can make all the difference. Using terms like “I’d like to build on what the previous team had already started” is a great way not to rub leaders the wrong way. - April Sabral, April Sabral Leadership

10. Falling For Status Quo Bias Or Stagnant Perception

There’s a risk that they might fall for, or be seen as falling for, the status quo bias. Meaning they prefer that things stay as they are. To counteract such behavior or perception, the candidate needs to be able to clearly articulate new ideas, fresh insights, required changes and how to leverage their internal knowledge and relationships to assist in building a future-proof organization. - Andreas von der Heydt, Andreas Von Der Heydt Coaching & Consulting

11. Presenting Self As The Solution To A Problem

A seemingly innocuous faux pas is to present themselves as “the answer to what’s not working.” This ego and problem-centric approach reflects poorly in several ways. By focusing on the problems a candidate would be unwittingly making a negative commentary about the current team. A successful strategy would be offering “we-thinking” and providing leadership that inspires people to be problem-solvers. - Lisa Marie Platske, Upside Thinking, Inc.

12. Competing Openly Or Disruptively With Others

When internal candidates ‘compete’ too openly or disruptively with others also in the running for the senior role, they signal a lack of maturity, gravitas and leadership. This is not about who will win, it is about what is best for the company. Such a competitive streak comes across as counterproductive and can put them out of the running instantly. - Shefali Raina, Alpha Lane Partners

13. Asking Internal Team To Endorse Or Take Sides

Asking your internal team to take sides by endorsing you more pronouncedly than what has been done in the past is a problem. If the past protocol is that all internal senior leadership candidates allow the process of interviewing to take its course, but you vary from that to build your army first, you may offend the status quo. Take cues from the past and let the process take care of itself. - John M. O’Connor, Career Pro Inc.

14. Making A Remark Against Diversity And Inclusion

A minor remark that could be made by a candidate to take him or her out of the running for a senior leadership position in today’s world would include anything against diversity and inclusion. We see these simple mistakes or misstatements made frequently by people in high-profile positions like leaders, politicians and celebrities. These remarks are highlighted and can ruin careers. - Luke Feldmeier, Online Leadership Training - Career and Leadership Accelerator for Engineers

15. Assuming That The Position Has Been Won

Despite how great a fit an internal candidate may feel they are for a senior leadership role, voicing their opinion amongst their peers openly or assuming that they already got the position might undermine their chances of success. It is essential to take the hiring process seriously regardless of the support or endorsement from the senior leadership. Self-promotion can backfire! - Izabela Lundberg, Legacy Leaders Institute

16. Publishing Candidacy Publicly On Social Media

One seemingly minor faux pas would be for the internal candidate to publish their candidacy on social media. While this may be an exciting opportunity, it is important for the internal candidate to remain humble and focused. This premature communication may not sit well with others. They may see this as a sign of immaturity or inability to honor confidentiality. - Stacy Soria, Gladegy Consulting, LLC


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