One of the most important things a good leader should ask is why do leaders fail? No one is infallible, but learning from the mistakes of others will help you avoid repeating them.
Using this knowledge, you will be able to improve your business process and boost engagement and productivity of your teams, both remote and local.
Why do leaders fail? They fail because they are human and can make mistakes regardless of how good they are at what they do. There is also a possible scenario where the leader’s failure is caused by the incompetence of others. However, this article isn’t about that.
It’s about the leaders who have years of experience, great skill, and an impressive track record of success, yet fail anyway. In this case, it is most likely that the issue is caused not by a singular mistake but by overlooking some weakness which eventually cripples the entire system.
Possible issues include being too focused on efficiency, not exchanging feedback with your team and letting your relationship deteriorate, and becoming overconfident.
Why do leaders fail if they know how to be good leaders?
To clarify the situation before we move on let’s define a “good leader” as a person who has successfully led and managed their team for a number of years. They are unafraid to make hard choices and have a clarity of vision which allows them to stay focused on the goal.
They are respected by the team and respect them in return. They also possess character traits necessary for a good leader, such as honesty, empathy, and confidence.
So, does something happen to negate all these qualities? Why do leaders fail and what can they do to prevent that?
Not having the particular skill necessary to handle a new situation
It so happens in life that people can become extremely skilled in one thing yet be unable to adapt to a change in their situation. You can see this often with extremely talented students who completely focus on one subject, and thereby end up being severely under-qualified in others.
This situation isn’t as common for leaders because to achieve this position requires versatility skills. However, even some of the best professionals might have such “blind spots” as a result of inadequate training. If this happens, a leader who is good at everything else might nevertheless be unable to adapt and make the right decisions in a situation which is outside of their personal limits.
In order to avoid this kind of problem, it is essential to establish what those limits are or what character flaws the leader has. A business can do this by using the services of leadership assessment centers for annual reviews.
Once this information is available, people should receive adequate training or other necessary assistance to remedy those flaws. Regular workshops on self-improvement and personal development will also help prevent any potential problems in this area.
Becoming too task-focused
When looking for the answer to “why do leaders fail?” in Harvard Business Review, you will learn that the experts working there believe the main cause to be an extreme focus on efficiency.
As this article highlights, sometimes good leaders become so task-oriented that they become detached from their team. The result of this is employee burnout, which brings down business results as a whole.
The greatest issue associated with this particular problem is that it severely affects communication between the leader and the team. This may lead to the work environment becoming hostile as resentment from employees grows.
The solution to this problem is twofold. First, the leader needs to re-evaluate and reassess their priorities. The aforementioned assessments should be able to help with this as the behaviour examiners will be able to see the change in the leader’s goals and mention it in their reports.
From this point on the leader will need to work on shifting priorities and finding a balance between the task-focused and team-focused approach.
You can use a simple but extremely effective method to make sure these reminders aren’t forgotten or ignored. Placing stylish posters with quotes and motivational phrases that highlight the importance of human connections and employee wellbeing for business success in the office will be a great help.
Today you can make such items within minutes if you use an online poster maker and a printer. It might also be a good idea for the leader themselves to be responsible for updating them regularly, so they have to think on the matter again when looking for a new quote or motivational saying.
This method will also have another benefit. It can have a positive effect on employee morale as the posters will be a visible reminder that their leadership values and appreciates them.
The other part of the solution lies in improving the communication between the team and the leader. To do this you will need to increase the number of team bonding activities as well as set up regular personal meetings during which every employee and the leader can exchange feedback.
Note the “exchange” part because the leader also must seek and accept feedback from their employees. It’s essential that you learn how to take criticism in order to be able to handle such situations. As a leader, you also need to develop an independent system of assessment that will be able to determine if that criticism is deserved.
The most common reason to explain why good leaders fail is plain overconfidence. Their social status itself increases the risk of this development, according to research from the Berkley HAAS School. And every success contributes to the delusion of one’s infallibility.
To deal with this problem you’ll have to work further on personal development. Exchanging feedback and receiving honest criticism both from employees and peers is essential to keep the leader “grounded in reality”. The aforementioned inspirational posters which serve as reminders will be able to help with this situation as well.
When the question is “why do leaders fail despite a history of success?” The answer is most likely either not having the skill to deal with this specific type of problem or not having effective communication with your team. Overconfidence also is one of the most likely causes of failure from a person who has shown excellent results previously.
All these issues can be overcome with leadership evaluations, regular team bonding activities, and constant self-improvement. A leader cannot allow themselves to be stagnant and must always be open to any feedback from their team.
About the Author
Kate Bregovic is a leader herself and she went through both great successes and even greater failures. Having analyzed her own path and studied the subject to learn what behavioural and business research have to say on the matter, Kate now works to share her understanding of leadership and its many challenges.