When Leaders Fail

Now I know that a failure of leadership is something we have all either heard of…or experienced. Unless our entire existence is spent playing video games and texting like-minded others we have seen leadership fail.

Leadership failure happens for a variety of reasons. For example:

  • It can come from the leader losing interest
  • It can come from the leader’s departure
  • It can come because the leader was never able to obtain buy in for their vision
  • It can come from the leader never really being a leader

While not all of the reasons leaders fail those 4 can cover most of the reasons and experiences we have had. There is a 5th reason not mentioned above. A reason in my view and experience covers almost every reason leaders fail. It is a loss of courage.

I am not speaking to the courage it takes to slay a dragon, but it could be that. I am not talking about the courage it takes to stand in front of a tank, alone and holding nothing more than your jacket, but it could be that. I am talking about the courage it takes to perhaps take an unpopular stand. The kind of courage that at first puts an individual at risk of ridicule, embarrassment, shame, loss of popularity or “not being cool.” We all know the single greatest fear we have is “not being cool.” While that is intended as sarcasm to some it is a paralyzing fear that destroys the leadership efforts of others.

In a January 2013 article in Forbes magazine, Susan Tarantino, CEO of the Authentic Leadership Experience, gave us 10 Traits of Courageous Leaders. These are:

  1. Confront reality head-on.
  2. Seek feedback and listen
  3. Say what needs to be said
  4. Encourage push-back
  5. Take action on performance issues
  6. Communicate openly and frequently
  7. Lead change
  8. Make decisions and move forward
  9. Give credit to others
  10. Hold people (and yourself) accountable

If most people who claim to be leaders demonstrated those 10 traits many, if not all, of our organizational issues would go away. Perhaps I am a dreamer but real leaders, and I have had the honor and privilege of knowing some, do these things.

What all too often happens is that some will attempt to do these things and either go through the motions or forget their basic communication skills. These same less than authentic leaders continue by committing the sins of losing courage because ego and a drive for increased popularity get in the way. They become manipulative and point fingers everywhere but at the root cause of the failure, themselves.

Not everyone can be a leader. Some simply do not want to. Some simply don’t have the right skills, desires or emotional intelligence to be one. Some want the prestige and perceived intrinsic reward of leadership but are not willing to do those things necessary to be a true leader.

So if you call yourself a leader, or believe you can be one, the task for you begins with a first step. Look closely at those 10 traits. Examine their intent and where you are in relation to that. Can you perform and demonstrate all 10? Or, will you cherry pick some of them and think you are on your way, ignoring the uncomfortable ones?

It only takes one good leader to start a leadership revolution in your company. One with the vision to succeed, the courage to try and the understanding that the road to leadership success might be fraught with risk and unpopularity.