It is unrealistic to expect that all forms of leadership are successful—because they are not. The nature of leadership is such that leaders are going to take risks and fail.
An effective leader learns from failure and moves forward. However, there are failures in leadership not associated with risk taking that can undermine and paralyze an organization.
With any leadership failure, one must strive to distill the reasons and causes behind it. Such failures prevent leaders and their organizations from moving forward because the subsequent barriers and voids stifle a company’s ability to seek new opportunities. Consequently, the company will not be able to take advantage of situations that increase its competitiveness, productivity and market strength.
Everyone in the organization feels the effects of failure. Often these failures can be attributed to leaders who either are improperly trained or misapply leadership principles. In either case, they often fail by backsliding into old habits.
It is important for leaders to understand that their knowledge, expertise and leadership skills will be continually challenged in a volatile and complex work environment. Overwhelmed by time and work requirements, they can easily create a situation that causes leadership failure and leaves a void for their employees.
Leadership failure is generally the result of succumbing to the three shortcomings that are discussed in this section. Highly effective leaders learn to analyze the factors behind these shortcomings that hinder their ability to lead consistently, creatively and responsibly.
Barriers, unforeseen situations and negative influences are guaranteed to surface at one time or another to test one’s ability to lead effectively. These moments of adversity can disclose areas of ineffectiveness or challenge successes that have been achieved. Leaders need to take preventative action to make sure they do not succumb to these shortcomings.
Many leaders unintentionally create personal barriers that erode their ability to maintain leadership principles, methods and motivation. Leaders who discover themselves doing any of the following should take immediate action to stop.
- “Backseat leadership” is exhibited through indecisiveness, fence sitting and avoiding responsibility.
- Professional and personal goals are not formalized or articulated.
- Leaders lack a positive approach to serious issues, or fail to present suggested solutions for a defined problem.
- They don’t understand their own strengths and weaknesses, refuse to ask others for their input, and lack a personal improvement plan.
- Different ethical standards are applied to their personal and professional lives.
- They don’t share ideas, time, encouragement, respect, compliments and feedback with others.
- Employees’ weaknesses are focused on and criticized when, instead, the leader should build on and reinforce the individual’s strengths and abilities.
- They fail to work on personal development, or don’t take it seriously enough to make a difference.
Insufficient Understanding of Leadership
- Leadership is always responsible. It is not simply a position, job title or a manager overseeing employees. It is both a science and an art that is constantly operating. It requires motivating, monitoring, talking and training through active hands-on involvement. It removes barriers to effectiveness. In sum, leadership is responsible for everything the organization does or fails to do.
- Leadership means understanding that the factual basis of the organization continues to change. In other words, the thinking that made an organization’s success possible yesterday is the same thinking that can result in its failure tomorrow.
- Technology will never be able to replace leadership. The question leaders answer is, “What is the organization going to depend on when technology undermines it?” It is dangerous to believe computers and technicians can replace leaders.
- Leadership is about looking below the surface, since the greatest dangers and the biggest opportunities reside there, hidden unless searched out.
- Leadership also means seeing employees as an untapped resource that can collectively identify some of the best ideas and solutions to an organization’s problems. Leaders in this role look to workers for ideas, identification of problems and possible solutions.
- Leadership requires looking beyond the horizon. It means acknowledging that success can blind an organization. Leadership skills encourage leaders to watch for changing trends, needs, potential devastating occurrences, and possible problems that can hinder an organization’s progress.
Goal setting is a powerful tool—but only a tool; leaders should not make more of it than what it is. Leaders are masters of their goals: their goals serve them. Leaders often fail when goals are not adjusted to reflect their current knowledge about what is best for themselves or the organization.
Setting specific goals builds commitment to achieving results. However, maintaining an inflexible commitment to a goal is dangerous. The time invested or the costs associated with a specific goal can impair the leader’s ability to objectively assess the value of one goal over another.
As goals are pursued, leaders also need to continually seek new opportunities. They can accomplish both simultaneously by doing the following:
- Think strategically each and every day.
- Actively seek out daily opportunities.
- Realize a leader’s job is to identify new opportunities and quickly take advantage of them.
- Have employees think in terms of, “What if…?” or, “How could…?” or, “Why couldn’t we…?” and other mind-expanding questions.
- Talk with others outside the organization to discover their views on future directions.
- Seek information from people that have a different perspective. Leaders often gravitate toward people who are similar to them, who don’t challenge them sufficiently to make a difference.
- Remember that goal setting does reign supreme when achieving organizational success. However, to prevent leadership failure, never let goals obstruct the identification of new opportunities that may be more valuable.
Adapted from: Dealing with the Challenges of Leadership: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series by Timothy Bednarz (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011)