5 Things That Can Cause Leaders to Fail

Adam White is CEO of Adam White Speaks, entrepreneur and author of the bestselling book, “A Leader Others Will Follow: The Power of Influence.

It is far easier to focus on how well we are managing budgets, casting vision, charting direction and delegating responsibilities to others. It’s a simple task to focus on all the things we are doing correctly while systematically ignoring the very things that could be causing us to fail as leaders.

No one whether in leadership or in life wants to fail. I believe every leader wants to do a great job of leading people. I believe that we all have the internal drive to be the best leader we can be. However, we must discover and uncover, that despite our good intentions, we can be doing things that can cause us to fail.

My goal of this article is not to focus on failure, but rather introduce 5 things that could be causing failure so you can become aware of them and then get to work on fixing or improving them.

Most of the bottlenecks in organizations don’t happen at the employee or management level, they happen at the leadership level.

As we discuss these 5 things, I want you to think about your leadership. Not just at work, or in the government role you have. I want you to also think about your leadership at home and in every area of your life. Why? Because leadership is not a title or position, leadership is a lifestyle. Mastering the leadership of me will also empower you to master the leadership of leading others.

I believe that we all have the internal drive to be the best leader we can be.


Let’s get started.

Here are the 5 Things that Can Cause Leaders to fail…

Leadership Style

As a leader, you may have been leading for many years. Sometimes one of the toughest areas to change for a leader is their leadership style. Often leaders are still trying to lead employees with the “command-and-control” style of leadership. This style says, simply do as I say (command) and don’t have an opinion or a comment (control).

This style of leadership is one that seeks to control employees. A leader with a command-and-control style will never earn the respect and loyalty of those that follow him or her. People will follow this type of leader only because they have to and not because they want to.

It is fascinating to me to see so many people in leadership positions that know very little about what it really means to lead PEOPLE. A title, your educational background, your network of connections, your income level, your good looks all have nothing to do with your effectiveness as an influential leader.

If you continue to try and lead this new millennial generation with a command-and-control style you will lose employees left and right, and your leadership will ultimately fail.

People don’t want to be managed, they want to be led. That leadership is accomplished by influence and not by force.  The quickest way to damage the relationships around you is simply continue to use a command and control style of leadership. It leads to leadership failure.

The new style of leadership is Coaching and Two-way conversational. No longer can the leader do all the talking while those around him or her simply just listen. You limit your opportunity for growth when you silence those around you. No leader is a repository for all answers. A leader that succeeds in this generation is one that understands leadership is an influence and not commanding and controlling others.

Unwilling to Change

I travel across the United States speaking to audiences across many different industries. If there is one single thing I could point to as the cause of leadership failure, it would be a leader’s inability to change.

I have had so many leaders deprive their employees of the motivation, education, training, and development that they really need because of a leader that was unwilling to try something new. The most common responses are this is what we have done traditionally which translates into, I have no interest in changing.

Why be in leadership if you are not willing to disrupt the environment? Why take the leadership role of an organization, when your intentions are to do things the way they have always been done. Many organizations suffer because they are held back by a stubborn leader that refuses to change.

“If you do what you have always done, you will be where you have already been.”

You can never chart into new territory or discover new islands of paradise if you have a captain that keeps taking the vessel of business in the same direction. You will wear a hole in the carpet if you keep walking back and forth on the same path.

If you don’t want to fail as a leader, then you must embrace change. Don’t be afraid to do something different. Disrupt the system, change the culture. Go in a different direction.

An unwillingness to embrace change will always result in leadership failure.
Are you Traditional or Transitional? The success of your organization and those that follow you will always be the result of your ability to transition from one way of doing things to another.

The Lack of Understanding Human Behavior

We keep asking the universal question of how we fix employee engagement. Yet we fail to really understand human behavior and what drives human action. We have mastered a skill, or managed a budget, but forgot about the most important asset in any organization…its people.

A leader that doesn’t understand what drives human behavior and human decision can easily fail. We ask questions as leaders like, how do we motivate employees and managers? How do we keep them around when they have capped out in their salary. Those questions are answered in our ability to understand what really drives human behavior. Money is not a motivator. When we learn that appreciation, contribution, love, and significance are just a few of the intrinsic motivators, then we can truly become effective and influential leaders. The mindset of a leader must change. We have to stop seeing human behavior, motivation, professional development as just “soft skills.” News flash soft skills are no longer soft. We have hired talented people with no character or personality. We have forsaken the so-called soft skills in exchange for a focus on skillset. Now have cultural problems, attendance problems, employee engagement problems, and the list goes on.

Until we are willing to master our skill set of understanding human behavior and what drives it, we will never crack the code on employee engagement and manager motivation.

Pride & Arrogance

This one shows up in just about every article, list and piece of advice that is out there when it comes to advice for leaders.

Pride will destroy what you are trying to build.

Arrogance will destroy the relationships around you.

When we have pride & arrogance as a leader, we miss the wonderful ideas and contributions of those around us. We can be surrounded by excellent talent, innovative and creative thinkers, and hardworking people but miss it all because of pride and arrogance. When our neck and head extends so high, we can miss those below us that are giving their very best to the organization and to you as a leader.

Pride won’t allow us to admit when we are wrong, or to correct the mistakes we have made. We then model pride and arrogance to our managers and our employees. They take great notes and start modeling that same behavior both to us and throughout the organization. That is how a whole culture is created. It always starts with leadership.

You never have to go to the C-Suite or the executive offices to find out what type of culture exists within an organization. Simply walk into the plants, go into the district offices, listen to the conversations in the lunch room, interview the hi-lo driver, or the janitor. You will easily discover how leadership is doing at the top.

Pride and & arrogance also destroys relationships. Often times the people that follow us, want to help us, give us their creative ideas, share in the vision, but we discourage them with our inner pride that drives them away. No one wants to be around a self-absorbed prideful person. If you want to travel the shortcut path to leadership failure, simply be prideful and arrogant and you will get there quickly.

Under-Developed Skill of Influence

Leadership is Influence. What can cause a leader to fail is not being able to influence others. As a leader you need buy-in, you need support. No man is an island and we all need the support and help of those that follow us. I was watching a war movie and the captain of a large military vessel was talking to his entire staff of officers. He made a very powerful statement. He said, “I am your commanding officer, without me you are nothing but without you, I am nothing.”

That is so powerful. Many leaders stop at the first part of this statement, “without me you are nothing.” But only if we finish the statement does it have an impact, “without you I am nothing.” The captain understood influence. He understood that although I am in charge, I still rely on your support to run this ship and get us to our destination.

If you don’t want to fail as a leader, work on improving your skill of influence. Develop your ability to understand the tools for influencing others and becoming a leader others will follow by permission and not by your position.

To develop your skill of influence, learn the 8 Drivers of human behavior, and more visit adamwhitespeaks.com or adam@adamwhitespeaks.com for Keynotes, Leadership Development, Motivation, and Professional Development, Online Training Programs.

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