The headlines occur virtually every week. Another person in a leadership capacity falters and brings calamity down on those around them. It’s not only grievous to us as leaders, but also to those that are adversely impacted by their actions.
Why, we often wonder, does someone fall away in their leadership role? What happened within these individuals that allowed them to drift from promise to demise? And how do we not only spot the signs, but keep ourselves from meeting the same fate?
Like a taproot that anchors a tree in order to weather the storms it’s exposed to, we as leaders need to keep ourselves steady. It’s a slow fade from having character to having no credibility, so we must put certain practices into our daily lives if we’re to remain relevant and continue to make a positive impact in our worlds.
There are many good articles and posts written on why leaders fail. Two that seemed to strike a chord were from Dan Schwabel of Intuit Quickbase and Mark Sanborn of LeadershipNow. Both men bring a good many insights into the dilemma. The points they bring up can be boiled down to 3 areas of failure:
- Self-centeredness or pride. – Leaders that have these tendencies – such as selfishness, arrogance, and unwillingness to be objective with themselves – all tend to see themselves as the beginning and end of everything. Ethics start to slip here, where the leader inserts their own set of values into the equation. They become poor managers of others, and eventually poor managers of themselves.
- Power or absolute control. – These leaders are ones who are afraid of their people learning or knowing more. They do not want to give up even the slightest bit of authority to another. They control situations by not communicating, adapting, or being proactive. You will see these individuals take fewer risks in order to prevent them being blamed and looking poorly.
- Discontent or greed. – Leaders who are greedy for more money or status, or who are more concerned with their career over what their actual role is, stop seeing the big picture. They steer their own agenda through politics, lack of direction to their teams, and squashing creativity. Their focus has shifted from the first love of the common goals they were hired to achieve to their own self-interests.
So how do we prevent ourselves from letting these subtle traits creep into our character?
- Re-emphasize your core values, daily. True leaders embark on their path with the greatest of intentions. As they take their eye off of the values that got them to that position, they become more self-reliant. It’s then a matter of time before that have forgotten their value system altogether. Write your core values down. Then read them aloud and remind yourself of what you stand for each day. This will reinforce who you are and ensure you never fall away.
- Realize it is never about you, it’s about everyone else. Whatever you receive is only the by-product of putting people first. People are your greatest resources, your greatest assets, and your greatest allies. You cannot do the work of a thousand if you feel you’re the only one who can do it right. Lose yourself in the development and service of your people and you will find an incredible aspect of leadership that leads to more opportunity for all.
- Be content in where you are and what you have. In the fall I laid out a blog post showing how one can be and stay thankful as a leader. That does not mean you are never ambitious to grow and move further along, but the core character here is to get to a place in your life that if you never moved on, you would be happy right where you are, and lack nothing. Only then will you be guarded against the covetous pull of greed.
One final note – A key fourth method is to bring on some accountability partners. These are people that you trust to give you an honest assessment of your leadership and will not gloss over any mistakes. Choose these folks and tell them your intentions up front. They will be your guard rails in your career, and help you before you drift off the road. You can never have enough people looking out for you, in order that you may look out for others.