Why do some leaders succeed on a grand scale while others struggle and even fail? In my work and informal research on this, I have discovered many distinctions between successful and not so successful leaders. Here are my five and one half reasons leaders fail:
- Lack of a clear and compelling strategic focus. Some leaders think that they can delegate this, or even make this a “collaborative” task. It’s a leader’s primary responsibility to establish their organizations or teams “North Star”, which should be non-negotiable*.
- Being inauthentic, or trying to be someone they are not. As the writer Oscar Wilde put it: Be yourself, everyone else is already taken. Being authentic builds trust. Being inauthentic crushes it.
- Lacking the courage to cause lasting change to happen that will move their organization closer to their destination (this assumes that #1 above has been taken care of)
- Failing to listen to others’ ideas. While the “North Star” destination is non-negotiable, the means to getting there are many and varied. Leaders need to focus the dialogue on these ideas, and not get into long winded debates on whether or not the strategic goal should be pursued in the first place.
- Failing to make decisions in a timely manner. I’m inclined to think that this one has to be the most vexing of all to followers and would be followers.
5.5 Arrogance: Thinking that they have mastered all five previously listed reasons, when the evidence clearly shows that they are struggling with most of them.
*For a really compelling example of how a leader stands firm on their strategic focus, listen in to the White House tapes as John F. Kennedy has a fierce battle with James Webb, the head of NASA on the goal of getting a man on the moon by the end of the decade.