The five warnings signs of failing leadership and what to do when you see them


It can be easy for your leadership to falter and eventually fail if you lull yourself into a false sense of security that you have this ‘leadership thing’ nailed. Are you an unwitting example of failing leadership? 

Being a leader isn’t easy. The best leaders recognise this fact and know they are fallible and make mistakes.  They understand there’s always more to learn and better ways to do things. But even the most self-aware are susceptible to common – and damaging – leadership pitfalls. So what are the warnings signs of failing leadership? These are the signs that your leadership may be going off the rails. 

Take this quiz to see where you stand – and avoid the most common leadership traps.

1. You stop being willing to change

It’s easy to get stuck in your ways; to consider  the traits that got you to your leadership position as the skills and capability that will carry you forward.  However, in a constantly changing world leaders must embrace the notion that successful organisational transformation requires a capacity to change from everyone. Leaders cannot simply demand those around them change; they must also accept and embrace personal change for themselves.

Harvard academics Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, who have studied why many crucial change efforts fail, found that one of the core problems is the gap between what is required and a leader’s own level of development.  They write: it may be nearly impossible for us to bring about any important change in a system or organisation without changing ourselves (at least somewhat)”

2. You see yourself as the smartest person in the room

The downfall of many great companies can be traced to the hubris and arrogance of its leaders and their failing leadership. 

When leaders have a fixed mindset, they close themselves off from feedback and feel they have nothing more to learn. In contrast, influential and effective leaders know they don’t have all the answers. They are constantly seeking to push the boundaries, to question, inquire and learn more.

3. You surround yourself with sycophants

While surrounding yourself with “yes” people may make life easier in the short-term, it doesn’t create long-term, sustainable organisational outcomes. Seeking out differences of opinion is critical, because it is this diversity of thought or the probing question that aids the adaptive thinking leaders need when facing complex challenges.

4. You refuse to hire people smarter than you

Everyone knows how critical it is to a company’s success to get the right people into the right roles. However, leaders can feel uncomfortable hiring people who are smarter than them for fear it will show them up. Influential leaders look for team members to complement and enhance their leadership and capability. Bill Gates has been famously quoted saying just that: “The key for us, number one, has always been hiring very smart people”.  

5. You’re the last to hear bad news

When only good news hits your desk, it’s time to worry that you’re exhibiting failing leadership. If people hold off telling you what’s really going on, it’s a sign they don’t trust how you will react to bad news.

It’s important to welcome all types of news – even news that is difficult to hear.  Not only is your reaction a test of your character, it sets the standard for what happens in the future.

So, where would you place your leadership? On or off the rails? More importantly, how have you recognised and corrected your failing leadership habits?

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Michael Bryden
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Michael Bryden

Great article Michelle! Leadership is a continuous process – for the leader and the led – it never reaches a static, ahhh put your feet up stage – at least not for very long. Great points, well delivered. Thanks!

More on HRM

The five warnings signs of failing leadership and what to do when you see them


It can be easy for your leadership to falter and eventually fail if you lull yourself into a false sense of security that you have this ‘leadership thing’ nailed. Are you an unwitting example of failing leadership? 

Being a leader isn’t easy. The best leaders recognise this fact and know they are fallible and make mistakes.  They understand there’s always more to learn and better ways to do things. But even the most self-aware are susceptible to common – and damaging – leadership pitfalls. So what are the warnings signs of failing leadership? These are the signs that your leadership may be going off the rails. 

Take this quiz to see where you stand – and avoid the most common leadership traps.

1. You stop being willing to change

It’s easy to get stuck in your ways; to consider  the traits that got you to your leadership position as the skills and capability that will carry you forward.  However, in a constantly changing world leaders must embrace the notion that successful organisational transformation requires a capacity to change from everyone. Leaders cannot simply demand those around them change; they must also accept and embrace personal change for themselves.

Harvard academics Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, who have studied why many crucial change efforts fail, found that one of the core problems is the gap between what is required and a leader’s own level of development.  They write: it may be nearly impossible for us to bring about any important change in a system or organisation without changing ourselves (at least somewhat)”

2. You see yourself as the smartest person in the room

The downfall of many great companies can be traced to the hubris and arrogance of its leaders and their failing leadership. 

When leaders have a fixed mindset, they close themselves off from feedback and feel they have nothing more to learn. In contrast, influential and effective leaders know they don’t have all the answers. They are constantly seeking to push the boundaries, to question, inquire and learn more.

3. You surround yourself with sycophants

While surrounding yourself with “yes” people may make life easier in the short-term, it doesn’t create long-term, sustainable organisational outcomes. Seeking out differences of opinion is critical, because it is this diversity of thought or the probing question that aids the adaptive thinking leaders need when facing complex challenges.

4. You refuse to hire people smarter than you

Everyone knows how critical it is to a company’s success to get the right people into the right roles. However, leaders can feel uncomfortable hiring people who are smarter than them for fear it will show them up. Influential leaders look for team members to complement and enhance their leadership and capability. Bill Gates has been famously quoted saying just that: “The key for us, number one, has always been hiring very smart people”.  

5. You’re the last to hear bad news

When only good news hits your desk, it’s time to worry that you’re exhibiting failing leadership. If people hold off telling you what’s really going on, it’s a sign they don’t trust how you will react to bad news.

It’s important to welcome all types of news – even news that is difficult to hear.  Not only is your reaction a test of your character, it sets the standard for what happens in the future.

So, where would you place your leadership? On or off the rails? More importantly, how have you recognised and corrected your failing leadership habits?

1
Leave a reply

avatar
100000
  Subscribe to receive comments  
Notify me of
Michael Bryden
Guest
Michael Bryden

Great article Michelle! Leadership is a continuous process – for the leader and the led – it never reaches a static, ahhh put your feet up stage – at least not for very long. Great points, well delivered. Thanks!

More on HRM