John was waiting on the other end of the Zoom call for our coaching meeting. He had just received his 360 assessment results in which his boss, peers, and direct reports had rated how they saw him as a leader. His results were disappointing and his first words were “I just need to quit this leadership gig now.” Have you ever felt that way? I know I have…I am very confident and most of the time don’t hesitate on Steople direction or decisions. But sometimes I falter…I fail to fully vet decisions, fail to hold people accountable, and fail to slow down and reflect. When these kinds of “derailers” occur, I question my own leadership…but all of us should! Leadership is a matter of growth and learning. You cannot become a leader by remaining what you are. Your personal growth and development day in and day out will likely be the highest and most difficult challenge you face.
When it comes to studying leadership, the natural tendency is for us to focus on those leaders whose successes and achievements inspire and drive us to emulate them in the hopes of replicating their accomplishments. Of course, as much as it’s important for us to see what we can learn from those who succeed, it’s also valuable for us to examine and consider what causes others to fail in the role of leading people. The purpose of this article is to look at, not those small blunders we all make, but overall what are those things that will REALLY hinder your leadership and cause you to fail.
1st Leadership Fail: Neglecting to Advance a Psychologically Safe Culture
If you’re a leader you’ve got to accept that employees won’t treat you “like just another employee”. You’re one of the most senior people in your company (if not the most senior person), so people aren’t going to be as willing to voice their honest opinions, feedback, and contradictions to your initiatives. I’ve seen this time and time again from leaders who say they want candid feedback and open dialogue (their intention for the most part is real), but they continue to struggle with getting people to open up and push back.
It’s incredibly important to take a really good look at your culture… some leaders inadvertently surround themself with like-minded people who rarely—if ever—disagree with them and may actually be creating a “yes-man culture” where dissent is discouraged and agreement is tacitly rewarded. Regardless of what you tell your staff about some open-door policy or how important it is that they tell you the truth, they won’t ever do this if the culture doesn’t both support and positively acknowledge and reward such behavior.
2nd Leadership Fail: Undermining Your Employees’ Ability to Do Good Work
As a leader, you have a strategic imperative to create an environment where the people around you can do their best work. If your goal is to be an effective leader who creates a high-performance culture of accountability and trust, it is critically important that you define what success looks like and then provide resources and remove obstacles so that your employees can make their greatest contributions. Note that removing obstacles includes directly and successfully addressing actions and decisions that allow poor behaviors and micromanagement to thrive in the culture.
3rd Leadership Fail: Not Making Yourself Available and Really Listening
Some meetings are important and necessary. We all get that. But when leaders are booking unnecessary larger group meetings while spending less one-on-one time with team members, that leader is sending a message that they don’t care about staff. This may not be a reflection of how that leader really feels, but it’s what is coming across to team members. As you know your impact may be different than your intentions.
If you want to avoid your schedule being a reflection of your priorities and showing that you don’t care or have time devoted to team members, create some white space and build in time (15 to 30-minute “briefings” are efficient and effective for most). Or you can block off time for team members to drop by and ask questions, address concerns, get mentored, and just “check-in.” It will be time well-spent.
4th Leadership Fail: A Lack of Transparency and Clarity in Communication
I know this one seems obvious, but it is the most difficult one to conquer. When leaders lose their grasp on what’s important or they aren’t sure what path to take, they often hide their confusion and uncertainty in ambiguous communication. Alternatively, they fall into “the clairvoyance trap”—believing that the people who follow them “automatically sense their goals and know what they want without being told.” When those followers are unable to decipher the leader’s communication, he or she blames them for a lack of effort, rather than their own communication negligence.
Additionally, humans have an unbelievably acute ability to sniff out mistruths. If leaders are withholding information or, even worse, misrepresenting the truth, employees will find out. And it will shatter trust. Without trust in their leader, people quickly become disenchanted and respect dwindles. As a leader, try to be as transparent as possible. This can be tricky at times, especially during tough times such as layoffs or heavy losses, but that’s when it’s most important. It keeps everyone on the same page, shushes the rumor mill, and reduces fear.
5th Leadership Fail: Leading with Your Head and Not Your Heart
Making compassion and commitment to results be a part of everything you do creates a ripple effect…team members honestly become motivated to go the extra mile. Regardless of what happens, they know that you’ll get through any challenges together — and that no one will be left behind. When emotional engagement in the workplace is consistent, it becomes part of your cultural fabric. Everyone speaks the same language. Team members know their guiding compass and can use it to guide their decisions. They’re kinder and more eager to collaborate because you were willing to establish core values built on openness, empathy, and vulnerability.
No one is perfect — including you. There are times when you or your people will fail…but what can you learn from that? I hope that at least one point in this article resonates with you! If it does, write it on a post-it and place it on your computer right now. For me…lead with your heart (internally taking care of people) and lead with your head (externally being a good businesswoman) is going to stay with me for a while! Let us know how you are progressing in your Leadership Adventure and please know we are here for you anytime you need us!