Why Do Leaders Fail?

Some leaders are good, some are great, and some are even exceptional. There are also some who are struggling or even failing entirely and cannot figure out why everyone around them is so broken. What are some of the mistakes that leaders are making that bring them to this position? What are some of the warning signs of a leader heading in the wrong direction?

People Have to Want to Follow

Some leaders may be able to command authority and demand for their subordinates to follow. The result may be blind obedience and a veneer of productivity, but according to most experts, this type of leadership is not only outdated, but also ineffective. Rather than building trust and encouraging engagement, these leaders breed fear and resentment, which inevitably stifles innovation and creativity.

A better style is one where authentic relationships are developed, and leaders demonstrate expectations with their own behavior and actions. Rather than flaunting a title, these leaders earn the trust and admiration of their subordinates and inspire them to be their best. People want to follow these leaders and do so with enthusiasm.

To spot a leader who may have failed to earn trust and willing followers, look to their subordinates. Authoritarian leadership styles are linked with an increase in deviant behavior and a decrease in productivity from their followers, and these employees may also demonstrate little motivation to improve their performance.

People Want to Be Appreciated

The simplest and most powerful tools in a leader’s toolbox are the words “good job” and “thank you.” When expressed authentically, praise can carry followers through the toughest days and lift them even higher on good days. According to research from Gallup, up to 65 percent of employees received no form of recognition for a job well done in the last year, and lack of recognition is one of the top contributing factors that drive people to seek a new employer.

The types of praise that employees are craving are simple, according to a workplace survey from Gallup. At the top of the list is public recognition in the form of an award or certificate, private recognition, high marks on evaluations or reviews, and promotion or increase in responsibility. At the bottom of the list was a tangible reward such as a prize or raise in pay. In other words, it really does boil down to kind words.

If turnover rates in one section of the company seem to be higher than others, or productivity and morale seem comparatively low, this may point to a leader who is ineffective at giving praise. Delivering effective recognition doesn’t always come naturally, but it’s also an easy fix with training and guidance.

People Want Vision

According to the Harvard Business Review, 90 percent of people are willing to earn less money in exchange for more meaningful work. For leaders, what this means is that creating and articulating a vision in a way their followers can identify with and internalize is critical to their success in the workplace. People who can connect with a vision and see how they contribute to the overall success of that vision tend to have engagement rates that are substantially higher than those who cannot.

The sticky point is often helping people to see how their short-term task lists are directly related to long-term objectives, missions, and visions for the organization’s future. Successful leaders are able to keep the ship steered in the right direction for the long haul while also breaking problems up into smaller pieces to let others contribute to solutions in their own way. This allows individuals to directly contribute their creativity and energy to long-term goals rather than going through the motions of completing daily tasks simply because they were assigned.

Identifying leaders who either lack vision themselves or are unable to articulate their vision well enough to get buy-in from their subordinates means tracking employee engagement. While there are many factors that contribute to poor employee engagement, many of them stem from a lack of motivation and connection to company outcomes. This tide can be nudged in the right direction by leaders in an organization who are able to tie day-to-day work successfully to a clearly articulated vision.

An Environment of Success

Leaders on the path to failure will micromanage, stifle creativity, and demand results. They may have an end goal in mind, but fail to communicate this to their teams, which results in a loss of engagement, motivation, and overall performance. These leaders may know who their star players are and who needs some help but are unable to communicate praise or deliver constructive criticism.

Successful leaders empower those around them and then get out of the way. Empowerment comes from building trust and enduring relationships that allow their teams to achieve great things. Great leaders bring people together, provide appropriate resources, and move on to the next place that needs this type of pollination.

It may seem like a complex problem to diagnose a leader who is failing, but only if you’re looking in the wrong place. The symptoms will show within their followers in the form of a demoralized, disengaged, team with production problems. Smart organizations will quickly identify that the problem lies with the leader and provide a path for improvement, and then enjoy the benefits of an invigorated workforce that’s driven to succeed.