Failed Leadership

I am not a leadership expert by any means.  I have made, continue to make and will make lots of leadership mistakes.  But I am a leader – both by position and by the reality that people follow me to some degree.  I work hard to be the best leader I can.  I want to be a good leader at home, for my staff, with my elder board and for the entire church.  Part of working hard to be a great leader is learning from other leaders.  There is a huge list in my head of things leaders should do that I have learned from other leaders.  However, there are also many things I have learned that should not be done.  Here is a list of things I have seen leaders do that are incredibly dangerous to those they are influencing:

  • Making decisions out of fear.  When you are leading from a place of fear it is incredibly dangerous. Fear of losing a job.  Fear of what naysayers may say.  Fear of losing people.  Fear of rocking the boat.  Fear of change.  Fear of the hard work.  Fear of (fill in the blank).  This is dangerous and will cripple you as a leader.
  • No concern for replacing yourself.  You will not be able to do what you are currently doing as a leader forever (and you should not anyways).  When you pass off your “thing” to the next person without setting him or her up for success, you are failing.  You need to ask what will happen to the thing you are leading, if and when you are gone.  Are your preparing for the next generation?  Are you leveraging your influence to release someone to replace you?  Are you training someone new?  Just because you will not be there does not mean you do not have a responsibility to the thing.
  • Surrounding yourself with “yes” people.  Every strong, effective leader needs people around him or her that will push back.  People that will say “no”.  Others who can help you with your blind spots. Those who will want to understand the impetus and reasoning for a decision without just blindly saying “go ahead.”  It is incredibly dangerous to have leadership that is unchecked by critical minds. Those in leadership with you as a leader, must get and believe in your vision, but they must be strong enough to push back.
  • Assuming people know the why.  This is part of a large area where there is lots of failure, the area of communication.  They say vision gets lost.  It does.  It gets watered down.  There is confusion.  Processes are developed and the reasons for the big thing get lost.  It is so important to keep in front of people the clear why they are doing what they are doing to support the vision.
  • Buying into the lie that says, “if I don’t, it won’t.”  Often strong leaders are also strong doers.  You can give a good talk.  Plan and execute a great event.  You can write the paper.  The call will go better if you make it.  This is so dangerous.  Release.  Trust.  Delegate.  The best leaders get the collective best of the whole entity not just his or her best.  Take the time to teach.  To influence.  To model.  To shape.  Let it go.  Otherwise, burnout is immanent.  Always remember – your ability is shown in your presence and your leadership is shown in your absence.
  • Not acknowledging bad calls.  If you lead long enough, you will make the wrong call.  You will miss something.  You will screw up.  This happens.  When it does, be honest.  Some of the biggest and most important decisions are how you handle the wrong decisions that have already been made (see Jim Tressel and Joe Paterno).  Good leaders are authentic about both their failures and their successes.  Clarity often matters more than being correct.

3 thoughts on “Failed Leadership

  1. Good post Keith. Leadership has always been something I have strived to work at to further myself in my career, but I have always failed to grasp what I see as a true leadership. I always wonder (getting philosophical here) on whether you can become a leader or you are born one. Only because those who are great leaders do not seam to be aware of it. They just do what seams natural and others follow in step.
    Anyway this post reminded me of anther blog I read that you may enjoy:

  2. I’m a fan of the statement … “your ability is shown in your presence and your leadership is shown in your absence.” As a leader, you have to constantly prepare you team to make successful, independent decisons. This will take your team to the next level.

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