By the time we hear of a leadership failure, any attempts at intervention to save the leader are usually futile.
The damage has been done.
The family or organization suffers as their leader has fallen or, at the very least, made a major mistake.
Most great leadership failures, however, don’t begin with some stupid action. The leader usually has thoughts about the action well before he or she actually makes it.
Some of those thoughts can be warning signs to heed. They are like the bright, flashing red light that demands we stop.
Failure to stop can result in great harm.
I’ve had the opportunity through the years to listen to leaders talk about their biggest victories and their greatest failures. When the latter takes place, these leaders reflect that, most of the time, the failure took place in a deadly thought pattern. They lament that they didn’t recognize these deadly thoughts for the warnings that they were.
Here are the seven most significant warning thoughts I’ve heard:
1. “It won’t hurt to compromise a little.”
So the numbers get fudged a bit. Or the private meeting with someone of the opposite gender is deemed harmless. Or you take credit for something you didn’t do.
2. “I can give my family time later in life when I’m more established.”
You may not even have a family if you wait until later.
Few leaders have ever died wishing they had put more hours into work. Many have died lamenting their failure to give their family time and attention.
3. “No one really pays attention to what I do.”
Wrong! If you are a leader, many people are watching you more closely than you think.
In organizations, those under your leadership watch you closely. In families, the children watch the parents with an eye for detail that can be downright humbling.
What are they seeing when they watch you?
4. “I need to be careful not to rock the boat.”
Granted, some people put their mouths in action before their minds are in gear.
But too many leaders, to mix the metaphor from a boat with an athletic event, play defense and not offense. They are too risk averse. They are more worried about failure than proactive leadership.
Thus, their thought patterns are almost always about playing it safe.