I recently conducted a fascinating exercise. I looked at the stories and records of leaders who have failed. While there is some subjectivity to the definition of failure, I think most would agree with my choices. There seems to be near unanimity that the leaders I researched did not fare well in their roles.
Some of my choices were historical figures for whom much has been written. Others were virtual unknowns in the annals of leadership history. Little, if nothing, has been written on them. But I have followed their lives, and they fall into the same patterns of the more publicized leadership failures. Others who know these lesser-known persons agree with my assessment without exception.
What then are the common characteristics of leaders who fail? I have no expectation that my list is exhaustive, but it was amazing to me to see some of these traits repeated several times.
They feel they are invincible.
Good leadership requires a level of confidence. But when that confidence moves toward arrogance and a sense of invincibility, there are certainly troubles ahead. These leaders shy away from accountability. They are often involved in moral and marital failures. They always see themselves as the smartest person in the room.
They are paralyzed by fear.
On the other extreme, some leaders have almost no confidence. They are unwilling to make decisions because they don’t want to be wrong. They are more likely to move decision making to multiple levels of committees and groups so they don’t have to be responsible for the decision.
They fail to grow.
Some of these leaders were great – in the past. But they failed to change and failed to grow. They are leaders from another era that is no longer relevant. They are analog leaders functioning in a digital world.