Top 10 Leadership Fails


10. “Back in My Day”—If it’s not your day anymore, then go home so someone whose day it really is can step up and lead. Complaining about the newest generation to enter the workforce and the fact that they have different experience from decades past just highlights your own naïveté. People change with each generation and we all adapt appropriately, and leaders guide the way.

9. Pouting—There are cynics, there are critics, and then there are pouters. It’s fairly safe to rule out someone as a leader when all you hear from them is complaining, but when you hear pouting it should remove all doubt. If you want to be a leader, you’ll need to learn how to resolve problems rather than mope about them.

8. “Mistakes Were Made”—This phrase was made popular in the Nixon administration, but it’s still used plenty today. It’s a way of casting accountability to the ether, as if to say, “Nothing is in anyone’s control.” It’s the Spell of Absolution that poor leaders try to cast to erase any sore feelings. But it’s really just a great way to show everyone what a horrible leader you are. When bad stuff happens, diagnose the problem and figure out how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

7. “The Buck Stops Here!”—It’s possible that this bromide held some real meaning at one point back during the Truman administration, but now when someone tries to exert leadership by proclaiming, “The buck stops here!” it’s really just subtext for “Someone else screwed up, but I’m righteous enough to take the blame!” It’s code for broadcasting what a swell leader you think you are. What’s more, everyone knows it’s a code, so when a problem needs resolving leaders need to stop blathering about where the blame lies and do something about.

6. Blaming It Up the Chain—This is a lot like throwing people under the bus (see number 7), in that people do it to abdicate responsibility and obsequiously garner favor from whomever happens to be in their proximity. The only real difference here is that if there really is a problem being created up the chain, your missing the opportunity to communicate with someone who ostensibly is a leader and help them make better decisions. A leader doesn’t miss an opportunity to lead.

5. Throwing People Under the Bus—Unfortunately, this is fairly common among people placed in leadership roles but are not actual leaders. People often do it to maintain the illusion that they are deserving of the position they are in. Some heads of organizations even do it in front of clients, poohpoohing staff or simply neglecting to defend those who are deserving of a defense. They may go their whole lives believing they are leaders, but they will be wrong the whole time. A leader owns it (without broadcasting ownership—see number 7).

4. Distain—The moment you feel like the organization, people, or the work itself is beneath you, it’s time to reevaluate. If it’s not part of your vision or something you believe in, then either work with the people around you to guide them to a shared vision and mission, or move on to new pastures, but don’t scoff. Showing disdain for other people’s visions and beliefs is the action of a victim, not a leader.

3. The Screamer— There are people out there right now scoffing at the idea that screaming is a leadership failing because, “THAT’S HOW I HAVE TO GET THINGS DONE AROUND HERE WITH THESE PEOPLE!” Well, let me put it this way: there’s a big difference between a boss and a leader. Anyone can be a boss, but a leader knowns getting people engaged with the mission has nothing to do with decibels. Everyone feels like screaming at some point, but a leader is able to assess a situation and find the more effective response.

2. Emotional Rollercoaster—This one and screaming (see number 3) often go hand-in-hand. If you want to be a leader, you need to be stable and people need to know exactly what to expect of you, i.e., leadership. When people are checking with each other to find out which personality showed up to work that day, you’re causing more harm than good.

1. The Sin of Omission—Inaction is action. The failure to even attempt to stop or correct wrong-doing when you had the knowledge and power to do so is leadership fail number one. It is an insidious failing, which is what makes it so dangerous. A leader’s number one responsibility is to seek out and take action on opportunities and threats. Looking the other way is inexcusable.

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