Why Some Leaders Derail and Fail

We often hear people today talk about the need for "strong leadership" whether it's at the national level, their local community or place of employment.  Of course what is meant by "strong leadership" can vary a great deal depending on who you ask and what they expect of their leaders.  One way to understand the difference between a "strong" leader and one who is struggling or failing leader is to look at look at some of the reasons leaders come up short or completely derail.  According to research conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership (www.ccl.org), here are five of the top reasons:  

  1. Emotional instability (i.e. unpredictable, given to outbursts or mood swings)
  2. Defensive (i.e. not open to feedback or advice which can result in blind spots)
  3. Lack integrity (People are reluctant to follow a leader they can't trust)
  4. Weak interpersonal skills (and therefore not able to relate or connect with others)
  5. Too much technical expertise & knowledge (causing others to feel inept or dependent)

Today there are many well-educated and passionate people who aspire to lead others but may have already peaked or may self-destruct for one or more of these reasons.  This not only hurts the leader, but also frustrates and disappoints others who are looking to them for leadership and may also prevent the organization from truly excelling.   Sometimes their followers learn to cope by working around or simply avoiding this person.   Other times their followers become so frustrated and discouraged they eventually decide to resign and leave the organization or perhaps even worse, they resign and stay in the organization with diminished engagement and output.

However, really good leaders are willing to be introspective and "look in the mirror" to better understand what strengths they bring to their role as well as what they need to work on or do to avoid derailment.  Clearly some people are not fit to lead even though they may have the title, tenure, know the right people, etc.  However, most people can improve their effectiveness if they know what they need to do and learn how to do it.  Some "how to" techniques can be taught while other lessons are better "caught" by observing and modeling the desired behaviors of others.

What about the leaders where you work?  Have they derailed and compromised their leadership effectiveness or are they quite self-aware, emotionally stable and open to feedback?  And, as a aspiring leader, what do you see when you look in the mirror and what are you doing to strengthen your leadership effectiveness?