Top 5 Ways That Otherwise Good Leaders Fail

Even the very best leaders are prone to make mistakes.

I’ve worked for a lot of bosses, and in the course of consulting and networking, I’ve been able to observe hundreds of leaders. The good leaders stand out. They are effective, and generally admired in their organizations. But even the very best leaders make mistakes, and those mistakes often negatively impact the otherwise good leader’s organization and legacy.

Here are 5 common failures to which good leaders are prone:

1. Choosing the Wrong Personnel. This is perhaps the most common problem. When it comes to hiring, leaders will try to cut corners – allowing others to make key hiring decisions, not using best hiring practices, and/or not getting rid of problematic hires soon enough. I have dozens of vivid examples, ranging from a leader being dazzled by a smooth-talking candidate and ignoring the glaring warning signs discovered in the hiring and onboarding process, to leaders who let others conduct the hiring of their direct reports, to using bad hiring strategies. The worst operations manager that I ever met told me that he hired “clones” of himself.

2. Delegating, But Not Effectively Monitoring Subordinates. While empowering trusted subordinates to take control of important initiatives and programs is a good thing, it is important to monitor and review them. I know of more than one leader who neglected to recognize that one or two department heads had “gone rogue,” and were hurting the organizations and making the leaders look bad. Regular check-ins and reviews of subordinates are critical to make sure that all departments are operating effectively and professionally.

3. Getting Too Confident in Decision Making. Successful leaders who make good decisions (and by “good” I mean consulting knowledgeable organizational members and involving them in the decision-making process) can become overconfident and complacent – not involving others in the decision-making and not critically evaluating alternative courses. I watched a highly-effective leader become much less effective, making a string of poor decisions, and it coincided with the leader’s neglecting to do adequate consulting with others when making key decisions.

4. Neglecting Management of Organizational Politics. Organizations are, by nature, political systems. Great leaders understand this and learn how to navigate politically, and use those processes to their advantage. The key is to ensure that political processes are fair and that when employees act politically (lobbying for something; forming a coalition to get the leader’s attention; etc.) that politics is done “above board,” and that the political process benefits the organization and its members. Leaders who either can’t or refuse to “play politics” do so at their own peril.

5. Under-Communicating and Lack of Transparency. This is a huge derailer for otherwise effective leaders. Although leaders have to use good judgment to determine what and how much information to share with subordinates, top-level processes and decisions should always be shared with lower-level members of the organization. Moreover, when decisions are made “behind closed doors” and not shared appropriately, employees can begin to think the worst. It can also create a climate for unethical behavior since there are no direct checks on the leader. By being open and transparent a good leader invites criticism, but uses that criticism to his or her advantage – acknowledging when the input is valuable, and explaining when and why it may not be relevant.

Clear and transparent communication is essential for an organization to function effectively. If there is a single most common complaint about organizational leadership, it is lack of communication and transparency. Good employees who feel that they are “in the dark” become dissatisfied and aren’t able to contribute their valuable knowledge and expertise to the organization.


Originally published at Psychology Today

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