10 Reasons Leaders Fail, Plus One
“The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” William Pollard
10 reasons leaders fail:
- Stop learning.
- Don’t build the team.
- Can’t collaborate.
- Won’t adapt.
- Won’t delegate.
- Lack focus.
- Don’t communicate.
- Don’t plan.
Adapted from contributions on Facebook (10/16/12). See more.
Learning from failure:
I talked with Alan Wurtzel, former CEO of the now defunct Circuit City Stores, Inc., yesterday. (From more than 500 stores and 10 billion in sales to nothing.) He’s also the son of the founder, Sam Wurtzel.
Jim Collins chose Circuit City Stores, Inc. as a “great” company in, “Good to Great.” What happened?
Alan’s book, “Good to Great to Gone,” is his personal journey to make sense of what went wrong. Its part history, part explanation, and most importantly, filled with powerful leadership lessons. I loved reading it.
Arrogance is the main reason leaders fail.
You could say there are many reasons leaders fail. I’ll say arrogance is behind most. How many of the 10 reasons listed above are expressions of arrogance?
Circuit City thrived when its leadership acted humbly and died because of pride. Wurtzel didn’t say that, I am. You might suggest they failed to adapt. I’ll say pride prevents leaders from adapting. Arrogance destroys.
Four Symptoms of leadership arrogance:
- Focusing on short-term success.
- Over concern about the opinion of others. Arrogant leaders are controlled by public opinion. Fear, not confidence, drives arrogant leaders.
- Unwillingness to admit mistakes; lying to save face.
- Blaming rather than taking responsibility.
Five powerful words from Wurtzel:
“I may not be right.”
Wurtzel’s five simple words answer arrogance. The greatest power of humility is it makes room for doubt. The most deadly power of pride is it prevents it.
How can leaders address the challenge of arrogance?
How have you seen arrogance hurt organizations and leaders?
Thanks Dan, interesting post – will read the book.
Interesting i read Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman – and he is critical of the method of selection in Good to Great (and unfortunately i find myself agreeing with both Kahneman and Collins!)
I remind myself constantly that there is a lot of luck involved – and that the ‘harder’ and more focused you are the luckier you get. Whenever you think you have made it you can be sure you will fall from the cliff.
the most obvious mistake I think a leader can make is to forget what got them into the privileged position they hold and secondly to misunderstand what it was that got them there in the first place. perhaps the second of these is the more common – or the real cause.
i also remind myself of what i don’t want to be as a leader. for me i hope that eternally staves of arrogance – but first i have to fully qualify as a leader.
Have a great day Dan.
Dan, I think that leaders best address the challenge of arrogance by keeping people in their inner circle who will speak truth to them, but more importantly that they will listen to. Once you begin to fill your group with yes-men, the only fresh ideas must be generated by the leader, and have no filtering.
I have seen arrogance hurt and destroy organizations because it demoralizethosese who are not at the top. They have no incentive to stay since they cannot contribute ideas. I have also seen organizations stagnate. They get caught up in “the way we’ve always done it.” And when that way stops working there is no one, except the arrogant leader to try to right the ship.
Leadership isn’t just about listening to our own minds. Its about elevating other people, and adding value to them, the organization and to the consumers of whatever you do.
Excellent observations there. I’m reading Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan at the moment and it’s full of gold like this. 🙂
“Pride comes before destruction”. This was penned about 3000 years ago, and holds true. Much of what passes for leadership is charisma, talent, and self-promotion.
In 2006, I took an online test for a “Leadership Profile Inventory”, based on Collins’ work. It rated me as a Level 4 leader, a competent executive who was separated from Level 5 due to a lack of humility. It was a slap in the face, a wakeup call that drove me to my knees, to striving to listen more, be more empathetic, put others first, to value stewardship over personal achievement. This will be a lifelong quest, not a moment when I’ve “learned to be humble”.
Humility is elusive. If I think I’ve achieved it – I haven’t. God gives grace to the humble. What is important is that I don’t get in the way of His greatness, so as to be useful to those I am called to serve.
Great post, Dan. As usual, you have given food for thought.
I believe that as a leader learning to live above people’s opinions is a neccesity, if one need to stay focussed on the task.
An attitude of learning all the time from both those under you and above you, creates an enviroment of exchange of ideas that team contributes freely.
I am about to enter into my third leadership role and I know that there has been a drastic shift in my thinking as a leader in how I will be leading and engaging with the new team.
I cannot afford to depend on my yesterday skills but I need to develop new leadership skills so that I am relevant and effective.
I love this statement “I may not be right”. What an empowering statement to allow others to help me be right. I view this as an inclusive approach practice towards others.
Again I am challenged and encouraged.
Dan, you may be able to whittle the 300 words down to the 19 words from your Facebook contributors. Excellent list!
“I may not be right” or perhaps “I will never know all the facts” so that is why I need a team.
Often, what gets you to the ‘top’ is not what you need to continue to do excellent work at the top. (Why is the image of James Cagney firing a machine gun, yelling “top of the world ma” in my mind.) Geez talk about dated, or maybe it’s just gezz.
I have often wondered what the follow up could be to G2G given the tumult we have seen. I do appreciate that Mr. Wurtzel was ready, willing, and able to share his emperor’s new clothes experience with C2. Motorola is another that comes to mind with how their multi-billion entrenched investment in satellite phones got passed by cell phone tech.
Again it is that dual vision, looking here/now and scanning the horizon continuously… while not getting myopically stuck in the success now, misperceiving it as THE long term method. Is there even a long term method, other than continuously adjusting and improving?
“If I had any humility, I would be perfect”…Ted Turner
Interesting to review lives and actions of recent national leaders and check off these “leadership” missing actions and behaviors.
Pride can be one of the hardest vices to battle because it can often be one of the most hidden. When first reading through the list, I didn’t see arrogance as the root at any of them. But once you mentioned it, I can see the connection. Great thoughts!
I don’t know if I agree with everything here, but I was drawn to the article by the truth of arrogance being key to leadership failure. I know that was completely true in my experience.
To add a comment based in the spiritual, the 7 Deadly sins are Pride, Anger, Gluttony, Greed, Lust, Envy, and Sloth. It’s no wonder arrogance destroys what we build. As the nuns used to say, “Pride leadeth the procession” (of sins, ostensibly). Have a wonderful day, everybody!
Great stuff, thanks for sharing. Great doesn’t equal invincible – it’s a momentary description of a snapshot in time, that can be quickly undone.
Nice Post and even nicer discussion. Being in senior leadership roles for 20 years, I must say it is a continuous struggle to remain ‘humble’. All elements around dictate otherwise; success, achievements, projects, servility of subordinates, deference from peers and not-so-seniors. A certain amount of self-assuredness is also required to be a leader which can quickly turn into arrogance. Just yesterday, I read an HBR stat which said people working as bosses in smaller companies tend to be 25% happier than those toiling in larger companies. Precisely; so when a large company fails to increase our arrogance further, we find a small one where we become ‘big’. The fight against arrogance must go on.