Why Leaders Fail and the 7 Prescriptions for Success
Peter B. Stark and Mary C. Kelly
Why do so many leaders fail, and what do the best do differently?
Thousands of leadership books tell you how to be a great leader. Far fewer books delver deeper into the surprisingly common mistakes managers, CEOs, and supervisors unknowingly make that derail their successes.
Using real scenarios and examples collected through their combined years of leadership and management expertise, Peter Stark and Mary Kelly pinpoint the 7 most common reasons leaders fail, while others are so successful.
Whether you’re in your first year of management or your 20th, Why Leaders Fail is a must read for aspiring leaders who know they need to be constantly learning, improving, and developing their leadership skills.
About the Author
Peter B. Stark, CSP, AS, is the President of Peter Barron Stark Companies. He and his team partner with clients to build organizations where employees love to come to work. Peter and his team are experts in employee engagement surveys, leadership and employee development, team building, and executive coaching.
Mary Kelly, PhD, CSP, Commander, US Navy, specializes in business growth through executive leadership development. Her company, Productive Leaders, provides all levels of corporate training and coaching. They help leaders with the tools they need to improve morale, cultivate teamwork, enhance productivity, and increase profitability.
Why Do Managers Lead With Fear?
I am currently working with a manager who told his team, “If this campaign isn’t perfect when we launch, some of you will be looking for a new job.” Yikes. That’s almost as inspiring as telling your team, “Terminations will continue until morale improves.” Although the manager didn’t share his threat with us, several of his employees did.
The big question is: why would a manager feel the need to manage with fear? It’s tough to get a manager relying on fear to self-examine and admit this, but in most cases this strategy results from the manager projecting their own lack of confidence and fear. When these managers lack confidence and are fearful of potentially failing, they may not even realize that they are projecting their own fear onto others.
When team members operate in fear and focus solely on survival, they no longer have their primary focus set on executing the mission and making decisions that are in the best interest of the organization. Even worse, great employees seldom stick around a fearsome leader. Employees who produce stellar results earn reputations that put them in high demand by other manager and organization, and they won’t hesitate to leave for an organization with a healthier culture.
In addition to his threatening words, this manager exhibited several other characteristics that helped solidify the culture of fear he had created.
Blamed others, but claimed the credit
When things went wrong, this manager was quick to blame his own team members or team members in other departments. When things went well, however, he would immediately point out all the things he had done to make the outcome successful.
This manager had a habit of talking poorly about almost everyone in the organization. This left anyone who ever interacted with him wondering, “What does he say about me behind my back?”
When this manager told his team they might be looking for new jobs if their next campaign was not successful, this manager conveyed to team members that they were not qualified for their jobs. By using threats, he also made it clear that mistakes were not acceptable.
For whatever reason, this manager did not acknowledge the excellent work often done by his team members.
This manager chose to communicate with employees strictly on a “need to know” basis. Very few team members had all the pieces of the puzzle, which made it difficult for them to make decisions. With a lack of honest, direct and timely communication, everyone wants to play it safe for fear of making a bad decision.
Because he didn’t trust his team to get the job done the way he would do it, he spent his time on day-to-day operational tasks instead of working on strategic projects that would have the greatest impact on the team and organization.
Can a manager known for leading with fear change their negative reputation? The good news is that with a significant change in their leadership style, yes, they can. The bad news is that is takes consistent repetition of positive leadership behaviors over a long period of time to earn a more positive reputation.
The following 7 actions were ones I recommended to help this leader build a positive reputation and take his leadership skills to a higher level.
Collect feedback to better understand your strengths as a leader and where you have opportunities for development. This will help you craft a leadership style that will maximize the number of people who are highly engaged and love coming to work to help you and your team succeed.
Communicate a clear vision and goals
Most people want to work for a manager with a positive vision of their organization’s future. Employees want to know what goals will turn that vision into a reality, and what they are contributing to the realization of the vision.
Goals are all about “I think we can.” When you take action and accomplish your goals, you develop confidence because you feel you are in control and have mastery over your organizational life.
When things go wrong, great leaders are quick to take responsibility for ensuring that the problem is fixed and doesn’t happen a second time. Great leaders may not say they are personally to blame for the problem, but they are quick to say, “I take full responsibility for ensuring this doesn’t happen again.”
Give credit where credit is due
Almost everyone has a high need to be valued and appreciated for their contributions. Great leaders know that providing people with recognition for their successful contributions is a significant part of building strong relationships with employees.
Encourage growth and development
Hold quarterly meetings with each of your direct reports to review their goals and to determine what they are working on to help them grow and develop. This will most likely mean that you are encouraging your team members to be willing to take a risk. Encouraging risk is also encouraging people to be comfortable with the sometimes-scary possibility of failure. Taking a risk, however, is the polar opposite of paralysis by fear.
Trusting others and being able to appropriately delegate is the key to your next promotion. Communicate the desired result, and then put the appropriate safeguards in place to follow up and ensure its success.
Managers who lead with a strategy of fear may be feared, but they will never be respected. When a manager utilizes fear as their strategy, I can guarantee one thing will happen: team members will eventually band together to undermine their manager. In the military and law enforcement, we call this getting hit by friendly fire. These seven tips, when put into action and consistently practice over long period of time, will help you be the leader who instead earns a strong reputation for building a culture of trust and the ability to produce significant results.