Transforming Leadership to Shape the Future

Strategic Leadership Institute

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Leadership Failure Follows FIVE FATAL FLAWS

18/02/2011 12:26


Over the last couple of months I have witnessed how an organization with which I’ve journeyed for many years gradually move towards the point of complete disintegration following a change in top leadership. Typical of many cases of leadership failure, the new leader refused to do appropriate introspection, seek expert help or change his leadership style even as things were falling apart around him. Instead, he opted to blame senior personnel, insufficient resources, company policies and even customers for the escalating crisis. The result is that key employees left, customers simply turned elsewhere and even after a forced intervention from the holding company, recovery is by no means guaranteed.

There are probably countless numbers of external factors that can cause leaders to fail, but as in this case, leadership failure is most often caused by flaws in the characteristics of the leaders themselves.  By interviewing 125 highly successful leaders and studying the case histories of failed leaders, Bill George and Andrew Mclean discovered that during their careers, most leaders face a number of leadership temptations. These typically include the urge to blame others for failure, seeking excessive financial rewards or enhanced titles for themselves, glorifying their unique abilities, or trying to achieve personal success too fast.1

Authentic successful leaders either learn to avoid these temptations or to triumph over the personality flaws that lead to destructive behaviours. On the other hand,  failed leaders are often unable to lead themselves through these and other temptations. Many leaders who fail in spite of having high potential, fail because the adopt a set of behaviors that works for a short period of time, but are unsustainable in the long run. According to Andrew and Mclean, the five most typical "perils of leadership" causing leaders to fail are:

  • Being an imposter (rising to positions of power without the ability to use that power for the organization’s good);
  • Rationalizing (an inability to admit mistakes and take responsibility for failure);
  • Glory seeking (motivated by visible signs of success such as money, fame, glory, and position);
  • Playing the loner (failing to establish strong relationships with seniors, junior and peers); and
  • Being a “shooting star” (career-orientated individuals who doesn’t make time for friends, family, or their communities).

Considering these results and recent spectacular leadership failures in the global arena, it remains something of an enigma why so many leaders and organizations remain reluctant to invest in the human side of leadership development. Although this is certainly changing in some organizations, many remain sceptical about assessing and developing values and ethics or focusing on personality, authentic interpersonal skills, and behaviour profiles as foundational to the development process of young and emerging leaders. Maybe those of us who are still naive enough to believe leadership is the key to affecting real positive change in the world should be more proactive in promoting and modelling authenticity, ethics, and higher values as critical to any leaders’ development journey.


 1.George, B. & McLean, A. (2007). Why leaders lose their way. Strategy and Leadership, 35 (3), 4-11.