Everyone (including myself) has lost their way at one time or another. That’s part of life’s beautiful journey. The key of course is to learn along the way and find your way back.
So what about leaders in the workplace?
Turns out they can’t either and more times than not…lose their way. Sure the good ones sometimes get back up but why do they lose their way in the first place? After watching so many (high-profile) leaders crumble either in the face of adversity or at the top of their game – I was compelled to learn more on this phenomenon and I did just that.
I recently read Bill George’s fantastic book Discover Your True North where he breaks down the common behaviors in which leaders often lose their way.
- Imposters: “I am fooling everyone and when they find out they’ll be out to get me” (See the story of Bob Nardelli)
- Rationalizers: “I am not responsible for my failures” (See the story of Rick Waggoner)
- Glory Seekers: “Money, fame and power make me a successful person” (See the story of Lance Armstrong)
- Loners: “I have to make it all on my own” (See the story of Richard Fuld)
- Shooting Stars: “I must not slow down on my way to the top” (See the story of Mark Pincus)
This was outstanding information and made perfect sense. I knew about many of those people through the news and watching their stories unfold through social media. After fifteen plus years as an executive coach, I have been fortunate to work with a diverse group of senior level and c-suite executives and have my own view on why this happens in the workplace. Here are 5 common reasons why good leaders lose their way:
- They Collapse Leadership and Management. Understanding the stark differences between the two fundamentally escapes many and they fall into the trap of trying to do both. Leadership is more about empowerment and guiding people to a common vision — often into the unknown. Management is more about maintaining efficiency within a predetermined destination. To be successful, understanding the differences and how (and when) to apply each respectively will support staying on the path to success.
- They Think One Size Fits All Works. Whether you know one leadership model or simply lean towards what worked best at your last company – not being flexible in your approach and fluid in your style will only end badly for everyone. People are different and require different leadership styles (period). To be successful, you want to learn who your people are, what your organization stands for and alter your style to fit their personalities and your companies’ culture.
- They Fear Failure. The view from the top can be nice but it can also be scary. Sometimes leaders aren’t thoroughly prepped or vetted for the role and as a result, their quick rise to the top brings with it some fear of letting down their critics, people, board or shareholders. When driven by the fear of failure, leaders are unable to think responsibly and take calculated risks. They lose their spark and as the light dims, so does the perception on their aptitude and attitude to be an effective leader. To be successful, one must embrace the fear of the unknown and responsibly act in the face of it.
- They Are Oblivious To Those They Serve. In this case, we are talking about the pulse of their people. Not knowing what’s going on within your organization is the express lane to disaster. You can’t address what you don’t know and nowadays there’s no excuse to not know what’s happening within your company/team. Surround yourself with people who will inform you in real time what’s happening. The waiting game is not worth the risk and only makes whatever issues are at hand grow steadily outside of your control leading to a lose of direction.
- They Let Themselves Go. I see this happen all to often. People rise to the top of their game but their life is not set up to support this new challenge and as a result, they slip slowly (or in some cases quickly) and their wellness and ultimately leadership suffer. To be successful, leaders must not neglect their physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual needs and honor their wellness as a cornerstone for success.
Final thoughts: Whether you are a manager or a leader, anyone can fall pray to some of the above pitfalls. It’s unrealistic to expect that all leaders or forms of leadership are going to be successful—they won’t. The true nature of leading others is built on the foundation of taking risks, failing and getting back up again to live another day. In the end, a good leader learns from failure and moves forward.
The floor is yours: How else can leaders lose their way?
Please leave your comment below as your insights are greatly appreciated and a learning opportunity for everyone reading this article.
With leadership, Joshua / www.JoshHMiller.com
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