Leadership is the number one cause of failure or success in businesses (or any organization). Leadership/management is also a major reason people leave their jobs and cause a turnover.
As John Maxwell says, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”
In this article, we are going to discuss some clear, major signs that reveal leadership failure. If you pay attention to these signs, you can recognize them and act to solve the issues.
After each sign, we also give some basic steps or ideas that can be taken to help you move toward solving them.
Let’s dive in.
Table of Contents
1. Leadership doesn’t take ownership or responsibility
This is the first sign for a reason. Everything rests on leadership taking ownership. If all leadership does is try to blame others and pass the buck, that is failed leadership, and nothing will get resolved or solved.
Great leaders take responsibility for everything they do and for all that happens under them. They don’t blame others, their subordinates, the environment, or the economy. They take ownership.
As a leader, everything that happens ultimately comes back to you. If your team fails, it’s ultimately your fault.
- Maybe expectations were not clearly communicated.
- Maybe you did not train as well as you should have.
- Maybe you weren’t involved enough, didn’t give enough feedback, put the wrong people on the team, or hired the wrong people in the first place.
As a leader, everything falls on you. If you blame, you are showing yourself as weak and you keep yourself from solving the problem. When you take responsibility, you can then face the problem, see what happened, and take action to resolve it.
When you have a leadership team that blames instead of taking responsibility, you have an organization that’s diving toward failure.
- Step 1: Stop blaming everyone and everything for what happens. Never do it again.
- Step 2: Take responsibility for everything that happens under you. Say, “I own this; I take responsibility”, then look at what you can do differently next time to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
2. There is high turnover/low morale in the organization or team.
High turnover is generally a clear sign that something is wrong.
It’s harmful to the company as well. With high turnover comes the high cost of replacement – every time. You have to find the replacements, retrain, and so on. Over time, that can cost a company dearly.
The company also loses out on experienced workers. When their trained, experienced workers leave, they hire newer and less experienced workers (at least for the particular company and its processes), and it takes time for them to learn. That can be a large loss of productivity.
One of the main reasons for high turnover is that employees are unhappy with an aspect or aspect of the organization, and it often has to do with a leader. A large percentage of people leave not because of pay or compensation or anything of that nature – they leave because of their manager or “leader”.
Other situations can cause employees to be miserable and/or have low morale.
- The culture could be one of gossip, negativity, or fear.
- They feel they have no clear direction.
- They feel their work has no meaning.
- They feel it’s a “gotcha” environment.
- Feedback and ideas are not welcome.
- There may be a lack of trust in leadership or a lack of communication and transparency.
- They may feel they are treated as second-class.
- There may be a lack of clear expectations and feedback on their work.
- There may be a lack of a pathway of growth or mastery.
- There could be a lack of autonomy with leadership micromanaging everything.
- They may put efforts toward a project or position only to be undermined by leadership or others.
- Conflict may be handled poorly or not at all.
The list could go on. Did you notice that, ultimately, all those potential causes listed ultimately lead back to leadership?
The first step you need to take is to diagnose the true issue of low morale. Throwing more money at your employees, offering free meals, and adjusted compensations are superficial solutions that don’t really solve the problem.
- Why are people leaving?
- Why is morale low?
- Why is the culture so negative?
- Have you asked and examined?
Take a good look and examine your culture, your policies, and the actions of you and the other leaders of the company. Ask, if possible.
If people fear they will be punished for what they say, you can make it anonymous (and then work toward changing that environment and building that trust).
And solve them. If there are leadership issues, whether, with senior leadership or middle leadership, they must be fixed. It may mean replacing some people. It may mean retraining.
Whatever it is, make sure you diagnose the true problems and then take concerted efforts to fix those issues.
3. Employees are unclear about expectations for themselves and their jobs.
It’s hard for anyone to feel comfortable and confident if they are not sure if what they are doing is the right thing (or if it’s even important).
Too often employees are put into positions without a clear explanation of the expectations of themselves and their job. Even job descriptions can be vague and unrevealing.
They may spend weeks or months working on tasks only to discover later that what they’ve done wasn’t important or was the opposite of what their boss “had in mind” of what they should have been doing.
It’s also demoralizing when you are working hard on projects and tasks, and you never receive feedback on how well you are doing.
The worst is when you spend a year working hard, thinking you’ve been doing everything right, only to find out in your yearly performance review that you’ve done the wrong things the whole time.
Not only is that incredibly demoralizing, but it is also unfair to the employee.
The first step is to make sure everyone is clear on exactly what the most important tasks and duties of one’s job are. Never assume that people just know. They don’t, and it’s not fair to them for you to do that.
- Make sure job descriptions accurately reflect what their true job duties will be.
- Give frequent feedback. Especially when someone is new or they’ve been given what their most important duties or tasks are.
- Take some time to meet with them to make sure you both are on the same page.
- Ask how you can help support them.
- Ask if anything is getting in their way.
Also, if something is going awry or they or doing something wrong, don’t wait till the yearly review to give them feedback, give it to them quickly so that they can work to fix it.
4. Everyone is pursuing their own goals or agenda.
This is caused by a few possible factors.
The first main cause is that there is no central vision or goal that the company is passionately pursuing. Yes, they may have a mission statement and a vision statement, and supposed values posted on the wall, but that’s all they are if they even do exist – something on the wall.
When there is no central goal or vision, people begin pursuing their own agendas. Marketing pursues this direction. IT is another one. This leader or group pursues their own goal. Another is a different one.
This is a major cause of silos within an organization. They don’t see themselves as a team pursuing a common goal but as separate groups pursuing different goals and fighting for resources.
Even under different leaders and departments, each person may be pursuing their own goals. And, without a central vision or goal to pursue, the individual goals often aren’t for the good of the company – they are for the good of themselves, the department, and their agenda.
If there is a goal or vision, the reason it may not be pursued is that leadership proposed it and stated it, but they’ve only given it lip service. In their words they state the vision as their “goal”, but with their actions, they do the opposite.
If leadership does not set the example of pursuing the vision and following their values, then those under them won’t pursue them either.
One big step is for leadership to set a vision and goal(s) for their company.
- What direction are you taking?
- What are you pursuing?
- What greater good are you making happen?
Then, once it is set, make sure the vision is lived out by the leadership. They can’t just give it lip service – they must be the model for it.
The vision must be communicated clearly and simply frequently. Departments can set goals or their own vision based on the main vision. It should be clearly communicated and demonstrated that everyone is a team working together to meet that vision.
Teams can be built across departments for different purposes pursuing that overall vision.
These are possible first steps leadership can take to help start tearing down silos and getting everyone on the same page.
Also Read: The Definite Guide to Goal Setting
5. Feedback, disagreement, and differing ideas are not welcomed or accepted.
A lack of feedback, disagreement, and ideas is dangerous for any organization. Especially in today’s business and technological climate, if you aren’t innovating and creating, you likely will soon be failing.
Feedback is important because it lets you know how you are doing as a person or group or department. It shows how you can improve and get better.
Disagreement is important as well because it helps you refine ideas and decisions. It helps you see different sides of an issue so you can make better plans, contingency plans, and better overall decisions.
And of course, without new ideas, your company will become stagnant, ineffective, and fall behind.
Sadly, too many leaders have a distaste for these three. They don’t like feedback because they are insecure. It hurts their ego.
Or they think they are too far above those who are giving the feedback to listen. Or they are afraid it will make them look bad.
They don’t want disagreement because they love their own ideas. They don’t want anyone disagreeing because they don’t want to look bad or, again, because of ego or insecurity.
Sometimes leaders (and anyone, really) can get stuck on the way they have been doing things. They don’t like new ideas because it threatens that. It may bring change. It may also threaten one’s position.
As a human being, you need to be a person who welcomes feedback, disagreement, and contrary or new ideas.
- If you receive little to none now, that’s a good sign you may come across as not welcoming those.
- If you aren’t sure how you come across it, ask. People’s response or their hesitancy can all be helpful information.
- If needed, get a coach or accountability from someone else. Let your staff know that you want to receive it. Get them to tell you when you fail or come across as defensive.
As a leader in an organization, you need to set the tone for welcoming these. It starts with you as a leader first.
You also need to implement this mentality in meetings. Ask for feedback. Ask for disagreement. If needed, get someone to play devil’s advocate – let that be their role for the meeting.
Over time, if you create that environment and show that you welcome feedback, disagreement, and new or contrary ideas, then people will start to feel safe and share.
6. Decisions are frequently made without input from those on the front line.
Too often, leaders at the top think they know what the answer is (after all, they are the leader). They make decisions and changes without getting feedback from those it affects or from the frontline in general.
What they don’t realize, however, is that often they are too detached from the issue to really know how to effectively solve the issues. The solutions often don’t fix the problem, or they even create more problems for those dealing with the issues.
As much as possible, leaders should get input from those the issue affects. Those who are dealing with the issues day in and out are likely to have great suggestions and solutions to the problem you are facing.
Take the time to listen and hear them out and consider what they say.
Even if you don’t use their solutions, by taking the time to genuinely listen, and then explaining why you chose the path you did, you are likely to get more buy-in and motivation for the path you did choose.
7. Employees live in fear of failing and making mistakes.
If employees are living in fear of making mistakes or failure, leadership has created an environment of fear.
Employees feel that they are punished or judged for failure, missteps, and mistakes, and possibly that their mistakes are then held against them.
For some leaders, punishing mistakes and failure makes sense. When people do wrong, punish them. But the whole concept is a misnomer.
Here are the consequences:
- When people fear making mistakes, they stop trying.
- They avoid risks.
- They don’t do anything where they could potentially mess up.
- They take the easy path.
When that happens, productivity slows. New ideas and innovations disappear. The only thing that employees do is what is easy and comfortable with no chance of failure, and the business can easily begin taking a dive, along with employee morale.
Mistakes and failures are part of growth and innovation. If you create an environment where people fear it, you lose.
Create an environment where mistakes and failures are not punished but encouraged. This doesn’t mean you accept sloppiness or poor work, that’s different.
It means you encourage people to innovate, to grow, to push forward, to try to do better, and if they make a mistake, that’s okay, because that’s part of the process. They learn from it and keep going forward.
It starts with you as the leader.
Begin with your direct reports or team. Encourage them to try new things, experiment, and grow. When they make a mistake, instead of scolding, ask them what they learned from it and help them learn if needed. Help them take the next step.
Over time, you will see more new ideas, more growth, and more business profitability.
8. The work environment is a “gotcha” environment.
In some work environments, the employees feel that the leaders/bosses/managers are out to get them – and they could be right.
Many work environments aren’t about trust or working together toward solutions or helping people grow. It’s about finding when someone does wrong and “getting ‘em” for it.
Instead of walking around looking for what people do right or how to support them, they look for any mistakes the employees may be making.
Any mistake, failure, or anything of that nature is quickly condemned and pointed out.
Performance reviews can be an easy spot for “gotchas”. Some leaders wait till the yearly performance review to let the employee know of any potential issue. The employee goes in thinking everything is okay, then “zap”, they did this and that and that wrong.
It’s not fair to the worker and it’s bad for the organization.
Employees should not live in fear of making mistakes. That is poor leadership and bad for business.
Instead, employees should feel leaders support them. Leaders should look for ways to help, enable, and grow their employees. Their focus should be on the employee’s growth and opening doors for employees, not on looking for mistakes.
This does not mean that if someone does something wrong, it shouldn’t be corrected. It may need to be, but it’s the way that it’s corrected that matters.Good leaders seek to help the person learn and grow. Bad leaders look for the wrong to punish or to “get them. ~ Thomas R. Harris Click To Tweet
As a leader, you need to change your your mentality. Start by looking for what people are doing right. When walking around, ask what your people need. Is there a door that can be opened to help them do their work even better?
When someone makes a mistake, make it a learning experience. Ask them what happened, what they learned, and what they could do differently.
Turn that negative environment into something positive.
And when it comes to feedback and yearly reviews, give feedback in a timely manner. Don’t wait months to “zap” someone. No one should ever be surprised by a yearly performance review.
9. Employees don’t trust leadership.
When employees don’t trust leadership, that’s an issue. It lowers morale, there’s more negativity and gossip in the workplace, and employees may be slow to act due to a lack of trust.
Integrity is everything.
- If leadership says one thing and does another, that’s a trust issue.
- If leadership says, “we are all about these goals/vision/mission”, giving it lip service but no action, that’s a trust issue.
- If leadership hides information from the employees, that’s a trust issue.
Why would employees jump behind an initiative if they don’t know if their leaders will even do so? Why would they take risks if they aren’t sure their leaders really have their back or will take risks themselves?
How can employees trust what leaders say when leaders hide the truth from them and aren’t transparent?
Be a person of integrity. Period.
When you act and live with integrity, people will follow you and take risks and make goals happen. If you make a mistake and own up to it, people are more likely to forgive and keep moving forward with you.
If you share information instead of hiding or holding onto it. People trust. They will also feel more cared about and more loyal.
Even if the news is negative if presented the right way and honestly, you will get a much better response than if you tried to hide it (especially if it leaked anyway).
Be people of integrity. Do what you say you will do. Don’t lie to your employees (or anyone). Share information.
10. Negative, harmful behaviors are a norm of the work culture.
Culture is ultimately defined by leadership. There are multiple visible harmful behaviors that are present in many work cultures.
Everybody’s out for themselves; it’s a dog-eat-dog world
Some places create such competition and selfishness that everyone is out for themselves.
- They aren’t for the good of the team.
- They aren’t for the good of the organization.
- They aren’t for the good or focused on the goal or mission.
- They are solely focused on promoting themselves – and that’s a dangerous place for that organization to be in.
There’s gossip and triangulation
Gossip is a danger to any organization or group. It destroys reputations, trust, and goodwill. It’s an easy way out of handling situations. It shows a lack of good conflict resolution skills, especially when leaders are the ones gossiping.
Triangulation is when, instead of talking to the person about the issue, you involve a 3rd party to get them to resolve it for you (or secretly to get them on your “side”). You get other people involved instead of solving it the right way.
Stop the gossip. It should not permeate your organization. And it should start with leadership not gossiping.
Learn how to handle conflict correctly and teach your people how to – and expect them to do so.
If someone has an issue, they should go to the person. If needed, there could be mediation with someone, but they should try to go to that person first.
You should also create an environment where people aren’t afraid to speak up about disagreements. If people feel they can share concerns in a meeting, they are less likely to do so at the water cooler instead (and if they do anyway, then there should be a conversation about that with them).
Again, as with all of these, it must start with leadership leading the way.
11. There’s a war between leaders and departments.
If there is a war between different leaders, if leadership has built cliques or their “group”, if they are living or acting out “my side vs the other side”, the organization is in trouble.
Anytime a leader pursues their own agenda over the good of the organization, team, mission, or goal, they are failing as a leader.
Good leaders put the team, the organization, and the mission first, not themselves. It’s often insecure, egotistical, or selfish leaders who put themselves first – and that just tears down the organization.
It’s also a negative sign if there is a “my side” vs. “their side” period within the organization. It shows that everyone is pursuing their own selfish agendas, not the good of each other and the organization and its mission, and it shows that leadership has failed in allowing it to happen.
It’s likely that many of those leaders need to go – or they need some major growth. The top leadership needs to end it, draw a line, and remove those who aren’t willing to stop.
Those insecure leaders need to grow and deal with their insecurity, or they will never be able to effectively lead.
If it is the top leadership that is the issue, the organization is especially in trouble. They need to stop, if not, the board or owner needs to remove them. If that’s not possible, and you work there, you can try to confront and lead from below, but that company is on the downfall if those at the top don’t realize how wrong their behavior is and change.
Everybody should be on the same page, pursuing the same vision/mission, and working together to solve that. Any pursuing of one’s own agenda hurts that, and it shouldn’t be part of what happens with leadership.
Other parts need to be implemented: a clear, compelling vision, an environment where feedback and disagreement are welcome, an environment that promotes healthy and proper conflict resolution (and doesn’t tolerate gossip, etc.), and so on. All of these will help create an environment less likely to have self-pursuant people.
If the sides are rampant within the organization, leadership needs to put an end to it and not tolerate it. They need to implement the above. Those who aren’t willing may need to go. It will be tough if this is part of the culture, but it must be done for the good of the organization.
12. There’s a vacuum of effective communication from leadership.
A lack of communication is detrimental to an organization. If the mission or goal is not clearly communicated and not communicated frequently, it will be forgotten or ignored, and it will likely fail.
- If leadership doesn’t communicate expectations and directions well, then those uncommunicated expectations won’t be followed.
- If they don’t share the why of what they are doing, it can lead to misunderstanding and a loss of productivity and morale.
- If leaders are slow to share information, especially in crisis situations, people will lose their trust in leadership.
- If leadership isn’t transparent and doesn’t share what is going on, things will still be shared. It will just be other people’s versions of what they think is happening, and it’s usually not a good version.
Communication from leadership should be clear (clarity), simple, and frequent.
Clear because if it’s convoluted and confusing, no one understands. It should be simple for the same reason. If it’s complicated, then it’s not going to be followed.
It should be frequent because things just need to be repeated over and over and over. People forget. We need reminders. And the repetition shows the importance of it.
13. Everything is micromanaged.
Leadership that micromanages is leadership that fails.
Effective leaders build up their teams and equip them to handle tasks and projects. They show trust, guide, and coach them when needed to help them meet their expectations.
Micromanagement shows a failure of leadership. It’s a lack of trust in their team. If their team can’t handle the task, it could be poor hiring, poor training, poor communication from the leader or the employee being in the wrong position.
When leaders micromanage, it also keeps them from being able to do the leadership roles they need to as they are spending their time hovering over everyone else.
It also lowers the morale of the employees. Employees are motivated by autonomy, and micromanagement takes that away.
First, create an environment of trust. If you don’t/can’t trust your employees – why?
- Is it that you hired the wrong people?
- Is it that you haven’t communicated well?
- Is it that you haven’t or can’t train well?
- Is it some insecurity within you?
As long as you are focused on micromanaging your employees, you won’t be able to do the tasks of leadership effectively. It’s hard to see the big picture and guide toward that when you are stuck in the details trying to control everything.
Share tasks with employees. Make sure they have the skills (if needed, train), clearly communicate expectations, and coach and give feedback as needed as they start the process.
Over time, the more experience they obtain, the less oversight they will need.
14. People who aren’t good leaders keep moving up – and they stay way too long!
One great travesty in organizations is that people are often promoted to a level of incompetence (and then, sometimes, they are promoted again!).
The fact that so many are put in those positions is one issue, and the fact that they stay there so long is another.
It’s incompressible to me how bad leaders stay in positions so long. It sometimes seems it takes something egregious for it to even be considered to remove them.
- They may get promoted because they did well in certain tasks, but doing a task is a lot different than managing and leading people doing those tasks (e.g. being a good salesman doesn’t make you a good sales manager).
- They may get promoted because of favors or friendship with someone in charge. Or it could be ignorance from the upper leadership about that individual and their leadership ability.
- There sometimes seems to be a disconnect from upper leadership. They may see a paper report that someone shows that person doing well, so they keep getting promoted, when in fact they are terrible leaders.
- They may be insecure and “look good” because of how they tear others down. They may look good just because they take credit for the team’s work, or they do a short-term action that may gain short-term profit but hurts the organization long-term.
- And leadership often doesn’t talk to those beneath them to see how they really do as a leader.
And all of this is a travesty because, as we stated in the very beginning, everything rests on leadership. When you have poor leadership, your organization is limited and will fail.
First, if you are in upper leadership, make sure you understand the principles of leadership, that you aren’t acting out of insecurity, and that you understand what good leadership is.
Nobody thinks they are a bad leader, so examine yourself and ask others to see how you are really doing. Then examine how and why you promote leaders. Don’t just look at surface results. Talk to the people around and under them.
Listen to your employees. Just because someone is good at a task doesn’t mean they are good at managing or leading.
- What kind of emotional intelligence do they have?
- Do people trust them?
- What kind of influence do they have?
Train them! Don’t raise them up and leave them out cold. Show them how to be good leaders.
And, if someone turns out not to be so great. Take action. Make sure you’ve done what you should have done, communicating expectations, training, etc.
Then, if the person is just not cutting it despite what you’ve done, remove them. Don’t wait. Stop making your employees and your organization suffer.
Having a lengthy probationary period for new leaders can also be helpful.
15. Leadership doesn’t deal with issues; they avoid or hide from them.
Weak leaders hide from issues. They don’t deal with the problems. They may fear confrontation, conflict, or the ill feelings that may come with addressing an issue.
Some may not know how to address the issue. They may be afraid to address the issue because it may mean that have to admit they made a mistake, or they are afraid they will look bad because of it.
Too often (especially in governmental or bureaucratic organizations), instead of dealing with the issue, a new rule is created.
So, someone does something bad. Instead of dealing with that person, leadership passive-aggressively deals with that person by creating a new rule that affects everyone, generally negatively.
Over time, more and more rules are created, people are shackled by all the rules, and morale and productivity are much lower than they should be.
This is also dangerous because bad workers are not fired, the organization doesn’t change its hiring policies to ensure a better choice of workers, and good workers leave due to the bureaucratic red tape and the rewarding/nothing happening to those who aren’t good workers.
Take ownership of the problem and deal with the issue. Deal with the person who is causing the issue. Look at yourselves to see how you created or contributed to the problem. Be willing to admit you made a mistake if you made a mistake.
If you keep having certain issues with the people you hire, you may want to check those policies. But you may also need to check your onboarding process, your training, and how well you communicate expectations. It’s not fair to punish someone for something that was poorly communicated.
Avoid creating new rules if possible. Yes, rules are helpful at times to keep people on the same page, but if rules keep people from being productive and make them less efficient, or if they are just created to deal with an issue passive-aggressively, then nix it if possible.
The only rules that should be created are ones that help employees be more effective and efficient, not less.
16. Front-line workers and other “non-leaders” are treated as second class.
Leadership is built off influence. If leaders see themselves as “above” all those below them or see employees as being there to serve them, they are going to fail as leaders.
There will be lower morale, lower buy-in, higher turnover, a higher chance of a negative environment, and so on. Anytime ego is present, there will be issues.
A lack of trust in your employees is a similar issue that causes trouble. If you treat people as untrustworthy just because they are the workers, then you are going to have some of the same issues we mentioned above.
- Treat everyone with respect, no matter their position, background, or level of influence.
- If you show everyone respect and trust, you will grow your influence which helps increase buy-in, morale, and so on.
- Your attitude as a leader should not be where you think your employees are there to serve you, but where you are there to serve your employees.
- The ultimate goal is the mission and goals of the organization. You are to cast that vision and lead your workers there. You do that by serving and enabling them to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently.
17. Leadership “leads” by position and command, not influence.
Weak leaders think that they are leaders just because of their position and that people should just follow and do what they say because of that position.
That is an ineffective way to lead. In fact, John Maxwell in his books discusses the 5 levels of leadership. The position is the bottom rung. You can “lead’ from there, but your effectiveness is severely limited.
Good leaders know that effective leadership is dependent on influence.
- They build relationships and gain the respect of those they lead.
- They know the greater the influence they have, the greater the support, buy-in, and leadership leverage they gain.
- They continue up the levels of leadership by building those relationships, creating a positive impact in their organization, and then investing and developing others to be greater at their jobs and as leaders.
18. Leadership doesn’t live or act based on reality.
One sign of failed leadership is that leadership doesn’t live in reality.
This can happen for multiple reasons:
- Leadership may have created an environment where feedback and bad news is not welcome – so no one tells them when things are going bad – and they might be.
- Leadership keeps themselves in an ivory tower separate from those beneath them and doesn’t walk around and look to see what’s going on – so they are out of touch.
- Even if it is encouraged, sometimes people are still afraid to confront or tell leadership negative news.
- Leadership doesn’t like reality, so they stick their head in the sand and pretend that the negative issues or changing times or technology aren’t happening.
- Leadership’s favorite sayings are “We’ve never done it that way before” or “We’ve always done it this way…”
- Create an environment where feedback and negative news is welcome, and make sure you do not respond negatively when they tell you bad news. Praise them when they do.
- Encourage and ask for feedback and negative news. Create an anonymous box or online submission where people can submit ideas and facts without the fear of being reprimanded or scolded or judged if that has been the environment. Then address those issues publicly (that can be) and thank people for letting you know.
- Take time to get out of the office and walk around. See what’s happening in the other offices or on the work floor. Listen to people.
- Face reality. If financials are bad or your technology is becoming obsolete, don’t run from it, accept it. Accept it and believe that you can find a solution as well.
- Be willing to let go of the past and traditions. Welcome innovation and new ideas. Encourage them. When facing negative times, ask for help, ideas, and support from your whole workforce.
19. There’s no training or paths for development for employees
When businesses do not offer paths of development, training, or even challenging tasks, it demotivates employees.
Also, when an employee is looking at their long-term career goals, and they don’t feel like there is any possibility to develop their career at your company or they don’t see any pathway for growth or promotion, they are likely to begin looking for a new place to work.
- Provide clear paths of development. Not everyone has to be able to grow into a management or leadership position, but there can still be paths of development they can take in their career and line of work.
- Provides training. Help them grow in their skills and in their careers. If possible, ask them what their career goals are and see how you can help them reach them while at the same time helping your organization grow.
- If people know they are on the path of growth, they will be much more motivated than if they feel they are working a dead-end job.
20. Leadership is surrounded by yes men/women
Failing leaders surround themselves with people who always agree or tell them what they want to hear.
Insecurity can be a major cause. They don’t want to look bad or are insecure in their position, so they don’t want anyone to disagree with them. They don’t want anybody pointing out mistakes or possible failures, so they surround themselves with people who tell them what they want to hear.
Ego and selfish agendas are other reasons. They think so highly of themselves and their ideas that they don’t welcome other input, so those who would disagree leave, and the leader is left with those who just say “yes”.
It could be they may not want anyone to disagree with their ideas or agenda or wants, so they don’t allow people who would disagree around them.
And that is very dangerous for any organization.
- If you have insecurities, deal with them. Recognize them. Talk with others who can help.
- If you struggle with ego, work on it. Ego will get in your way. According to Jim Collins in Good to Great, leaders who have a lasting impact are humble.
- If you are all about your own agenda – stop. Let your first agenda be the good of the organization, its mission and goals, and your team. Depending on your agenda, you’ll find you are often more likely to reach it when you put the organization first.
- Watch who you surround yourself with. You want people who are willing to stand up for what they believe and tell you if you are wrong. You want people with different viewpoints and ideas because it helps make ideas and solutions better and can prevent terrible mistakes.
- If all you hear is how wonderful you and your ideas are and never hear anything negative, that’s a good sign you are surrounded by people who only say yes.
21. Leaders only give lip service to their goals, mission, vision, or change initiatives
Too often a new initiative or goal is presented by leadership with great fanfare. There may be a significant motivational meeting, and there may even be cake!
However, after the meeting, after the initial hoorah, nothing happens. Or it may seem to be pushed for a few weeks or so, but then it fizzles out.
Or the organization has its mission, vision, and values, but they are never mentioned or discussed, and most workers don’t even know what they are (and sometimes their missions are so wordy it’s hard to comprehend).
Or leadership is “pushing” a new goal, but they don’t live it. They say everyone should go “all in” on the goal, but they don’t. They give it lip service, but take no action, and expect others to do it.
All these lead to the goals and missions not happening and lower buy-in from employees for future initiatives. It can also lead to other negative issues, lowering productivity and profitability.
Live the talk. Don’t just speak it, act it. Do it.
Everything must come from the top. First, make sure you have an effective mission statement, etc. Then live it. Communicate it frequently. Let people see how what you do, all you do, aligns with your statement, values, etc.
When you set new goals or initiatives, don’t let them fizzle. Live it. Communicate it frequently. When you are passionate and excited about it and live it in your everyday work, it will lead those under you to do the same.
If you just give it lip service, those under you will start doing the same as well.
22. Conflict is handled poorly within the organization.
Conflict is part of everyday life. There are always going to be disagreements and different points of view. However, it is the leadership’s job to make sure conflict is handled appropriately.
One issue that can frequently occur is that leaders themselves do not know how or don’t handle conflict appropriately. They gossip, they attack, they get defensive, and they don’t listen.
Another issue may be that they don’t teach their employees how to or encourage them to handle conflict appropriately. They may tolerate gossip and slander and triangulation in the organization.
- If you don’t know how to handle conflict, learn first. It’s the leader’s job to set an example and leads others in dealing with conflict appropriately.
- Second, handle conflict appropriately yourself. Don’t gossip, slander, or get defensive. Show by your actions how disagreement and conflict are handled.
- Third, teach your employees how to handle conflict. Be willing to mediate and help them as they learn.
- Fourth, don’t tolerate gossip or poor conflict management. Coach when you can, but if people refuse to follow, discipline as necessary.
Also Read: Conflict Resolution: The Essential Guide
23. Leadership is focused on short-term profit instead of long-term viability and growth.
One of the big tragedies of recent years is the idea that stockholder profits and quick returns are most important in business. Leaders are hired to show quarterly returns, not to provide long-term value.
Leaders cut jobs, maybe cut corners, and focus on short-term profit.
That is detrimental to business in many ways and is the cause of many businesses failing or losing profit long-term. It also has eroded trust in business as a whole.
Stop just focusing on shareholder returns or on short-term returns. You must consider all stakeholders and long-term results.
While you do need to pay attention to short-term returns to a degree because of factors such as cash flow to pay bills, when that is your entire focus, you miss the long-term. When you miss the long-term, you fail in the long term.
Look at the long-term. What will bring profitability and growth and success long-term? Sometimes it may mean doing less this quarter, but in the long term, your business will thrive much more than it would have otherwise.
Also consider your employees, customers, vendors, and other stakeholders. If you ignore them or do them wrong because of a short-term mentality, you are shooting yourself in the foot long-term.
24. Leadership has issues prioritizing and sticking with goals/initiatives.
One cause of failed leadership is having too many goals or jumping from one to the next to the next.
Having too many goals is a failure to prioritize. When you fail to prioritize, you stretch yourself thin. Instead of doing one or a couple of things well, you do a lot of things mediocre or less.
Employees may be confused and overworked and overstressed trying to do everything.
It can also cause overwhelm and a decision freeze. Because you don’t prioritize, certain decisions aren’t made because there are so many choices.
Another issue is jumping from one initiative to the next. Instead of committing to one course of action, if something is not going as fast as they think it should, or maybe someone comes up with a new idea, they jump to a new initiative.
This creates fatigue and loss of buy-in from employees, and it’s also counterproductive. In some of those cases, it would have been better to not have done anything at all.
As Jocko Willink states in his book Extreme Ownership, “Prioritize and Execute”. Prioritize what goals or initiatives are important, choose the most important, and act on them. Once that is done, go to the next and take action.
In some cases, you might do more than one, 2-3 at the most, but you have to be careful about stretching yourself thin or over-committing.
Also, when starting a new initiative, ask why?
- Why are you doing this? Is it just the new trend?
- Are you impatient with what you are doing now?
- Or is it something you really believe will bring a positive impact to your organization?
Once you know it really is something you want to pursue, commit. Things take time and often take longer than we expect. There are going to be bumps in the road, especially if it is new.
If it is shown as failing and will continue to fail, yes, you may want to adjust, but be careful about jumping from one thing to the next out of fear, insecurity, or impatience.
25. All decisions must go through leadership/management first.
Micromanaging decisions is a great way to lower customer satisfaction, bog up decision-making, lower morale, and keep leaders from doing more important tasks.
As a customer, one major annoyance is when the person you talk to says they can’t take action but have to “talk to their manager first”.
Some of the companies that have the most success with high customer service are those that give decision-making power to their frontline workers.
Micromanaging decisions also bog down decision-making and waste leaders’ time. If every decision must go through a manager or leader, then there is a wait for that decision (which wastes productivity time).
It wastes the leader’s time as they must spend time making all the decisions versus higher-level work they could be focusing on. It lowers morale because you are stripping autonomy away from the workers and are showing them that you don’t trust them with basic decision-making.
If you really feel you don’t trust your employees to make decisions, you either need to work on your hiring policies, your training ability, or both. Ultimately, if you can’t trust them with decisions, the fault is yours.
- Enable your employees to make decisions.
- Set guidelines and train them.
- Enable them to solve customer and other problems without having to go to the manager every time.
Jocko Willink in his books calls it “decentralized command”. Train and enable those under you to make decisions focused on the central mission and goal of the company.
Bonus: There is no leadership training or succession planning.
One of the biggest and most important jobs a leader has is to train more leaders and prepare for succession.
It doesn’t matter how well a leader does if when he/she leaves everything falls apart. There must be succession planning and training of new leaders as you go.
There are multiple reasons why “leaders” don’t train other leaders:
- Ignorance – they weren’t trained themselves and don’t really know much about leadership.
- Insecurity – they fear growing others because they may outshine or replace them.
- Ego – they don’t see it as a need or feel they are too important to do something of that nature.
It doesn’t just affect the business when a leader leaves, it affects it on an everyday basis.
If leaders aren’t being developed, your company is not growing or being as efficient and effective as it could be. It can create negative cultures and ultimately lead to loss of profit or even business failure.
Groom and grow leaders in your organization at every level. Find potential leaders and train them. Let it be an ongoing process.
To help with succession, make sure your vision and mission are clearly communicated. Make sure the company is aligned with that mission. Make sure to train and raise up others who can lead the effort toward the mission and vision.
When you leave, someone else should be able to jump into your role smoothly and continue the effort with little issue.
Final Thoughts on 25 Major Signs of Leadership Failure
As you can see, there are many signs of leadership failure within an organization.
If you’ve read through this list, you will likely be able to recognize them more easily and then take action to solve them.
If you recognized multiple issues, don’t lose heart. Prioritize, take action, and start solving them. Remember that change can take time and can be heard, and you can do it.
Now to you:
Have you noticed any other signs of failed leadership? Did we miss anything? Do you have any tips to share with other leaders? Share in the comments below.