When Leadership Fails

I am mostly offline, attending a business conference. I have asked several bloggers to post in my absence. This is a guest post by Jeremy Statton, an orthopedic surgeon and writer. You can follow his blog, connect with him on Twitter, or download a free copy of his book Grace Is. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

Rainy days. Flat tires. The worst case scenario. As the saying goes, it happens. And so does poor leadership.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/blend_images

Leadership failures are often the result of:

  • Poor planning
  • Inexperience
  • Stubbornness
  • Lack of vision
  • Pride

It happens more often than we would like to admit, especially when it is our fault.

When we are the victims, though, we notice it all the time. We see ourselves as being stuck in our circumstances. We complain. We gossip. We throw our hands up in the air and ask, “What if?”

“What if” is not necessarily a bad question. But instead of asking “what if those leading me were better,” we should ask, “what if I had responded to poor leadership better?”

Just because we suffer under someone’s mistakes does not mean we have to suffer. Even in tough circumstances, we choose how we respond.

I recently experienced a leadership “fail.” The person in charge did a horrible job. The leader lost focus on the mission of our team. They made decisions that were contrary to our values.

My leader was more interested in what he had to gain personally from our work than the actual work. He cared more about promoting his name than he did about serving people.

But even when our leaders fall short, there can be benefit to us if we choose to respond well. Here are five suggestions on how to get the most out of leadership failures.

  1. Patience. We live in a culture that demands a scapegoat. When something goes wrong, we immediately ask whose fault it is.

    Give your leader a break. We all make mistakes. Try to understand your leader’s failure. Is this a one time occurrence or a pattern? What was their motivation? Be patient and quick to forgive. You would hope for the same if it was your mistake.

  2. Diligence. A common response to poor leadership is to give up. Resist this urge. Keep working hard on your part even if it is under appreciated.

    Understand your leader’s weaknesses and try to help him through your strengths. You should always do your job well. Poor leadership is never an excuse to be lazy. In fact, your hard work will be needed more than ever.

  3. Experience. Don’t let a mistake pass you by without learning from it. These are incredibly valuable moments. It is bad enough that a leadership fail has occurred. It is worse to let it pass without learning from it.

    The best lessons often come from mistakes. If you learn from your leader’s mistakes, then you gain valuable knowledge without having to make the same mistake yourself.

  4. Honesty. Telling the truth is always good. Always. If you make a mistake, admit it. If your leader makes a mistake, you may have to be honest with them.

    Depending on your circumstances, the best thing you can do is simply discuss the failure in open dialogue. Do not be aggressive and blame. But be willing to ask tough questions and engage the tension. It may turn out that your leader had no realization of the mistake they made.

  5. Moving on. Sometimes the only option you have is to move on. Don’t start here, but don’t be afraid to do it eventually either.

    Moving on is an issue of discernment. Use your best judgment to decide when a situation is hopeless, and if it is, pull the trigger. Don’t waste time trying to right a sunken ship.

How we respond to the leadership failures of others gives us the opportunity to be true leaders by the example we set in our response.

Question: Have you ever suffered under a leadership failure? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • http://LeadershipPerformanceTips.com/ Rob Moore

    Thanks for sharing your experience! We all can lose focus at times no matter who we are. The one thing that I have learned over the past couple of years that helps me stay on track is to make my decisions from my heart rather than from my head. My heart has never steered me wrong. Thanks for sharing this post!

  • janeey davis

    It is fantastic post about why we fail in leadership. I absolutely agree with these five  reason for fail in leadership like Poor planning, Inexperience, Stubbornness,  Lack of vision, Lack of vision, Pride. indesign training

  • http://www.facebook.com/The.Nince Kenince E’m

    I am a leader in a youth group and I have been challenged today, one of the reason I stumbled on this site.
    I am in charge of communications in a youth ministry and one of my tasks is to keep their Facebook social page active, a task I share with two other senior officials in the ministry.
    This morning, one of the members raised a point that most of the posts on the page have been unanswered and others take too long before being responded to. Another claimed that the page has become more of a notice board than an interaction place…the comments that the said post received from other members of the page were crazy to say the least. Going through their posts, you can feel the anger, frustration and a need to ‘crucify’ someone for this one mistake that has never been brought to my/our attention before. I have never felt so much guilt in my life.
    For some reason, I was looking for a way out, to just give up…but that was until I came across this post. I might not be the best leader they’ve ever had, I might not have the leadership skills that’s needed but I can improve. I encourage myself that this one test will prove to me just how cut out for this task I am. It will also help me to know how to react when I experience failure in my leaders.
    Thank you.

    • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

      Your welcome. There are two ways to learn in your scenario. One is to learn how to manage the Facebook page more to their liking. The second is personal management in how you respond to the criticism. I think you are headed on the right track Kenince.

  • Pastoreugene

    I was terribly angry for some time, until I reflected that the guy was going through a huge life-crisis and stuff just got away from him.
       A little compassion on my part might have helped.

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  • http://leadershipskillshq.com/ LeadershipSkillsHQ

    Your article Jeremy reminds me of a boss I have when I was still working in a corporate environment where the culture is only your boss can talk to the big bosses. You see this boss loves window dressing, making reports look good to upper management when in fact our department is experiencing some problems. We were asked to make reports look good, which of course is contrary to what the actual data says.

    There was a time when we really lost confidence in our boss and doing his orders against our will was the usual scenario everyday. When he’s not around we talk about how frustrated we are, but pretended everything is alright when he is around. Frustrated and feeling demotivated, I was the first one who left the company, and the others followed. As expected the project was eventually dissolved, with my manager being fired.

    Looking back, I often ask myself what could have hapenned if we have confronted our leader and brought out the problems besetting our project team? One important lesson that I learned is the importance of honesty and effective communication- honesty to admit what we have done wrong and an open line of communication to address issues and work on solving these problems.