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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