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Avoid the Pitfalls: 5 Things Failing Leaders Do

Last time leadership authority Roxi Hewertson, President & CEO of the Highland Consulting Group, detailed five behaviors and attitudes that show up consistently in successful leaders. But Hewertson also finds that there are, unfortunately, five common traits of leaders who fail. It's not a place you want to be. So take heed and avoid these five costly mistakes.

1. Discount others' emotions and perspective.

Failing leaders just don't pick up on or value other people's signals. Or, if they do, they don't care, all demonstrating a fundamental lack of empathy. This emotional intelligence skill relates directly to social awareness. One cannot be a good leader without empathy, period. If the leader cannot walk a mile in someone else's shoes, he or she will have big blinders on and miss important information, ideas, and perspective. People led by such a person generally leave as soon as they can because they do not feel trusted, heard, understood, or respected. This type of leader will have limited influence over time, and they will not inspire others. They are ego driven, often arrogant, and will surely fail while scratching their heads and wondering why.

2. Miss key organizational clues, norms, decision networks, and politics.

These types of "leaders" are mostly clueless and leading in name only. They somehow landed a leadership title, most likely by accident, circumstance, timing, or favoritism. They have very little emotional intelligence in terms of self-awareness and organizational awareness. They could be fearful or they might be in denial. More likely, however, they have, what could be called, "organizational blindness." They just don't pick up the clues when their boss is displeased with them, when the tide is changing, or when people are talking about them behind their backs. They make decisions that are not theirs to make and don't make decisions that are theirs to make. They don't develop a wide network; they just show up and act more like an individual contributor than a leader, even with their peers. They are the sort who tell inappropriate jokes, and dance to a drummer no one else is dancing to. They don't get it, don't buy it, or don't know how to play the game in their particular "sandbox."

3. Blame others for outcomes.

Author Jim Collins is right in asserting that great leaders look "in the mirror" when things go wrong and "out the window" applauding others when things go right. In fact, when things go wrong, it is about the leader since that's who is responsible for the culture and the success of their team. Holding people accountable for their performance is important; blaming them for mistakes or failures is a non-starter. The difference between accountability and blame is the way the issue or problem is dealt with. Asking questions to understand how or where things went wrong allows the leader to "own" the problem for the team, and then have a candid discussion about the situation and the solutions--without fear. Failing leaders don't ask; they tell. They need to make someone wrong to be right. You'll rarely if ever hear this leader say, "Let's see what we and I can learn/grow/understand from this." You will, however, hear this leader say, "I don't want to ever hear about this kind of screw up again...or else."

4. Avoid dealing with and resolving conflicts.

Failing leaders avoid dealing with conflicts, fail to provide constructive feedback, and duck key relationship issues. They often think, "If I ignore it, it will go away." Sometimes it does, but rarely. More commonly the conflict grows exponentially until it's a toxic, smelly mess. No team can be functional without the ability to resolve their inevitable and necessary conflicts. Dysfunctional co-worker relationships and teams of any kind simply cannot get the work done well, so their results suffer and the leader will eventually fail. Even the "nicest" leader will lose the respect of colleagues, direct reports, and the boss if they cannot or will not clean up their own messes and effectively sort out problematic issues. The system will start adjusting to this roadblock by doing "workarounds." In short order, this leader will lose credibility and the respect of co-workers and, eventually, the leadership role.

5. Isolate self and/or team from others in the organization.

These are the lone wolves who think they--or they and their team--can do the job better than everyone else. These failing leaders may have a tight "in-crowd" of direct reports who believe in them, hear a lot of "yes" from their direct reports, and see themselves in an "us vs. them" proverbial shoot out at the OK Corral. They work best in "silos," rarely sharing resources or knowledge across the organization. They believe they are in it alone, that no one understands them and that, if anyone interferes with them, it will dilute their agenda, work, or image. Failing leaders divide and try to conquer. Winning leaders don't undermine their counterparts as failing leaders do. Instead, they collaborate and synergize, leveraging the brains, talent, and time of other leaders in the organization for the good of the whole. There are two paths out of this scenario: 1) the failing leader becomes motivated, often by distress, to dramatically change their isolationist attitudes, or 2) they return to the non-leadership role where they shine and can truly contribute.

Hewertson says, "Most leaders and others can learn, develop, and increase their own emotional intelligence. It takes assessment, self-motivation, learning, awareness, practice, and feedback. Improving one's emotional intelligence is a life-long journey--one that great leaders relish!"


Leadership authority Roxana (Roxi) Bahar Hewertson has served on the executive front line for more then 35 years, revealing myths and honing truths as to what makes a leader successful in their role...or not. Revered for her no nonsense, nuts-and-bolts, tell-it-like-it-is approach, Hewertson helps both emerging and expert leaders boost quantifiable job performance in various mission critical facets of business, including service, sales, education/training, productivity, and profits, to achieve or exceed organizational and career goals.

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