Most leaders I know deeply feel the responsibility upon their shoulders. They know they can fail at any moment but they are often surprised when it happens and can’t figure out why it happened. Here are a few common reasons for leadership failure.
Many leaders feel they failed when they see the numbers and they don’t add up to what they wanted. They worked hard to set intelligent goals and motivate their teams. They engineered the systems the best they could. And they gave the right instructions and the right information to their employees. But somehow, their orders weren’t obeyed, their instructions weren’t acted upon, and people just didn’t come together to meet the challenge. Leaders that get surprised like this often feel they should have been more in control and develop ways to learn sooner that their employees are not complying. They often also look for someone to blame. But these behaviors will only increase the difficulties they are having with their teams.
What they miss are the real reasons they failed to engage their employees in the first place. Here are three reasons why they didn’t succeed.
1) LEADERSHIP IS A RELATIONSHIP — Many people still believe that leaders are born and depend on charisma and initiative. Or conversely, that they are made and are trained to lead. So, if they are successful with one team, they have the talent or the skill to be successful with another. That is not true. Leadership is a relationship. With each team you lead, you have to start afresh and create a relationship that works. People will have to trust you and be able to follow you. Believing that people only have to be told what to do and it will happen is simply naïve. Teams have their own histories and their own dynamics and the relationship must be built with that in mind.
2) LEADERSHIP IS A GROUP PHENOMENON — With any given group, leadership eventually emerges. Either formally or informally. Because a group needs a leader to be able to function properly. And it needs a leader that is able to fulfill a few tasks — like defend their values, show them the way forward, manage anxiety, etc. A leader that expects that the team is at his/her service is not understanding his/her position. A leader works for the team. So a leader must learn what the team deeply needs and be able to fulfill those needs before having the slightest chance to have his/her needs fulfilled. A team may need to be protected from an external threat, or convinced its goals are achievable or that they can handle the challenges ahead, or they need help to manage the conflicts inside the team. Whatever the team’s needs are, the leader must understand and approach them.
3) THE TEAM IS STRONGER THAN THE LEADER — A leader might think that his/her hierarchic superiority, or control of resources, is the reason a team must follow him/her, but it is a mistake. If the team so chooses, a leader can become tied down and ineffective. Actually, when this happens, there’s probably another informal leader already leading the team somewhere. A leader must engage the team and create a following. The team must believe in the leader. Because when push comes to shove, a team will always be stronger than the leader and can create chaos and havoc whenever it needs. A leader can only succeed when the team is on board, so engagement is the only way forward.
Groups and teams have their own personalities and their own ways of understanding their goals, completing their tasks, resolve conflicts, celebrating, and mourning. They desperately need good leaders, but they will also ruthlessly and swiftly reject bad ones or the ones that don’t fulfill their needs. A leader that ignores this reality is heading for failure.
I find that when it comes to create a leader, there is a grossly underestimated moment which is Integration. Integration is the first moment a team is formed or the first moment a new member or a new leader comes into a team. For a while, the main priority must be making sure a strong and clear relationship is established. Integration must come first and come before the tasks at hand and the results expected. When I say this, many leaders and organizations feel it is impossible or naïve to think tasks and results can take second place. But in truth, it is time well spent. A bad Integration process will make hurdles and challenges increasingly more difficult down the road. On the other hand, a good Integration process will facilitate the mission, the results, and the success of a leader. We will speak further about this some other time.