Three Reasons why Leaders Fail

There are no leaders so skilled, strong, or successful that they are above potentially failing in leadership. In Jim Collins book How The Mighty Fall he said, “While no leader can single-handedly build an enduring great company, the wrong leader vested with power can almost single-handedly bring a company down.” Someone who fails to effectively lead is a detriment to themselves and their team. I have found these three reasons why a leader fails:

1. They fail to lead self well- To influence those around you requires self-leadership. If a person can’t lead themselves well then they will never gain or expand their influence. Remember, influence starts on the inside. To lead yourself well means you know yourself, control yourself, and live out your core values and beliefs. Jim Whitaker wisely said, “You can never conquer the mountain. You can only conquer yourself.”

2. They stop navigating- If a leader expects to move a team or organization forward it requires navigation. A navigational leader uses a clear vision and specific goals to move everyone toward the desired future. Leaders need to set and then keep track of their people’s progress (While avoiding being a micromanage). To make sure each team member is working in areas of strengths while doing their individual part to advance in the direction of the organizational purpose and vision. Leaders who stop navigating will see division of the team, loss of momentum, and low results.

3. They are not relational- Being a relational leader is essential when it comes to effective leadership. Being a relational leader means that you are intentional about connecting and building relationships with those around you. To better build relationships I highly recommend reading Joe Lalonde‘s recent post titled: 3 ways to create a relationship as a leader. Those who don’t build relationship with team members will fail in leadership. Invest time and energy into connecting and building deep relationships with those around you.

Question: Can you add to the list? What other reasons cause a leader to fail?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Hi Dan,

    Wonderful post, indeed!

    I loved what you wrote about the reasons leaders fail. I would also like to add that leaders will fail when they allow too much of their egos to control them and not allow aspects of their authentic self to manifest. Those leaders who are truly ego led will struggle to be happy, as they will constantly be looking for more and more ways to increase their power and authority.

    Thank you.

    • Thank you Hiten:)

      Great addition, I totally agree. ego and pride are huge reasons why a leader fails. Thank you for reading and adding to the discussion.

  • Good words, Dan. I’ve experienced #1 and #2 myself. It’s so important as a leader to stay sharp in all 3 of these areas.

    • Thank you Kent! Glad you stopped by to read and share.

  • great post Dan, i really like # 1. i think this can fall in one the categories listed already, – i’d say they stop listening to their people and “reading the times”.

    • Great additions Ngina. Thank you for adding to the discussion.

  • Micky Diaz

    Awesome post as always my friend! Lack of vision and wisdom also makes a great impact in why leadership fails.

    • Thank you Micky:) Great point, wisdom is a key ingredient a leader must have. Thank you for sharing.

      • Micky Diaz

        Always a pleasure my friend! Have a wonderfully blessed weekend too!…:-)

        • Thank you:) Enjoy your day and weekend.

  • A tough subject, but very intriguing. I think most leaders fail because they lack wisdom and humility, which in the end is a good dose of pride which is founded in selfishness. It seems over simplified, but the ones that Iv’e witnessed in life who fail are the ones who felt they had “arrived” and began to read their own press clippings…

    • I totally agree with you Floyd. I have seen many leaders/people fall because of pride and selflessness. I have learned being closely connected with God and remaining humble are essential. Thank you for adding to the conversation.

  • All great points, Dan! I love the picture of the leader as a navigator. Would you start a journey into new territory without a map? These days, GPS navigation has taken over, but I can remember as a kid laying out an old highway map on the kitchen table and plotting a course for the next big adventure. Vision is paramount to a leader’s success, and the gift of casting that vision to a team is incredibly valuable.

    • Great and insightful points Justin. Oh, I also remember the old days of maps but I’m thankful we have GPS now:) Keeping vision and everyone moving toward it is essential when it comes to being an effective leader. Thank you for sharing.

  • That was a really good post by Joe.

    I think another thing that causes people to fail is burn out. They don’t take time to breath, to appreciate small victories and the stress builds and spills over to the team. If a leader is stressed, the team will be stressed.

    • I agree, Joe writes great content!

      I’ve seen burnout effect a lot of good people. Taking time to rest and relax is so important when it comes being a lasting leader. Thank you for adding to the discussion.

  • They stop growing. Without continual growth, we become stagnant. They eventually get stuck in their ruts and refuse to get out. So be on a continual learning program.

    • Great point Joe! If we are not growing we will never reach our leadership potential. Thanks for adding to the list:)

      Also thank you for writing such a great post that I could share:)

  • They lose sight of the mission or movement. Pride keeps in and they make it more about themselves.

    • Those are big reasons why leaders fail. Thank you for taking the time to read and share.

    • DS

      Pride is definitely a big one – especially after a person has experienced success.

  • RobG

    Hello Dan, Growing is all part of leadership and with out that you won’t be that successful and might be setting your self up for failure.

    Keep an open mind about what you do and how you do it. We are suppose to set examples for those who follow us.

    Thanks so much for a great post Dan very interesting.

    • I totally agree Rob, growth and keeping an open mind are essential. Thank you for taking the time to read and share. I appreciate it.

  • Bernard Haynes

    They fail to have a compelling vision that empowers people.

    • Thank you for sharing. That’s a big reason why a leader fails.

  • Dan, I think a different kind of relational fault is when they stop building relationships with their followers. When they lose touch and don’t hear what their followers are telling them. Unfortunately our political leaders too often fall into this run. Their constituents are screaming to do something but they do what they want instead. In companies, leaders who fail to have good relationships, or at the very least, listen to their employees will not be very well respected or followed.

    Your first point is spot on. We can set the example when we’re not the example ourselves. Can’t tell people to follow our lead when we’re not leading or we’re misguided in our lives and actions.

    Going to be in the area next week, let’s see if I can make it there and get this video done.

    • Hello Vishnu,

      Great additional points about leaders failing to maintain relationships with their followers. Relational leaders will always go far and gain influence. Leading self well is at the foundation to being a successful and effective person of influence.

      Ya, I got your email. I’ll respond later tonight or tomorrow. It should work.

  • They become prideful and arrogant – although maybe this fits in the first category.

    • I agree, Barb. Thank you for adding to the list:)

  • Building those relationships is so crucial. I’ve had leaders who have neglected that piece and leaders who seem to do it naturally – and the difference is night and day.

    • So true Tom! Those who are intentional in being relational will always go far and gain more influence. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  • Love that this can be turned around to be “Habits of Successful Leaders.” That’s how I thought of it as I read through the post. Great tips and something leaders (and everyone) needs reminded of regularly. The routine of life can sure distract us from being deliberate in theses areas. I don’t think leaders intend to stop doing these things, but busyness and life in general and just failing to keep them always in front of you causes a leader to look back and say “Oops!” or worse.

    • I think looking at the potential dangers every once in a while is wise so we can make sure to avoid the above failures. Great perspective Kari, thank you for sharing.

      • I can’t ever think it can’t happen to me. Keeping that in mind helps somehow.

  • DaveArnold16

    Awesome post, Dan. I think another thing, too, is for a leader to always be a learner. We we stop learning, we stop growing.

    • Thank you Dave:) Continued growth is essential. Thank you for reading and adding to the discussion.

  • There are a number of instances in the Bible when leaders do not end well. It seems to me a factor is that early on the leader senses his own inability and thus works hard and relies on God for help. Later in life the same leader can get comfortable and forget that he still needs to trust in God. Thinking you’ve got it all figured out and can do it on your own is the reason they end up falling.

    • Great points, the bible is full of both good and bad leaders. Thank you for taking the time to add to the conversation.

  • Antoine Martiano

    Yes, that’s a common factor why leaders fail–it’s because they are not at all relational. Maybe they’re effective in leading, but if he can’t connect with his colleagues and subordinates, then, their would likely be miscommunication and they may not be on the same page in the end. It’s essential for leaders to relate to their people. http://www.52techniques.com – Sales tips from a business development Expert

    • I totally agree, effective leaders who are not relational will not last too long. Thank you for taking time to read and add to the conversation. I appreciate it.

  • Great post Dan . Really appreciate your insights into some common causes for failures in leadership. On a fundamental level, I believe the failure in leadership invariably starts with the heart. One of my favorite verses comes from the book of Proverbs: “Above all, guard your heart; it is the wellspring of life.” When you see egregious scandals in the media from accomplished leaders in reputable organizations, you cannot help but wonder ‘how can this be?’ These men aren’t simply born to commit such atrocity, are they?

    I believe the perilous temptation the leader faces is at that critical point when he or she gains influence greater than he or she can handle. In other words, the leader’s character is unable to be on part with the tantalizing power and temptations the leader receives at one point. That’s why when you survey leaders who are successful not only from God’s perspective but in human eyes, he always guards the heart.

    • Hello Paul,

      You shared some valuable insights! I also really like that passage, it shows us the importance of keeping our hearts pure and righteous. If we foster a good heart it will be easier to make the right ethical and moral choices. It’s important to have and maintain our character no matter how much influence we have. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment:) I look forward to connecting with you more.

  • DS

    Leaders can fail because they don’t have, or don’t place good people around them. People that are honest, people that are willing to tell the “leader” that their idea needs some work, people that aren’t “yes men”. It’s helpful to have others around you who think differently and can offer some constructive feedback or a different perspective.

    • Great points! It’s important to have people who are more skilled, smarter, and talented then us on our teams. Those who fail to do that will fail in leading effectively. Thank you for adding to the discussion.

  • The first point is the most important, the hardest, and the single greatest cause of failure of leaders.

  • Dan,

    I would also like to share about point three relationships. In the early days of BornTwoLead it became clear a team member was no longer on the same page. She possessed a lot of leadership knowledge but lacked experience and subsequently relationships.

    Last Friday I was leaving my office after a 16 hour day. It was around 8pm and I received a message from a one of our Corporals. She invited me to a drink with herself and her mom. I was so tired it was hard to move. However, I also knew it was her birthday and important that I stop by. That evening I learned so much about CPL Stewart it will strengthen our relationship.

    Leadership is about building relationships.

    • Great story! The great leaders build relationships even if they are tired or exhausted. Thank you for sharing that:)

  • Okay one more comment. I would add leaders also fail because they fail to grow.

    • Totally agree, TJ Trent. Thank you for adding so many great insights to this topic.

  • Dan, it’s always challenging to identify “three reasons” for success or failure–but you hit a home-run on this one. Points one and three are also twins. If we don’t lead self well, it makes it almost impossible to relate to and connect with others. I love the story by TJ. Despite being tired and not feeling like joining his team member for drinks to celebrate her birthday, he did anyway. Self-leadership is the foundation for leading; if we can’t lead ourselves, how can we expect to lead others? None of us are perfect at this–that’s why we have to be committed to self-development, change and growth. Our work is never done.

    • Thank you Alan:)

      I totally agree, they are interconnected with each other. Ya, his example is one that we all should remember. Thank you for adding to the post:)

  • I love those 3 points, especially the first one. In the beginning it’s all about oneself, and if there’s turmoil in there then it’ll spill onto the outside. That quote as well – awesome!

    Micromanaging is something I’d have to get used to, I haven’t yet delved into the art of delegation, but I know it’ll be a hurdle – an exciting hurdle! I think it’d be more fruitful to work on the vision first, however!

    Loverly thoughts Dan!

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Nick. Micromanaging is a huge pitfall for a leader/manager. I think delegating helps when we have connected and built a relationship with our followers because it allows us to see where best to place them. It also allows us to see if the person is able to handle the responsibility or not. Thank you for adding to the list, your great!

  • I think the idea of stopping their navigation is key. Bad leaders get arrogant and think they have all the answers. They sometimes fail to see reality well, and that spells doom for their organization.

    • I agree, thinking we have “all the answers” is a huge pitfall. We must always be learning and willing to take feedback from those around us. Thank you for sharing.

  • Great points here Dan,

    Number 3 stands out for me – often I’ll see people in leadership positions that really couldn’t care less about their team members or peers. It makes me wonder how they even got there in the first place. Give and you shall receive basically!

    Cheers

    • Thanks Sam:)

      I agree, I’ve seen the same thing. I think those who are not relational even though they have a title they will never truly gain or expand their influence. Thanks for stopping by and sharing.

  • Steve

    I think you’re points here are great. I can’t imagine being a good leader unless you can handle these three things. One more I’d like to add to the list is losing respect from the people you’re leading. That does relate to your point in number three, but it’s one I find troubles some leaders. I was working with one person who was suppose to be leading a group of workers. But the only trouble was nobody respected him. When he wasn’t around, people made fun of him. You can’t follow someone you don’t respect.

    • Hello Steve,

      Great addition, respect is huge when it comes to influencing others. It’s something that always has to be earned. Thank you for taking the time to read and share.

  • charly

    Thanks for stopping by my crazy blog, I found interesting and at the same time a sense of relief what you said about leadership that it comes from the inside meaning having a set of core beliefs,values, that people will see and be influenced by them. I think my core values of hard work, persistency and not being an a-hole to others it sometimes rubs off some people, at my every day life. But also being to nice or naive, which I sometimes are can lead me to people taking advantage of me. I guess it´s balance?

    • Your welcome:) I’ve bookmarked it and will come back. Those are great core values, ones that will take you or anyone far in life and leadership. Thank you for reading and sharing.