Why do Leaders fail to Lead?

I have written a number of Blog articles recently on the theme of Leadership. However this time round I wanted to write about the common pitfalls I see various business owners and leaders fall into, which prohibits them to lead effectively or stops them from leading at all. This is quite a longish article which I am posting today, ahead of a number of upcoming holidays, hoping that you will use some of the so called, illusive free time, to read this article and most of all reflect on it.

Anyone that knows me, knows that I hate beating round the bush and being straightforward and direct is certainly an integral part of who I am. Thus, I will immediately kick off by taking the bull by its horns and outlining what I believe are the three main reasons why business leaders fail to lead effectively:-

  • Ego – thinking they can achieve things without anyone’s help and so find it hard to really collaborate with others.
  • No Vision – constantly engulfed in their comfort zone of daily operations and not thinking ahead and the future direction.
  • Control – Wanting to keep control at all costs, even at the cost of stopping their business organisation from developing further.

Let me try and tackle each of the above.

Putting your EGO aside – You need to collaborate!

I meet many business owners and business leaders who thrive on being competitive and fear being overshadowed. They have enjoyed a track record of winning and being the best. Nevertheless, the notion of sharing the spotlight with others makes them anxious. It is likely that their sense of identity and success has been reinforced by years of individual achievement.

However, today’s workplace, has become more collaborative than ever, with functional boundaries blurred beyond recognition. If the pandemic has really opened our eyes to something, is the fact that in such a situation organisations needed everyone to handle the utmost of the complexities at all times, many times beyond their “normal” functions and duties. Yet I still see business leaders who still think in terms of what I call “silos” rather than in terms of an organisation that that can really create competitive value when functions come together to form capabilities. That requires leaders of those functions to collaborate across the silos to deliver that value. So my message to you is a simple and direct one – if you are a leader who struggles to collaborate with others, you first need to understand why that is, then work to develop that skill. Before you can improve, it’s critical to reflect on why collaboration doesn’t come naturally to you.

I encourage business leaders to have a look around them and see that successful business achieve higher performance levels as a result of integrated efforts. I many times tell business owners and leaders to pay close attention when they fear that others might outshine them. Understanding that about themselves can be the first step to changing it. The higher you are in the level of any organisation, the stronger must be your belief that excellence can only be achieved if your efforts are blended with others’ contributions.

Building a Vision helps you realise you cannot get anywhere alone

I many times see business owners and leaders getting engulfed in solving daily operational issues or achieving daily quick wins. They sort a problem with a client or supplier. They win a new good order. The list is endless. This gives them a boost and adrenaline drive. Sometimes it makes them feel invincible or even irreplaceable. Many times they even get addicted to this adrenaline boost. This creates a sure comfort zone. However all this comes with many pitfalls. One of them is that such business owners start becoming completely engulfed is sorting the daily issues and addicted to the adrenaline boost they get when managing to deal with daily problems, leaving them no time to strategise and plan the future. Normally, they always tell me “I am so busy, I am drowning” and yet I see them so happy being so and rarely do any effort to have that changed. Yet it is so important to have such business owners get out from their daily rat race. If they where to spend time looking at things from a distance they would realise that many daily issues they need to spend so much time on to sort out, are deriving from other bigger issues that have never been solved and which require a strategic planning mindset to get them solved, like for example that digitilisation system and processes that where never implemented. Whenever business owners find time to think with a strategic mindset they will realise two very important cardinal truths:

1. That many of their daily struggles can only be sorted and reduced by having a longer term strategic plan to address the root cause of such issues.

2. That to execute a strategic plan to sort and address many issues, they need help and collaboration from persons around them.

Trust & Control

Many business owners and leaders fail to lead effectively as they have a hard time trusting. They believe that attention to detail is their strength and their mistrust is further strengthened by some unfavorable outcomes in the past when they delegated to others. Add to that the common occurrence where business owners and leaders fear uncertainty and want to make sure that their decisions are on solid ground. This is all understandable. However it all comes with severe downfalls. Whenever a business leader or owners feels a strong need for control they normally manage to turn trivial issues into deal-breaking problems.

There is normally the same underlying narrative as why such business owners and leaders fail to trust – which is that people will take advantage of them if they let them in. Given the high stakes of any leading role, it’s understandable that business owners and leaders are sensitised to what might go wrong. However, there is a difference between having healthy skepticism and assuming bad intentions. Deep control and mistrust come with a very high price – they stop you from ever becoming a real leader.

Understanding Yourself

As the infamous Simon Sinek keeps repeating, leaders need followers. You cannot be a leader if you do not have follows. To have followers you need to learn how to work, collaborate, communicate and convince others. Leadership is made up of a complex set of skills and attributes. It combines active listening, emotional intelligence, managing conflict, shared problem solving, self-regulation, humility, curiosity and a caring orientation towards others. Sometimes business owners and leaders might have cultivated some of these things, but not enough of all of them for others to see them as true leaders. It would help if you examine yourself to understand in which areas you lack sufficient skill.

Becoming a better leader

Once you’ve determined what keeps you from becoming a better leader, you can take steps to develop your skills. Always remember what you learned above about why you struggle — those insights will direct you from where you need to begin your learning leadership journey. Keep in mind that your current behaviors are a reflection of the person that, consciously or unconsciously, you believe you are. So, if you want to be a better leader you first need to adopt the mindset of a true leader. Here are some tangible ways to set you on becoming a better leader.

  • Be open to change and new ideas: Taking new perspectives is a prerequisite to empathy and compassion. Ask questions to challenge your point of view and clarify the other person’s. Doing so sends a strong signal that you care about other people’s perspective.
  • Value others equally and learn interdependence: Learn that for your business organisation to really move forward you need others working with you to succeed and they need you to succeed. Hence interdependence. Acknowledge that interdependence is a strong tool and can only be so by deepening relationships. Identify critical people you rely on and those who depend on you. Spend time with them. When you’re with them, notice what your brain is doing — questioning motives. Building and maintaining trusting relationships is the foundation of sustainable collaboration.
  • Act on what you learn. This will increase the changes that others start seeing you as a genuine leader. The key here is to be genuine. If you do these steps in a performative way, people will see right through it, which will set your reputation back further.
  • Create moments of generosity. Look for intentional ways to help others without getting nothing in return. Notice what it feels like to give without getting. How did the recipient of your kindness respond? If this is new behaviour for you, don’t be surprised if others are a bit cautious at first. They might not yet appreciate this at first, but please be patient and give it time.
  • Share the spotlight and give credit. Find ways to purposefully cede the stage to someone else when it’s shining on you. This exposes new talent to new audiences and builds that person’s confidence and sense of pride. In addition, this helps others experience you as a leader who doesn’t hog the limelight.
  • Ask for advice. Approach any one you trust, a competent friend, a knowledgeable business advisor with anything you need help on to become a better leader. This will show humility and that you understand you need others.

Leadership is a journey to an unachievable quest – that of becoming a perfect leader. So do be encouraged that just like you, there are many business leaders out there working on strengthening their leadership skills.You can do it, even if it feels like a very difficult challenge. There is enough evidence out there showing that you can become a better leader if you work hard at it and learn. In today’s hyper-connected world it is the inclusive, humble and other-oriented leaders that are seen as being the most credible and influential.

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