Key Leadership Failures

The #1 trait of a leader is self-awareness. If we say we want to be authentic leaders, that requires knowing fully our strengths and weaknesses. If we think – “Oh, I’m a good person,” and we shoot-from-the-hip our thoughts, feelings, and statements, we make sense to ourselves in the moment but it can cause regret over the years. We can let ourselves down by wobbling on our ethics, and it is more harmful than miscommunicating with an employee. We rip up trust, loyalty, and fairness in favor of results, accolades, and ego. We create self-doubt in our decisions, judgements, and values. And that is one of the biggest fault lines in our leadership. One of the hallmarks of great leadership is fairness. It sounds easy, and it may be harder than we think.

Here are 4 brutal failures of our leadership:

1. It’s not WHAT is said, it’s WHO said it. Brad, your complainer, comes to you to say his workload and your requirements aren’t compatible and he needs more help, or he risks not being able to achieve your expectations. He has always complained, so you tell him to suck it up and reprioritize. You still expect him to get it done – on time. Jasmine, your rock star, comes to you with the exact same complaint on the exact same issue, and she suggests the same fix – getting her some more help. You begin to look into getting department help from another team, or hiring some temporary assistance. Hmm – it’s less what is said, and more who says it. Being fair sounds good – and may be hard to execute.  Being fair requires looking past our bias!

2. Do as I say, not as I do. This case of integrity failure comes when we tell people when to be at work, but we, as leaders, show up late or leave early. I had a boss one time who would debate with me on how to maintain policy and hold onto a customer who was angry. I struggled with this negotiation – trying to maintain this critical business and keep the relationship intact, while upholding a frustrating payment term policy. My boss chided me and begrudgingly agreed to help. On the customer call, he rolled over on both me and the policy. He reversed his lessons to me, and wound up looking like the hero to the customer. I was minimized. Stunned, I walked away with key learnings about his version of integrity I did not forget. Keep the customer regardless of killing the employee’s spirit, sense of team, and integrity. I now believe integrity may be losing a sale when we do the right thing by our employees, our organization, and the greater good. It’s not easy – welcome to leadership.

3. When “we” becomes “they.” You screw up. Now you blame the team, another department, and your boss. Oh, it just sounds so clear and accurate to you and to others – that we believe our own statements. Those other people truly are the cause of the problem, and it is their fault you look bad. No! You blaming them, even when you are right, is called the low road. Have you ever had a boss take the blame in front of others, or even in front of their boss, for your mistake? That power is paid back ten-fold in loyalty, dedication, commitment, and accountability for all of your future work. The right thing isn’t to dress-us-down when we screw up or blame someone else. Do the exact opposite and WIN! – it will create a better culture, stronger employee engagement, and lasting success.

4. Here’s what happened – And off we go with our story. Or should we say stories – one story for our spouse, another story for our boss, a different one for each of our friends, kids, neighbors, and parents. On any given topic at work or at home, how many stories, variations, and slightly modified tales do we have making us look better in a bad or questionable situation? This concept is reflected in The Law of Congruence by Gandhi, and it is talked about as one of John Maxwells’ 21 irrefutable laws of leadership. We can handle the truth, what we can’t handle is shame. If you change shame to openness and learning, people  will self report problems and come up with solutions to fix things. Fairness is not several versions, it is simply one story. The story. The truth.

It’s all about integrity and trust  – be fair to the truth and maybe you’ll win fewer friends, but you’ll win the right ones!


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