Why Do Leaders Fail?

why do leaders fail

A colleague, Eric Holtzclaw recently published an article in INC about why leaders fail. The main reason was inaction or failure to get feedback. When I shared the article with a few senior leader LinkedIn groups, there were several comments that suggested other reasons which are all valid since they relate to each contributor’s experience.

They included:  “wrong” values and questionable ethics, leaders who were more interested in “I” and not “we,” displaying the attitude that they are better than others, arrogance, and creating a culture that stifles collaboration.

There are many other factors that cause leaders to fail beyond this list and I thought this would provoke your thinking about the reasons for failure. In an interesting recent case Mozilla terminated its CEO, Brendan Eich for donating $1k in 2008 to support the ban of same sex marriage in CA. That’s an error in judgment so add that to our list of reasons leaders fail. Unfortunately, these errors in judgment occur frequently at all levels, with the CEO being most visible casualties.


When leaders don’t seek, apply, verify and exercise (SAVE) feedback, they do so because they either believe their way is the right way; they are invulnerable, insecure, or lead in ways that blunt their approachability for upward feedback. Even if a leader seeks feedback from direct reports and managers, getting feedback from peers and customers is also helpful, especially when done in ways to generate direct and candid comments.

Don’t become one of those failing leaders who believe they have nothing to learn. I challenge you to create the list of key stakeholders critical to your success and find time to ask them for feedback and help. People will help only if you ask.

Preventing executive failure

Examples of Derailing Behavior

cps derailing behavior 001

It’s Monday morning at 8 am and you’ve just arrived at work. Before you even have a chance to put your coat down and get a cup of coffee, your boss is in your face yelling at you about an email you didn’t respond to from late Friday afternoon. Is this behavior “normal” for your boss? If your boss does this on a frequent basis, then he/she is exhibiting the common behavior for Bold derailers.

Advance your leadership skills by learning to identify derailing behaviors in yourself and others. Then you can develop strategies for effectively dealing with them. Hogan has identified 11 common derailing behaviors and tips for improving them.

Here’s another situation. At the weekly meeting for your team, one of your colleagues monopolizes the meeting when he doesn’t like any of the ideas provided and can’t make a decision about anything. Your team member is exhibiting the classic derailing behavior of Cautious. In this case, get him to set the priorities of what issues MUST have a decision made and reassure him that any decision made can be altered down the road if it isn’t working.

Another example of a derailing behavior is when your boss or team member constantly talks and interrupts others. They often exhibit a great deal of enthusiasm but lack the ability to focus on one thing. This person is showing common traits associated with the Colorful derailer. Try talking with him/her about listening more to others first before speaking. Another tactic for working with a Colorful derailer is being clear about what is expected behavior for team meetings.



  1. Go to HR and discuss the possibility of bringing in an executive coach or having assessments completed for you and everyone on your team. Ask about the leadership training budget and what is available in-house and outside the company to fully understand your options.
  2. Depending on your relationship with the individual who is exhibiting derailing behaviors, you can write down a few examples of the derailing behavior and discuss it with the person involved. Be sure that it’s a calm and positive conversation in a neutral setting. Make it clear that you’re providing feedback to help them improve their performance and lessen any chances for misunderstanding the person’s behavior and actions.
  3. Review your own behavior and choose one or two derailing behaviors to improve over the next three months. Ask for feedback from your peers and boss on ways to implement positive changes. For example, you could say: “I need your advice on ways I can become less skeptical. What suggestions do you have?” If you lead the way regarding seeking feedback, you’ll create a more open environment where others will feel more comfortable following your example.

There are many examples of derailing behaviors and learning to identifying them so you can better handle the situation will strengthen your leadership skills and create more positive working relationships.

Coaching Tips for Derailers