Why leaders fail?

Africa, leaders
Patrick OWUSU

I have a great obsession for quality leadership and shaping leaders’ perception about the right way of leading their subordinates or followers to a decisive end. Having studied people’s core values, belief systems, lifestyles, opinions, attitudes, strengths and weaknesses of organizations and nations for over two decades, I have come to the conclusion that most people are hungry for the right leaders to help chart their course. In other words, wise followers want to be led but they will not easily follow someone that appears distasteful, repugnant and repulsive to them or unworthy of their support. For your information, followers must not be managed but properly led. We rather manage a situation or politely resolve an issue in a professional manner.

Dealing with countless numbers of people from various backgrounds particularly academic, government, corporate organizations, medical fields, clergy, etc. has enlightened my scope on the issue of leadership, and I have come to the conclusion that, generally, decisive subordinates will refuse to place their trust into the hands of an unproven leader who does not know where he or she is going.

l have had the opportunity to observe leadership at many levels; in the home setting, church, colleges; in our universities (public and private), in our corporate world and more importantly, at the national level. And to my astonishment, most of the challenges faced have nothing to do with absence of resources but bad leadership.

Africa as a continent has a bright future but we are bogged down by uncountable glitches, hiccups or problems stemming from the office of most of the leaders that see leadership as only a position instead of total service towards the development of mankind.

In contrast, leadership is not positional but functional. In other words, holding a position in government or in any corporate/educational organization or having authority does not necessarily make one a leader. Position only provides opportunities whereas functional or servant leadership inspires, motivates and ignites group members’ passion towards achieving a common goal.

It is great being a leader over hundreds, thousands or even over millions of people. Your positive influence is more than a magnetic force. It does attract the hearts of followers to your ideals, charisma or personality. Nevertheless, leaders fail in the pursuit of their dream(s) when malevolent, malicious and spiteful practices or attitudes emerge to thwart the confidence followers have in them.

In effect, when leaders fail in their pursuit, it is their immediate society and generations yet unborn who suffer the most. In this article, we delve into some of the attitudes which speedily impede the movement of effective and efficient leaders. These spiteful attitudes, which are extracts from my book, 16 Reasons Why Leaders Fail are some of the pointers of leadership failure. For lack of space, let us examine five of these reasons:

  1. Unhealthy Competition

With competition, especially in the economic sphere, the consumer is protected, because it helps to keep thieves out of the market and guarantees quality at lower prices. In that sense, one needs to be highly competitive in winning the hearts of consumers or clients. To this effect, new products are introduced to get the minds of clients on particular organisation. Sometimes, the haste to manufacture a product is borne out of the fear of losing customers to competitors. But the sad thing is that, some of these products introduced are of a low quality. This is indeed, the negative effect of competition.

Competition may also be debated from an angle of being good as without it, man would have little to achieve. In the school setting for example, the crave for an award either in the form of scholarship or for recognition in class may be a student’s aspiration. In that case, his/her input may be competitive with others for the ultimate prize. In a corporate organisation too, workers may compete among themselves for higher salaries or promotions. In this sense, they stay longer to do an additional time or pursue further studies to earn more money or get promoted to a higher office. But there is a price for leaders to pay if they suffer from the sickness of ‘competition anxiety’ that takes the form of either the fear of failure or the fear of success. This ‘competition anxiety’ is what I call unhealthy antagonism. It is unhealthy because it leads to unnecessary emotional disturbances or responsive disproportions.

The fear of failure stifles unwholesome competition because the leader will be afraid to proceed or get involved with his line of action. In that case, his achievement will be curtailed and he will suffer loss of identity.  Unhealthy competition makes one compete with his co-worker, neighbours, friends or extended family trying to prove that he/she is more successful or highly recognized. Consequently, one wastes his energy and time running after frolicsome or frivolous stuffs at the expense of focusing on one’s path.

The problem with unhealthy competition is, it is an unending cycle. It keeps on moving in a vicious cycle especially when one is highly projected than the other. The outcome of this emotional imbalance is its aberrant jealousy or uneasiness. Thus, one becomes unhappy at the mention of the exploits of his/her competitor.  But then, truth cannot be buried; there will always be people ahead of you in terms of wealth, material possessions or even higher in the academic ladder.

Some people are more abrasive, scratchy or uncomfortable because they pay more attention to what others are, what others have, what they do, where they are, what they earn, what they wear or what they drive. To overcome this, a leader must do some very serious reality-check to know what this unhealthy competition really is and not what his delusions and imaginations tell him.

He must change his own self-concept in accordance with reality. Until a leader stays focused on his vision, the negative emotional antiphons or responses he receives when he hears of the strides his competitors are making will break him down.

The fear of success has also crippled a lot of leaders.  A leader with this kind of psychosis or phobia will develop increasingly guilty feelings as he and the organization move towards achieving their goal. This kind of person may strive hard, but will usually falter before the actual achievement.  He will often find some excuses to block the realization of the ultimate goal.

In the church as a Christian organization for example, competition should not be stressed because a rival spirit is contrary to strengthening the body of Christ.  We are told that, “in honour, we are to prefer or exalt the other person” (Romans 12:10).

A good leader must find the proper balance between providing enough competition to motivate his workers to achieve their goals and yet not having so much antagonism that a spirit of rivalry rules amongst the workers.  They need to be a team that can work together for the common good of the organization. Therefore, if you are competitive and always looking for ways to outsmart others, you may never know who you are, what you have and what you can do. Automatically, you may fail in your life’s pursuit as a leader because of the unhealthy competitive spirit you possess. So, identify your area of speciality and stay there till you succeed.

  1. Ill-Advice

We all know how dreams thrive better when the dreamer (leader) is in the right environment. Within that condition, he is encouraged to purposefully move ahead in achieving his dream. Research also shows that most dreams become achievable as a result of wise counsel from selfless advisors. Good advisors are the anchor of a dreamer’s success. Their advice is precise, concise and timely, thereby propelling a dreamer (leader) to a new height of discovery.

On the contrary, dreams have been shattered because of ill-advice from diabolic advisors. Take a look at Ahithophel (David’s counsellor in the Old Testament of the Bible) for example. With David, his counsel was like the oracle of God. Nonetheless, when he left the environment of David to join Absalom, the rebellious son of David in a coup d’état, all his ill-advice to Absalom in terrorizing the kingdom of David never stood. It was then a counsel of foolishness. Imagine an advice from Ahithophel to Absalom to sleep with his father’s concubines:

 “And Ahithophel said unto Absalom, Go, in unto thy father’s concubines, which he hath left to keep the house; and all Israel shall hear that thou are abhorred of thy father: then shall the hands of all that are with thee be strong. So, they spread Absalom a tent upon the top of the house; and Absalom went in unto his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel” (2Samuel 16:21-22).

An advice like this from Ahithophel will certainly lead to the unfortunate ‘demise’ of a leader. Imagine being advised to sleep with ten women in a day to inflict pain on your opponent. Imagine being coerced by a schemer to steal from the government’s chest. Imagine being advised by a friend to be sexually engaged with a friend’s spouse.  Imagine an advice from a friend to deny your workers’ right rewards due them.

Imagine an advice from a friend to condone and connive in a fraudulent act. Imagine a diabolic advice from a close associate to come out with measures as a Human Resource Manager to lay off productive workers from the company in order to replace them with the CEO’s favourites. These are some of the evil approaches every true leader needs to be wary of.

As a leader, I have come to know that adhering to an ill-advice from an evil person and going to the extent of implementing those malicious measures never end well with leaders. In the long run, leaders fail in their leadership pursuit after implementing a selfish policy or responding to their selfish desires. Again, the end of every conspirator has always been horrific. Ahithophel for example, committed suicide in his home for failing in all his plans (2Samuel 17:23). Thus, let’s be careful of the voices we hear especially in our dire need.

  1. Wrong Materials in The Leader’s Boat

Every leader needs qualified people to work with. A leader cannot work in isolation. He needs competent, experienced, skillful and knowledgeable people who understand his vision and they are willing to sacrifice their time, energy and other rich resources in helping him achieve the common vision. Sometimes, in the absence of any competent person to join your team, you should take your time to look for a humble, focused and hardworking person who is willing to receive instructions, advice and training from your end. Until you have a good material in your boat, the pride, utterances, superiority complex and ulterior motive subordinate of the wrong material in your boat may sabotage the healthy atmosphere in your organisation. In most   The unfortunate thing is, in search of people to work with us, we indirectly rush to import the wrong materials (people) in our boat (home, church, corporate organisation or national duty).

Sometimes, most leaders never take time in assessing the character, competence and performance levels until the unfortunate incident takes place. Most people hide their true identity till they attain a certain position. In that case, they become a grim thorn in the flesh of a dreamer or leader and finally create confusion and resistance towards the progress of the organisation.

Certain standards not properly set in our homes, churches or our corporate/educational institutions have allowed illegal ‘tenants’ and selfish team members to rummage the peace a leader enjoys. Who is in your boat, Mr. Leader? In his book, The 21 Irrefutable laws of Leadership, Maxwell (1998), affirms that, “the wrong person in the right place equals to frustration on the part of the leader.”

You will never have your peace of mind if you chance upon the wrong team-player on your board. Such a person is in to destroy what you have toiled for years. On the surface, he or she may appear appealing to you but behind the scene, they may be the cause of all the problems in your set up.

A wrong person on your leadership board transports important but private information within the organisation and makes it public. He/she is a schemer, ready to destroy your vision. Watch out!  Some of these traitors may be talented, wise, helpful, and quite intelligent. But wait a minute. If a leader doesn’t continuously manage the actions of his people or team members in an effective and efficient manner, they rather disappoint him at a time he urgently needs them.

Most leaders in politics, churches, educational institutions, homes, etc. have had their own bad nuts. For example, in a certain jurisdiction, some officers who were offered scholarship to be well-trained in the military service to provide security to their countries later on rebelled and through acts of sedition, sought to overthrow a visionary sitting government. In this vein, it is dangerous to have a team player with an ulterior motive who takes certain decisions concerning the organisation without the knowledge of the leader. If a leader rather takes instructions from his or her team member, then he/she has totally failed in his pursuit of true leadership. It is prudent to receive suggestions instead and not a command from a subordinate.

An untrained mature helper with an ulterior motive at home may be a ‘terrorist’ who ends up causing the downfall of a nice marriage of a couple. Until wrong people are tactfully or diplomatically dealt with, a leader will continuously fail in all his endeavours. Till you rightly discern the heart of a person, never make a move in getting someone on your board. So, who is in your boat?

  1. Pride

Thinking too much of oneself and resisting corrections from an experienced person is pride. Over the years, leaders who never accepted their mistakes in  moments of despondency or hopeless situations but insisted on their right found themselves behind penitentiary, or a state of humiliation. Occupying a high position makes some people think that they are on top of the world. They never respect others. They talk to people as if they are of no value. When angry, they throw tantrum at every subordinate.

They yell at their subordinates and injure them with disastrous statements. In their fits of anger, their words are like a piercing double-edged sword which cuts deep into the soul and marrow of people. Proud leaders manhandle their staff and treat them as if they are not part of the human race. Leaders therefore fail because of this canker of pride.

Leaders who are full of themselves have difficulty in being humble because they often need reassurance through the praises of others. I have watched highly gifted acquaintances who have manifested this character failure and moved on as if they have done nothing wrong. I was in a meeting some time back when a young vicar or priest who had been given an opportunity by his senior cleric to address the conference audience lost a great opportunity. For the start, he spoke so well until the bombshell was released: he claimed to be extremely more intelligent than anyone in his ecclesiastical set up and that was why he was appointed to speak.

His utterance, at that point, made people uncomfortable till some individuals left the meeting feeling deeply disappointed in the senior vicar for asking such a person to speak. This young leader was carried away by the caliber of people within the hall and therefore wanted to impress the audience. However, he had no idea of a great door of opportunity that could have opened for him but for his pride, he lost it.

Again, I have seen skillful musicians, who had a chance to minister on a big platform but through their negative utterances and actions, they missed an opportunity of being invited again. In my opinion, when people start raising their voice against your continuous negative attitude, their words travel faster to places unknown to you thereby closing all those doors. When people think they are too big and all others are of no use, they miss their significance. Though professionalism and proper protocol must be observed in your approach as a leader, you must be circumspect in your behaviour.

Proud people who find it difficult to submit to authority have a personality deficiency. Their insubordination is as a result of the negative picture they have created about themselves. They never value those who are above them. Sometimes, it may be out of envy or a self-centredness. Until we deal with the pride in our hearts, we will earnestly fail in our pursuit.

  1. Uncontrollable Sexual Desire

Most influential leaders who occupied great positions in the corridors of power fell as a result of sexual scandal; fornication or adultery. With the evil thoughts of man, fornication, adultery or sexual intimacy with the wrong partner has now been branded as cheating by a cross-section of people. Wow, what a strange word to pamper evil. At the greatest level of success, only a few people are able to control their sexual drive. Most people lead a reckless lifestyle to the extent that they invite strange or outlandish people into their offices or rooms at odd times. If a leader doesn’t master his weaknesses and forcibly responds to his sexual urge, it will automatically bring him down.

In fact, responding to your sexual drive uncontrollably leads to sexual immaturity. There is the need to set boundaries in one’s life so as to avoid sexual temptations. If a leader does not lead an orderly lifestyle, he/she may fall prey to this canker of sexual immorality.

A careless leader who has no respect for integrity and dignity may yield to the temptation of extra-marital affairs, thereby soiling his image. A friend once shared this wisdom quote with me: slightly soiled, greatly reduced in size. Wow! A leader loses his/her integrity if they involve themselves in secret sexual affairs with unmarried partners or other married partners.  There are examples of public figures, companies and government agencies that have been associated with scandals involving character blemishes and violations of the law.

A leader’s character flaw often ends up hurting countless numbers of innocent people. The reason is that, they look up to these leaders for direction and inspiration. Though human, just like any ordinary person with weaknesses, a deficiency in a leader’s illegitimate sexual life pulls him down from his position of magnificence and paralyses the confidence followers have in him.

In conclusion, if you fall short of all these concerns raised, I respectfully ask you to look for an experienced person or a mentor to guide you in your pursuit of true leadership.

The writer is an Academic, Visiting Lecturer, Leadership Consultant, Philanthropist and a Pastor.

Email: [email protected]

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