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12 reasons why you are failing as a leader

Published Mar 7, 2014


Times are tough and most would agree that to succeed as a political, corporate, parastatal, civic or sports leader is becoming harder and harder. Some factors contributing towards this are out of your control, while others are within your control.

Are you currently struggling to turn around your organisation, if you are really honest with yourself? Do you often find yourself lost in your thoughts, many of which are negative, with doubts about your ability to lead your organisation successfully? If you are starting to achieve some success, are you confident that this will be long lasting, or do you actually know deep down that it was luck, or at best a temporary improvement, enough to make you look successful for now at least? Do you lead an organisation that when looked at factually, constantly underperforms, yet you don’t feel responsible, for whatever reason?

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Let me tell you why you are failing. There are at least 12 core reasons, and after reading this, if you are honest with yourself you will have ticked a couple of the boxes. You are failing, or will soon start failing because:

n You do not possess the courage and skills needed to lead an organisation in today’s environment, where you have to somehow build the confidence of your people to achieve the impossible: constant improvement, growth against a backdrop of extraordinary competition and growing stakeholder expectations.

n You underestimate the speed of socio-political and economic change and how these interact. As Bidvest chief executive Brian Joffe said on Wednesday at the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit: “The rate of change is dramatic!” You don’t realise that even though it is becoming more and more difficult to predict these forces in society, you still need to strive tirelessly to understand it as much as possible.

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n You don’t have the humility to make yourself vulnerable, admitting you really don’t know everything, and this is why you do not constantly and honestly engage your team and others around, below and above you for input. This is also why you don’t make enough time to walk the floor and engage those individuals in your organisation that are closest to its essence.

You may realise that you are there to give them clear direction, but the penny has not dropped that as long as you leave the communication of this up to the many structures between you and them only, your message will take too long to filter down. You do not understand that by the time it reaches the essence of the organisation, changes in the environment require you to share yet another message. This is how fast things are changing out there.

n You are not fully convinced that all people in your organisation are important, not to mention that more “important” are those that work closest to the essence of your organisation. You don’t have a desire to be in their presence, but prefer to sit tirelessly in long drawn out meetings with your team, pretending that you and they are the cleverest people in the organisation; that only you and they possess the experience and intelligence to identify core constraints and solutions across the organisation, because you and they are the most senior – one of the greatest falsities of modern day society and capitalism.

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You have not yet learnt that one of the reasons organisations are taking more and more strain is because leaders at the top have become too far removed from those who matter most. At the same time, you still don’t understand that people at the “bottom”, who are usually closest to the essence of the business, are not who they used to be – they are more informed than ever; they are more empowered than ever; they are probably more confident around social media than you are. While they need your wisdom and direction, you should honestly draw on their input, but you don’t because you do not respect them.

n You do not ask the difficult questions on all levels of the organisation that often make those around you uncomfortable. Even though you know the facts are crucial to making correct decisions, you have not yet made a conscious decision that knowing the truth, being respected and doing what is right is most important, definitely more so than being liked or popular.

n You do not care deeply enough about the organisation, as if it is your own. Reasons may vary, but it may be because of your lack of passion for its essence, its product or service. If you had to transfer the same level of caring to your own business, you would most likely fall short of the passion that a true entrepreneur possesses.

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n You tolerate selfish leaders around your boardroom table who care more about their own wealth generation and aspirations than they do about the organisation and its people. You have somehow surrounded yourself with unauthentic individuals who haven’t yet discovered themselves, and refined their motives through hard life experiences. You still have to learn that the authenticity of a leader is one of the greatest weapons against the dynamic, changing environment; that these days leaders who are not authentic are found wanting by their followers.

n You don’t know consciously what it takes to create a positive movement of an organisation and people, so much so that should you have to lead another totally different organisation you will fail miserably. However, if you consciously know how to do this you fail at effectively transferring this crucial skill to all levels of your organisation.

Technical prowess is crucial, but your mistake is that you believe it will take you further in your leadership role, and is more important to your success than your conscious ability to move your organisation and people.

n You have not fully realised that values drive people’s behaviour, and if you have, for some reason you don’t strive tirelessly to create a values driven organisation. Perhaps you even fall short of remaining true to your own set of values, which should match those of your organisation.

n You have a negative attitude towards resistance, challenges, problems and obstacles. You are not fully convinced that these give meaning and purpose to movement, that it develops character of people and organisations, that a difficult time is in actual fact your friend.

n You may be decisive, but you are not decisive in process – when you make decisions it may be fast, but it is not necessarily a universal process that you trust, and it often does not involve important stakeholders.

n In a world that thankfully emphasises corporate governance, you do not fight hard enough against bureaucracy, as if it is a plague; you have not yet learnt that structure, systems, procedures are there to serve your and the organisation’s aspirations and directions, not the other way around. You have not yet found the balance between appeasing compliance to relevant procedures and systems, and delivering on the need for speedy decision-making and movement. You have allowed a culture of compliance to take root rather than a culture of value creation and positive movement.

As a political, corporate or other leader, if you have ticked a couple of these points above, for the good of the organisation, its thousands of employees and their dependants, citizens, South Africa and for your own dignity, resign honourably or change fast!

Adriaan Groenewald, a lead contributor to the BR Leadership Platform, is a leadership expert and the managing director and co-founder of Leadership Platform (visit or follow him on Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP). Send comments to [email protected] or to Business Report editor Ellis Mnyandu at [email protected] (@Ellis_Mnyandu).

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