Organizations Dont Fail Leaders Do– Clueless, Visionless, Reckless, Feckless: Where Have All The Great Leaders Gone?

Leaders fail mostly because they are: Clueless–incompetent, ignorant, inexperienced, naive, lacking understanding or knowledge… Reckless–careless, irresponsible, foolhardy, inattentive, mindless, thoughtless… Feckless–ineffective, lacking thought, organization necessary to succeed, careless, lacking purpose… Visionless–lacking intelligent foresight, imagination, uninspired…

According to Mike Myatt; when you strip away all the excuses, explanations, rationalizations and justifications for organization failure, you’ll find only one plausible reason– poor leaders and leadership. When examining the responsibilities of leaders and leadership that are directly attributed to the organization’s failure some of the more common reasons include: Lack of vision, lack of execution, flawed strategy, poor management, toxic culture, no innovation, inability to attract and retain talent… Leading to conclusion and general consensus that ‘organizations don’t fail leaders do’…

According to Ron Ashkenas; leaders of the past almost always seem more effective than those of today– it’s a perceptual bias: We long for what we don’t have, and mythologize what we used to have. But even taking this bias into consideration, many of today’s leaders don’t seem to measure up to our expectations… According to a survey conducted by the Harvard Kennedy School last year, 68% of Americans believe that there is a leadership crisis. Many people speak about leaders of the past decades and how they not only inspired confidence, but also respect, reverence, passion…

Sure these past leaders had their flaws as well, but they were courageous and decisive and could communicate in ways that made it clear what they stood for… According to a study by the search firm Crist Kolder Associates; CEO turnover in Fortune 500 and S&P 500 firms are running at 13%, up from 10% last year. However, the irony is that more money has been spent on leadership development in the last two decades– in both the public and private sectors– than was probably spent in the previous ten decades combined… So why are we not turning out better leaders across the board?

Of course comparing leaders from different generations has no right answer– just like the arguments about who would win an athletic contest between teams from different eras. But if reflecting on the question helps to find ways of improving leaders-leadership effectiveness today, maybe its worth some debate…

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In the article Where Have All The Leaders Gone? by Lee Iacocca writes: A leader is strong and confident, someone who is not deterred by criticism, setbacks. A leader is disciplined, focused, hard-working, unrelenting… Leaders inspire people to believe in themselves… But sadly, as I look at the world stage today, I do not see great leaders– leaders who are willing to make the difficult decisions required to move us out of economic and political crisis… For example; can you think of a single current leader who stands tall alongside the likes of Lincoln, Gandhi, Churchill, Eisenhower, Reagan, Mandela, Thatcher, Gorbachev, Martin Luther King, or Franklin Roosevelt?

Whether we agreed with or even liked these people– and most of them were very controversial during their day– we cannot doubt that they were true leaders in every way. They were strong, inspiring, disciplined, unrelenting, and focused. They had clear articulated visions and believed in ideals, principles… larger than themselves, had goodness in their hearts, and were undeterred by criticism…

However, there is an interesting irony– that even with the assumption that today’s world lacks great leaders the world has, arguably, never been a better place even with all of its faults… As a whole and even with some glaring exceptions, the world is more civilized, better educated, less threatened by wars and disease, better integrated, less discriminatory, better fed and housed, and more democratic and peaceful than just a few centuries or even a few decades ago…

We have come a very long way in a relatively short time, but much remains to be done. We need a new generation of business, education, religious, and political leaders to help us get to an even better place… I don’t know where all the great leaders have gone, but I’ve concluded that a more important question: How do we produce the new great leaders we so desperately need?

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In the article Getting Stuck in Clueless as a Leader by writes: We’ve all been clueless at some point in our life; the place where you ‘don’t know what you don’t know’. But, leaders getting stuck in ‘clueless’ are dangerous. Leaders that hold an underlying leadership belief that ‘ignorance is bliss’ is a sure path to failure. When you hear leaders using the more socially acceptable ‘not having enough time’ or ‘it’s not my job’ explanation for not dealing with people problems or thorny cross department issues… what you are really hearing is their belief in ‘ignorance is bliss’.

Leaders get stuck in clueless because the alternative state, being anxious (where we ‘know that we don’t know’) is too uncomfortable. It’s the place where we have to make a conscious decision to change how we are managing or thinking, or pretend there is no problem, or that a problem doesn’t have anything to do with me… Anxiety serves a critical role for leaders; it can jump-start your curiosity making you most open to learning… It’s when you can acquire the knowledge and skill you need to solve a problem, create a new solution, find a new way…

However, if you don’t capture your anxiety and manage it with thoughtful reflection, you’ll find yourself in one of two places: The activity trap— where you feel compelled to take lots of action or create lots of activity with few results… Or, the dig in your heels trap— where defensiveness takes over and you resist any efforts for change… According to Bob Rosen; healthy leaders possess three features of intellectual health– deep curiosity, adaptive mindset, paradoxical thinking– that will equip them to handle the complexities that beset an organization.

How you think about things creates the framework for how you will respond: If you think feeling anxious is bad, too uncomfortable, then you will most likely postpone dealing with the red flags that pop in the organization– things fester and then you must deal with a crisis… Instead, build a curious brain; take the time to stop– take a breath, reflect, simply ask questions. When you invest in learning, you can actually—‘get to know what you don’t know’…

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In the article When Leaders Don’t Lead: Consequences, Causes, Cures by Bill Cole and Rick Seaman write: There are occasions when leaders are unwilling or unable to lead… The consequences of failure to lead will vary with the severity of the situation. When business conditions are fairly stable and competitive environment is not particularly demanding, leaders failure may not be that damaging and often mitigated… However, when business is going through dramatic change, failure of leaders to actively lead the company through the changes can be catastrophic.

Biggest risk of failed leadership is when the competitive environment is changing rapidly but the corresponding changes in the organization are either too little or too late, such that the organization is unable to satisfy their customers’ needs… and that puts organization’s very survival at stake– often the leader’s actions are too late to do anything about it… Leaders who think inaction is a viable choice delude themselves and they unfortunately believe they can continue with the status quo and the hope that the problems will go away, which is clearly a dangerous delusion…

Leaders fail because they allow themselves to become narrow, while thinking that they are being broad and inclusive. Leaders fail when they are overly focused and listen only to their own intentions rather than being– agile, reflective… they become visionless, clueless, reckless… According to Gary Rushin; inept leaders and leadership causes organization failure… strip away all the excuses, explanations, rationalizations, and justifications for failure and, in the majority of cases, it’s just poor leaders and leadership… 

According to Joel Kurtzman; leaders need to learn from failure, and create an environment where it’s safe to fail, an environment that supports innovative behavior. In an environment where people are tolerant of failure then– there are more new ideas,  more people embark on new paths, start new initiatives, break new ground… According to Gael O’Brien; during crises or challenges, some leaders know how to relate to what employees are feeling, and get them to respond, focus, perform… They are resilient because they understand how to work and collaborate with the team…

According to Sam Palazzolo; most people think of Richard Branson as today’s ‘uber-successful’ billionaire, or as the Queen calls him ‘Sir Richard Branson’. However, did you know that Branson spent much of his business life doing things that could be considered ‘clueless’? For example: He knew nothing about retail, so decided to start a record store–Clueless. He decided to start an airline (again, a risky and complex business that he knew absolutely nothing about)–Clueless. Recently, he’s determined to create the world’s first airline dedicated to outer space flight travel–Clueless…

So, the next time you are approached because of your ‘clueless’ leadership thoughts-positions by your peers, superior-subordinates, or even yourself, you might want to rethink that input… It appears as though Richard Branson is not only exhibiting leadership with a ‘clue’, but also because he seems to be having one heck of a great time doing it!  Then, what’s wrong with being ‘clueless’ if these are the results? So, go forth… Be clueless, or Not!