Why leaders fail

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Benjamin Franklin once said that all of mankind falls into one of three classes - those who are movable, those who are immovable and those who move. After 21 years as a fighter pilot, air liaison officer, joint terminal attack controller, operational war planner, staff officer, commander and student - in combat and peacetime - I have directly observed and experienced all three classes with regard to leadership examples. In my experience, here are 10 causes of leadership failure:

1. Inability to organize details. "The devil is in the details," as they say. Definiteness of plans and mastery of details lead to confidence and decisiveness. As Louis Pasteur said, "Chance favors the prepared mind."

2. Unwillingness to render humble service. Great leaders are ready and willing, when required, to perform any work they ask others to perform. A cornerstone of my philosophy has always been to work for my people as hard as they work for me.

3. Expectations of pay/reward for what you know instead of what you do with what you know. You should always do more than what you're paid for. A lack of ambition to aim above mediocrity is a recipe for leadership disaster. As Michelangelo said, "The danger for most of us is not that we aim too high and fall short of the mark, but that we aim too low and strike our target." Everyone has heard of RHIP - Rank Has Its Privileges. Well, there's also RHIR - Rank Has Its Responsibilities. One of the tradeoffs of a leadership position is the necessity of willingness to do more than what is required of one's followers.

4. Fear of competition from others (peers or followers). One who fears that his position will be taken by another is guaranteed to see that fear realized. Booker T. Washington had a philosophy that there are two ways of exerting strength: one is by pushing people down and the other is by pulling them up.

5. Lack of imagination. We must all follow rules, laws and regulations. However, these are only constraints within which we must operate. Too often leaders "blindly" follow these rules without realizing there is ample (even significant) room for flexibility and creativity within those boundaries. Colin Powell shared his perspective with reactive and proactive analogies. Constrained (reactive) thinking is: I cannot do something unless I have been specifically told to do so; I will wait until asked or told. Imaginative (proactive) thinking is: I can do anything that has not been specifically prohibited; I will seek out and do what needs to be done. There is a world of difference between these perspectives.

6. Lack of self-control/selfishness. Those who cannot control themselves have no chance of effectively leading others. Also, the best leaders do not seek or claim honors for themselves. They are content (and even excited) to see honors go to their followers. Also, procrastination, which stems from a lack of self-discipline, is a death knell to effective leadership.

7. Intemperance/intolerance. Either of these will rapidly destroy the cooperative nature of any relationship or organization.

8. Disloyalty. Loyalty is a two-way street. Mistakes will happen, but loyalty must always remain in effective organizations. This is loyalty to superiors, peers and subordinates.

9. Emphasis on "authority" of leadership. There are two forms of leadership - by consent or by force. History and experience are filled with evidence that leadership by force does not endure. People will follow forced leadership - temporarily, and not willingly.

10. Emphasis of title. Rank is important in a military organization. However, competent leaders do not require that rank or a title to gain the respect of followers. Overemphasis on title is a sign of egotism and vanity, which will not garner enthusiastic support of subordinates.

Out of this list, notice there is only one "skill-based" attribute (organization of detail). All of the remainder are attitude-based characteristics. There is a saying in business circles and a perspective validated by Gallup polls - "people do not quit their jobs, they quit their bosses." Watch out for these causes of leadership failures and your people will not want to quit you.