Seven Signs of an Impending Leadership Failure

by Andy Wood on January 27, 2014

in Five LV Laws, Hoarders, Leadership, Life Currency, LV Alter-egos, LV Cycle, Pleasers, Principle of Legacy, Protecting Your Investment

leadership failure

Nobody who takes on a leadership role sets out to blow it.  I’ve never heard of a CEO who dreamed of halving his market share, a pastor who fantasized about getting the right foot of fellowship, or a government leader who longs to go from hero to zero.

But leadership failure happens.  Often. And while it can happen quickly at times, usually there are warning signs.  Unfortunately, most of the time we wait for hindsight to convince us of what foresight and insight have probably been hollering all along.

If you’re a leader, or have the ear of one, you may want to pay attention to these seven warning signals before it’s too late.


Jeremiah Denton was an acknowledged national war hero and POW from the Viet Nam war.  He leveraged that to become the first Rear Admiral ever elected to the U.S. Senate, representing Alabama, in 1980.  He lost after one term to Richard Shelby.  And the thing that tipped the scales the most was Denton in his own words.  In a televised response to why he so rarely returned to his home state, he snapped, “I can’t be down here patting babies on the butt and get [much] done in Washington.”

Shelby ran that clip over and over in the campaign. The message:  Your senator doesn’t care about you, much less your baby’s diaper rash. And regardless of how valid the claim, when the leader leaves the perception that people in the organization, the congregation, or the nation don’t matter, the clock starts ticking.


Richard Nixon is well-known for the way he completely isolated himself in the White House, allowing aides Bob Haldeman and John Erlichman to run interference for him against his own cabinet and White House staff. He would spend hours writing notes and memoranda on legal pads, and later himself admitted to being paranoid about secrecy.

Solitude is one thing; isolation is another.  And what makes isolation so destructive to leadership is that you lose the ability to connect the needs of people to sources of power.  And when people conclude that you’re not helpful anymore, they’ll find someone else who is. You may keep the job for a while, but you’ve lost your ability to do anything with it.


I once knew a pastor…

Wait.  Let me revise that.  I once knew a couple of pastors…

Oh. Wait.  One more try:  I’ve lost count of the number of pastors who started their ministries with a vision and direction for reaching that vision, only to see that vision reduced to week-to-week survival.  Years ago I had one visionless minister look me in the eye and say, “You know, you never really change anybody.”

What was I supposed to do with that, other than pray he finds success as a hog caller or something?  Instead he stayed at his church another 15 years or so as it dwindled to a shell of what it once was.

Of course, such loss of direction isn’t limited just to preachers. Just ask your boss, if you dare, how she or he expects things to be different a year from now.


Aimlessness says, “I don’t know.” Apathy says, “I don’t care.”  And it’s possible for people in places of power to keep their positions for years doing the same old things, but losing touch with their “why” in the process.

This happens in education. Perhaps no field attracts more starry-eyed people, intent on shaping the future by influencing a new generation of world-changers.  But check back later, after about a decade of squeezing from administrators and politicians, intimidation and fear from an unsafe learning environment, budget cuts from school boards, and over one million grades entered.  Tell me then who still has the stars in their eyes.  Oh, you can find them.  They’re the ones who have never lost touch with what truly matters most to them.


I once knew a leader who was an exceptional communicator. He won the hearts of his constituents with a stunning ability to speak with clarity and passion, and to listen with humility and attentiveness.  But somewhere along the way he shelved that – I think because he got some awful advice. By the time he left the organization he had almost singlehandedly destroyed it.  How? By completely disconnecting himself from the people he was supposed to be leading.

Poor communication or a lack of it doesn’t just kill a marriage. It sabotages leadership as well. This happens when people in places of authority stop listening to constituents or start communicating on a “need to know” basis.  (PSSSSSST!  Hey doughhead!  Big fat hint coming…If you lead people, they need to know.)


Jimmy Carter was one of the finest human beings ever to occupy the Oval Office. Unfortunately, his presidency will always be characterized by a hand-wringing kind of perplexity at the deep problems of the day, including the Iranian Hostage Crisis, the long lines at gas stations, and the economy.  One newspaper stated in 1979:  “The United States is now a victim of a loss of nerve and will, wracked by indecision and groping for a glimpse of inspirational and innovative leadership.”

Ouch. That still stings 35 years later.

Look.  We’re all idiots if we assume all problems are simple to define and easy to fix. I get that.  But people trust their leaders to be problem solvers. And when they lose confidence that you can solve the problem, they start looking for someone else who can.


If you accept any position of leadership, somebody will despise you for showing up. And sooner or later you’ll have to deal with opposition, conflict, mediocrity, competition, accusations and a host of other invitations to “step outside the saloon.” You can try to placate, negotiate, charm and disarm, but in the words of that great leader Arthur Fonzerelli, “Once in your life you had to have hit somebody.”

In leadership terms, just once you have to have fired somebody, confronted somebody, corrected somebody, or at least debated somebody.  Of course there’s a time for compromise – but in leadership there is never an excuse for cowardice.


I prefer to be the bearer of good news than bad.  So let me close on a more positive note.  Deal with these and you’ll still be a leader, only stronger.

How’s that?

Seriously, don’t let your leadership – or the leadership of someone you care about – fall victim to any of these seven influence killers.  The stakes are high.  The cause is worth it.

Joni January 28, 2014 at 6:50 am

Great article!!

Robin January 28, 2014 at 4:25 pm

Great job. Very well said.

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