5 Lessons from Leadership Failures
By Tim Irwin Author, Derailed
“Leadership is a stewardship and you’re accountable” – Andy Stanley
In my new book, Derailed: Five Lessons Learned from Catastrophic Failures of Leadership, I share the stories of six high profile leaders who failed and distil what we can learn about how to be better leaders. These insights are drawn from over twenty years of studying top leaders who succeeded as well as those who failed at their jobs.
Derailed is ultimately not about six high profile CEOs—its’ about us. Whether church head, ministry director, committee chairperson, or corporate leader, the lessons of why these leaders cataclysmically failed apply to all of us. We possess the very same potential to derail in our own jobs.
What are the five big lessons we can learn from studying those who derailed?
1. Character Trumps Competence - While being good at what we do is essential, more people fail because of some issue related to character. Many of those I studied were ultimately fired not because of a lack of competence but rather a failure of character. I don’t mean character in the sense of being dishonest and defrauding the organization. Rather, the absence of one or more of four dimensions of character is clearly tied to derailment: authenticity, self-management, humility, and courage. The full expression of the dark side of these qualities nearly always dooms us.
2. Arrogance is the Mother of All Derailers - Arrogance takes many forms. The most rudimentary is the self-centered focus that fosters a belief that I am central to the viability of the organization, the church, the ministry, the department or the team. A dismissiveness of others’ contributions is inevitable.
3. Lack of Self/Other Awareness is a Common Denominator of All Derailments - A failure of self-management and the imperceptive, ill-conceived, impulsive or volatile actions that follow are certain derailers. Leaders who eschew corrective feedback become “truth-starved.”
4. We Are Always Who We Are…Especially Under Stress - Stress brings out what’s inside us. If you don’t think you have a dark side to your character, then you probably haven’t been under enough stress! Wise leaders manage their stress levels and mitigate its pernicious impact on our behavior.
5. Derailment is Not Inevitable, but without Attention to Development, it is Probable - Derailment is a process that proceeds in predictable stages. Ignoring the early warning signs puts us in great peril.
Effective leaders must set direction, gain alignment among diverse constituencies, risk change, build high-performing teams, achieve results, go the extra mile and endure ungodly stress. However, to be enthusiastically followed, leaders must also be guided by an inner compass that fosters trust on the part of their followers. That compass is character. When character is seriously compromised, derailment often follows.
3 John 8