Executives fail for many reasons, but based on my executive coaching practice, it is clear that leaders fail more often out of self-limiting behavioral patterns than on technical competence.
Here are four common patterns:
1. Inability to think and scale contribution to the enterprise level to optimize the whole.
This really is a skill. Some people have a natural ability to think strategically or at a systems perspective, to be able to get up in their hot air balloon and see the whole. Others do not. Whether you are blessed with this endowment or not, it is an essential element of executive leadership. Otherwise, a leader makes local decisions that sub-optimize the whole. The good news is that is can be developed.
2. Unwillingness to respond to ethical dilemmas that pit stewardship against self-interest.
I say unwillingness here because this is primarily a motivation problem rather than an ability problem. The most recent example is Mark Hurd who stepped down last week as CEO of HP for fudging expense reports. When executives do not have high integrity, they can lose everything.
3. Inability to adapt to the speed and volatility of the competitive environment–what I call turbulence capacity.
It is vital that executives develop the ability to adjust constantly in the midst of unpredictable and unforgiving markets. It’s the nature of the landscape today. So if you crave security, constancy, and equilibrium, executive leadership will always be painful.
4. Inability to communicate effectively and hold people accountable–basic blocking and tackling.
This is interpersonal effectiveness 101, but it’s also the place where most executives fail most often. It takes huge emotional energy and fortitude to maintain the constant requirement of communicating clearly and effectively and holding people accountable for their results. It is in this arena that inertia takes over in an instant if we allow it.
Leadership over time really is a function of stamina and endurance as it relates to these two functions. Even if you start well, there is always the temptation that, once established, things can take care of themselves, that it will become self-executing. It doesn’t work that way.
The central role of a leader is to communicate direction and to hold people accountable for performance.
Timothy R. Clark, Ph.D., is president of management consulting firm, TRCLARK.
He helps in strategy, organizational transformation, and leadership development.
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