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How to Reduce Leader Failure

January 19, 2016

leader-failure.jpgLeaders can have a very large influence on the functioning of organizations and teams. They set direction, inspire others to perform, develop staff, drive performance, and much more. They have a huge span of influence and can really dictate the health of the company. Well, what if I told you that approximately 50% of leaders fail at their job? Pretty scary, right?

Failure at this level of the organization can have very widespread impacts. Not only is it a financial burden when taking into account the costs of selection, recruitment, onboarding, and training, but it can also disrupt employee morale and public perceptions of the organization. Additionally, one of the biggest reasons why employees leave their organization is because of their relationship with their manager. If their manager fails to develop effective relationships or set their employees up for success, this negative interaction could influence the subordinate’s motivation to stay with the company.

Why do 50% of leaders fail?

One of the reasons why this statistic is so high is a result of the selection process used. When examining whether current employees would do well in a higher, leadership role, we often focus too heavily on an employee’s current performance. Performance is a good gauge of employees’ skills in the current role, but what about their potential for other roles? One of the major reasons why leaders fail so frequently is that skills and competencies needed across positions and leadership levels differ.

For example, as an individual contributor, it may be absolutely critical to execute work through planning and organizing, focusing on the details, and following through on work in a reliable manner. However, in a leadership position, execution may take a back seat while strategic thinking and leading others may come to the forefront. Usually, strategic thinking and leading others are not expected for individual contributor roles. Since these competencies are not essential, there is no way of knowing whether they would excel or fail at these competencies by only looking at their performance review. Potential weaknesses in these areas could be hidden. Therefore, a solid performer may not do as well in other types of roles.

A few steps to reduce leader failure

The occurrence of leader failure can be reduced through selection and development. First, good selection systems can focus on the competencies that are necessary to be successful in leadership roles. They take into account what’s needed to be successful in the leadership role for which someone is being considered as a potential for promotion, as opposed to what’s important in their current role. Intrapersonal qualities, such as self-awareness and integrity, are particularly important because insight of their own errors can prevent overconfidence, a common problem of derailed leaders.

Social skills and empathy are necessary for building relationships with colleagues and key stakeholders. The ability to navigate and understand the business realm is critical for decision-making. All of these skills, among others, relate to the importance of leadership skills: the ability to effectively staff, direct, and motivate others.

Leaders who fail often lack self-awareness, have difficulty working and communicating with others, are unable to think strategically or deal with ambiguous situations, and fail to recognize talent in others. Strong selection systems that focus on these core intrapersonal, interpersonal, business, and leadership skills are better able to identify those least likely to fail once in a position of leadership.

Another way to prevent leader failure is through development. By taking a leadership assessment and creating a developmental action plan using the assessment data, efforts can be focused on identifying, understanding, and combating derailing tendencies. Becoming more aware of one’s strengths and areas for development is the first step in ensuring progress and success in one’s role. Based on the insight report, goals can be set to target developmental opportunities towards building one’s weaknesses to better prepare for the road ahead.

While leader failure cannot entirely be prevented, the likelihood can be reduced by taking these simple steps.

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Alissa Parr, Ph.D. Alissa Parr, Ph.D. is a Senior Consultant at PSI. Her areas of expertise include the development, implementation, and evaluation of assessment processes. Alissa has experience managing entry-level through executive level assessment and selection efforts across a number of different industries including government, financial, military, education, healthcare, and manufacturing.