Why good leaders fail


Leadership development would be far simpler to manage if leadership were a singular, finite competency or set of competencies that applied in all situations across the organisation. However, the fact remains that this is not the reality with which we live and work. Leaders evolve from a wide variety of backgrounds, experience and job functions.

Lyndy van den Barselaar, managing director at ManpowerGroup South Africa explains that while often thought of as a singular capability, leadership is actually several variable sets of skills. Leadership development, therefore, should include differing practical experiences and training/education opportunities unique to the requirements of a specific leadership role. “This should take into account factors like the type and size of the organisation, cultural and geo-cultural environments, and functional responsibilities of the leader,” she says.

When leadership development is not approached in the right way, leaders can often be set up for sure failure. Below, van den Barselaar looks into some examples:

The talent pool is too small

Increasingly, the ability to find the right talent in the right place will become more difficult as demographics shift and the talent mismatch widens. The search for high-potential leadership talent will need to expand beyond traditional pools.

“Inside the organisation, skills development and training need to be prioritised to ensure the existing talent pool is exposed to the right kinds of experiences to prepare them for possible future leadership positions, through succession planning,” suggests van den Barselaar.

The on-boarding process is not well developed

On-boarding and early development is critical to success for leaders, and needs to be deliberate and effective, says van den Barselaar. “Often, if a leadership candidate is internally promoted or is seen to be adequately experienced, the on-boarding process can be ignored by the organisation – meaning a “sink or swim” approach is taken. It is important for businesses to remember that the success of their leaders is one of the greatest catalysts to their success – and should be treated as such,” she says.

The focus is on tasks alone

Successful leaders are not only productive, but they prioritise communication and relationships with their teams. “If the organisation sets goals that focus solely on hard skills and productivity, the leader will be set up for failure in the medium to long term. Soft skills such as listening, developing team members, and communicating effectively are paramount to success in a leadership role,” says van den Barselaar.

The structure isn’t clear

In a situation where roles aren’t clear, negative factors like internal competition can become apparent. The structure of decision-making within the organisation needs to be clear, in order for each member of the team to be able to perform at his or her best.

“While there are many personal factors that may cause leaders to succeed or fail, those connected to the organisation are just as important. Senior management and HR departments need to put an emphasis on implementing effective leadership development strategies – starting today,” concludes van den Barselaar.