Three Lessons to Beat Leadership Derailment


Leadership failures of all kinds happen on a weekly basis, with management derailment studies showing that business leaders fail at an alarming rate. Research published in July 2013 in the International Journal of Business and Management found that 30 to 67 percent of leaders fail.

What’s more, the Gallup Business Journal in June 2013 reported that 70 percent of employees are not fully engaged in their jobs. A 2012 Dale Carnegie report also showed that effective leadership creates a culture that powers employee engagement. Carnegie’s study showed that just 29 percent of employees are fully engaged. According to Gallup, this leadership failure costs companies in the United States an estimated $450 billion to $550 billion a year.

Executives have reason to fear, but there may be hope if they take three leadership lessons to heart.

Lesson One: Be a Student of the Game

Key reasons for leadership failure include poor judgment, insensitivity to others, relationship problems, inability to supervise effectively, inability to build a team, ineffective conflict resolution and difficulty in changing. These qualities are detrimental to leaders and contribute to lower morale.

It’s important to develop and maintain razor-sharp business and people skills. Top athletes train continuously to stay competitive. Yet many executives consider themselves above continued training, as a result shutting themselves off from feedback and criticism. To become more effective, leaders need to regularly assess their skills and impact.

Lesson Two: Know the Value of Employee Inclusion and Engagement

Poor execution of strategy often leads to CEO failure. Today, most leaders look to technology as the key to business success. While it’s important, the human resources of a company are crucial as well.

For any executive to succeed, it takes a solid team that is willing to go the extra mile. Smart executives continuously train their employees, build teams, provide two-way communications and recognize both contributions and accomplishments. The Great Place to Work Institute Inc. reports that the top 100 places to work in America provide 53 to 66 hours of training per employee each year.

Lesson Three: Lead With Your Heart, Not Your Bank Account

Poor ethics is one of the foremost causes of failure. A lack of integrity in dealing with employees, customers and other constituents is damaging to all parties. Integrity comes down to the focus of the leader. We all recognize when others are acting in their own best interest at our expense, and we lose trust in them. We become defensive and avoid being taken advantage of.

Leadership derailment has become common in business today, but it’s not inevitable. Leaders who beat the odds and win take steps to develop and grow as leaders. They create positive relationships with their teams and think about others’ needs instead of only their own. The bottom line: Leaders who do these things will take their careers to a much higher level of success.

Rick Conlow is CEO of WCW Partners, a global consulting and training company. Doug Watsabaugh is the firm’s COO. They can be reached at