The Eight Deadly Sins of Leadership (part 1)

This is part 1 of a two-part blog. To read part 2, click here.

Why do some companies succeed and others fail? Sure, part of it is the state of the economy, may be the industry they are in, could be how deep their pockets are. How much of it is leadership? Are we ready to admit that most of a company’s success can be determined by the quality of its leadership?

The Boards of most public companies seems to think so. The average tenure for a CEO is 3 years and decreasing. Southwest Airline’s success, with 30+ successive years of profitability, validates that a profit can be made in an industry full of red ink with the right strategy, and leadership that implements it.

There are leaders that separate themselves from the pack and demonstrate that the right leader can make a difference between growth and decline, profit and loss. That is probably why so many books are written on the topic. (For some suggested reading, please visit my recommendations.)

Leadership is never easy and may need to evolve over time as the company does. All leaders have to stay vigilant—even the great ones. The number one goal is to understand the importance of leadership and spend time leading the organization, not just running it.

In my thirty years of business management experience, there is a list of leadership“sins” committed every day by well intentioned executives. Most likely, these sins are learned from others or developed out of inexperience. All of these “sins” keep your company from achieving its potential in growth, customer satisfaction, productivity, etc.—all key things that link to the bottom line. If you commit any of these sins, you are not alone. Here is the good news: every single one of these “sins” is within your control. You can change them all—start tomorrow!

  1. Time: One of the first questions I ask my clients (executive managers of companies like yours) is what percent of your time do you spend thinking about the future vs. the time you spend managing for today? I have yet to have an executive exclaim, “I spend the right amount of time on thinking about the future.” My question to you is: “If you are not doing that, who in your company is?”
  2. Habit/Success: Habit is usually born of success. We do things a certain way because they have worked in the past. Yet, the world is changing at an increasing pace. Are the ways you do things still working? When was the last time you asked that question? Do you know why things are done the way they are or is that just the way they always have been done? If you can’t explain why something is being done or why it is being done in a certain way, keep digging. You might have stumbled on an opportunity.
  3. Ego: Consistently time and again in the CEO interviews we conduct with leaders of high performance companies, ego is cited as a deadly sin, maybe one of the deadliest. When leaders do things for themselves, rather than the market, or the good of the company, that is a precarious route that almost always bites back hard. If a leader offers a certain product because they like it, if they just can’t let go of the company jet (yet are laying off employees), if they don’t listen to others and make unilateral decisions, if they don’t realize they are only as strong as their people, leaders are doomed. The extreme cases are those who cook the books or make decisions that support a personal agenda of career advancement, making themselves look good at the expense of others or the company. Generally speaking, these leaders don’t last long, but can do severe damage. If you have any, weed them out now. If you look in the mirror and see even a hint of it—address it immediately!
  4. Excuses: It’s the economy, right? The most common excuse today, so far. The economy certainly has an impact. But, why are some companies growing and turning in strong results? Harvard Business Review published a great article, Roaring out of Recession with a prescription for survival, recovery and growth. Money can be made in any economy. Some of our most successful companies (Microsoft, for example) were started in recessions. Bad economies put a spotlight on what needs fixing; outdated customer value propositions, old processes or technology, declining markets and other issues that in a good economy are not as visible. Don’t make excuses for what isn’t working, fix it! Every problem is an opportunity!

Join us for Part 2! The other four deadly sins of leadership. What “sins” have you seen commited? Please share with us. We would like to hear from you.

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