• Andrea Johnston

3 Reasons Why Big Leaders Fail

Years ago while enjoying a weekend away with friends, I listened as they chatted about their jobs and the ups and downs of their industry. I too, had worked in the same industry years earlier, but had left to pursue other interests. One woman’s story particularly grabbed my attention. She was one of the people I was the least familiar with but I found her to be poised in her thoughts and well-spoken when she participated in the discussion. Eventually she chimed in with her own frustration about company she worked for - an organization she’d joined only 6 months prior. She discussed how the small but growing company was being lead by no less than 3 bosses, all from different geographical locations, none of whom seemed to be on the same page!

Her account of the 6 months she had worked there sounded like a fast fall from grace; initial excitement for the numerous possibilities that quickly deflated, leaving her feeling unenthusiastic and indifferent towards the work or the company. What was particularly disheartening was to hear how disappointed she was with the company's leadership team. “I was really excited after meeting [Boss #1] at my interview - he had a great vision for where the company was going. I really bought into it! Now I feel like I was duped.”

As someone who appreciated structure and who thrived in an environment with clear expectations, she was now spending her days feeling like a dog chasing its tail.

It wasn’t difficult for me to put my finger on her major pain point: as someone who appreciated structure and who thrived in an environment with clear expectations, she was now spending her days feeling like a dog chasing its tail- endlessly frustrated and annoyed.

Sadly, she’s not alone in her experience. How many times has the driver of an organization → the visionary, the big-picture thinker - hired someone with tactical skills to execute on the strategic plan, only to turn around and also expect that new employee to operate in a "visionary, big-picture" way and think on the same plane as her/himself? This lack of self-awareness from leaders can often - after time or at a certain stage of business growth- lead to their demise, or that of their company or team. For Executives who drive business forward, they must be able to do these 3 things, if they are to retain their top performing staff.


  1. They have the same expectations of all staff vs. understanding each person's individual strengths. Of course it’s important for an employee to buy into the overall vision of an organization, but if you hired someone for their ability to execute on the minutiae of the day-to-day work, you may need to help them connect the dots between your big picture thinking and their contributions towards this goal. Don't expect all staff to work like you, think like you or see things the way you do.

  2. Too much Lording-over; not enough free time. Autonomy is something top performers are desperate for. And if you’ve hired great employees, you’re shooting yourself in the foot by not allowing them the freedom to work as they please. Ignoring them completely is not the goal either, but empowering them to make decisions that relate to the work they were hired for, lets them sit in the driver's seat within their lane, which also allows you the ability to speed through in your own lane too.

  3. Not being able to do both! A great Leader is able to do both - perhaps not right away, but over time. They need to understand their staff's unique abilities while also having a finger on the pulse of when someone needs help and when they don't. Leadership is all responsibility with little reward, which means learning many tough skills of how to successfully lead people. Otherwise, if you're expecting the same level of skill that got you into your leadership role to be enough as you go forward in your career, you are destined to fail.

A short time after my weekend gathering of friends, I learned that this woman left her organization in search of a job elsewhere. I can’t help but feel this company lost a fabulous employee, all because the leadership didn’t know how to shift gears by acknowledging the difference between their own characteristics and those of the people they were leading. Because they weren't able to make the necessary course corrections that would allow for effective communication, there was a gap that was left unfilled, leaving an employee to struggle with ambiguity and confusion. A good employee, who ultimately went searching for clarity elsewhere.

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