10 Leadership Fails That Will Get You Fired


Self-reflection is not the easiest of tasks but whether you like it or not, your job depends on it. Your leadership skills are being tested every day and waiting until a performance review once every six months or a year, could be disastrous.

Leadership development consultants Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman conducted two studies on the fatal flaws that derail readers and published their findings in the Harvard Business Review.

In this article, we look at their findings and the 10 Leadership Fails That Will Get Your Fired and how to avoid them.

Common Leadership Shortcomings — The Study

In the first study by Zenger and Folkman of why leaders fail, they looked at 360-degree feedback data on more than 450 Fortune 500 executives and the common characteristics of the 31 who were fired. In the second study, Zenger and Folkman analyzed 360-feedback data and performance reviews from more than 11,000 leaders and identified the ten percent who were considered the least effective. From these findings, they came up with the 10 most common leadership fails. Every bad leader had at least one, but most had several.

Another interesting finding from their research is that ineffective leaders were mostly unaware that they exhibited the shortcomings and those most negatively rated, rated themselves substantially higher than their colleagues.

It’s time to take a hard look at your leadership practices and ask for candid feedback on performance in the following areas before it’s too late. Are you guilty of any of these ten behaviors?

1. Lacking energy and enthusiasm.

You know this leader by the way they slump around the office. They are the last to come into the office in the morning and the first one to leave. They don’t take on additional responsibilities if the team needs an extra hand, and they definitely never volunteer. They see any changes or challenges as purely negative and are counting on their team for energy instead of the other way around.

When a manager lacks the energy and excitement to motivate the team, the project is destined to failure before it even begins.

Not everyone can be a cheerleader, but all leaders should be properly motivated and driven to succeed. If you find yourself lacking for energy, consider a break or holiday and reassess your position. Get to the root of why you’re not enjoying your job and discuss possible new opportunities or roles with your manager to make sure you are doing what makes you light up.

2. Settling for mediocre performance.

Poor leaders aim low and are complacent. They don’t respond well to high expectations, accept that their team members do the same and are not likely to rise to any occasion for that matter. They don’t challenge their team to realize their potential and their favorite word is “settle.”

People in leadership positions are there because someone thought they had the potential to take the company or organization to new heights. If you find yourself setting the bar low, ask yourself why? Perhaps there is an issue with a lack of reward or compensation and the motivating factors are missing from upper management. Take a 360-degree look at why expectations have slumped and take proactive steps to aim higher and achieve more.

3. Lacking clear vision.

These managers are simply following a higher ranking leader and don’t have a direction or vision of their own. They also don’t take an active role in in helping their team set realistic goals or step-by-step plans to achieve them. If they fail to meet project deadlines or scope, they blame the system or throw their colleagues under the bus. Most of all, they lack accountability in a major way.

Leaders must have confidence and determination to see a way to the finish line and help get their team there and beyond. If you find yourself lacking here it is likely you need to address your fear of failure. Managers are open to criticism and setbacks but planning for problems, proactively mapping the project journey and trusting and delegating to team members will set you up for success. For help in simplifying task management, organizing a large project or keeping the team on track, sign up for a free trial of Taskworld.

4. Using poor judgment.

Leaders lacking in this area make reactive, emotion-based decision rather than using logic. They usually trust themselves over data or knowledge and are thinking of the short-term and themselves, rather than the big picture and their team or company.

A good leader has a knack for making the right call. They make the hard choices that need to be made after looking at all the pertinent information and discussing the situation with their team. However, not every decision needs consultation. If you struggle in the area of decision-making, check out our blog 4 Paths to Quicker and Better Team Decisions for tips on how to reach a consensus while saving time and resources.

5. Being unwilling to collaborate.

Just because someone is in a leadership position doesn’t mean they should ignore the input of others.

Bad leaders don’t take kindly to constructive criticism and would rather fail on their own than accept advice from others.

They see other managers or team members as competition and are often too stubborn to know better.

Leaders who need to improve in this area should look for opportunities to collaborate and let go of their insecurities. Seek out others who may have more knowledge in a specific area in order to make better decisions and remember — everyone is working towards the same goal and to get there, two or more heads is better than one.

6. Not “walking the talk.”

This is one of the classic mistakes of leadership — not leading by example. Leaders who fail in this area expect results, but rarely take the time to help their fellow colleagues. They only delegate and never seem to come down from their high horse to roll up their sleeves and get things done. They generally defend their behavior by saying things like, “That’s not my job” or “I’ve done my time.”

A good leader should be the first one in line to lead by action and show their team members the guidelines or conditions by carrying them out. They should play by their own rules and will be seen as having much more integrity and be more respected by their team.

7. Resisting new ideas.

Poor leaders believe change is bad. They will often say, “that’s not the way things used to be done around here.” They cling to old ways and habits and often stand in the way of progress. They generally want to know how things will benefit them and don’t encourage regular feedback from coworkers.

A great leader knows good ideas come from others no matter what their position. Managers should let go of their egos and search for the best solutions that benefit the organization as a whole and contribute to progress, despite the fact that maybe it didn’t come from their mind or would mean a new way of doing things.

8. Not learning from mistakes.

Being underneath this leader often feels like Groundhog Day. These managers are reluctant to admit when they are wrong and often try and cover up or compensate for mistakes until they grow into huge problems. A lack of accountability also causes them to repeat mistakes and make up endless excuses for why things have gone wrong.

These managers should learn that mistakes will not end their career, unless they don’t learn from them. These issues are actually opportunities to learn and refine processes and decisions. Top leaders in any organization are the ones who accept their failures and weaknesses and grow from them.

9. Lacking interpersonal skills.

Some leaders may have high IQs and be qualified in their position but when it comes to emotional intelligence, they are incredibly slow to learn. This problem may be exacerbated by the fact that they criticize team members in public but praise them in private. These managers do not understand that leadership is just as much about interpersonal skills as it is doing the job itself.

Although not every leader comes equipped with a high EQ, these skills can be learned. Often, those managers with the best interpersonal skills rise to the top because ultimately, running a team means knowing people. Connecting with colleagues and nurturing relationships are the best ways to improve performance in this area and putting energy into your team will always come back ten fold.

10. Failing to develop others.

Because selfish, failing leaders view others as a threat to their position, they are very reluctant to develop top performers into company leaders. On top of their other nine flaws, it makes it almost impossible for anyone to want to work under these managers. This behavior decreases productivity and makes for poor team morale, increasing turnover in the long run

The best leaders are more concerned with the growth of those on their team than they are of their own development. When a leader commits to help each team member realize their full potential, the overall good and health of the organization is served.

About the author

Jessica Zartler is a Multimedia Marketing Consultant & Content Strategist for Taskworld. Before working in Public Relations and Marketing, she was an award-winning television reporter and multimedia journalist for eight years. When she is not hunting for the best content on the web to share with TW users, blogging or producing videos, she is teaching yoga, cooking, playing drums and travelling.

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