Consider the following facts:
- The average tenure of CEO’s is reducing (more specifically for fortune 500 companies).
- The percentage of CEO’s being asked to step down for performance reasons is steadily increasing.
Both these statistics point to one thing – many leaders are unable to fulfill their potential and are failing.
So, why do leaders fail? There are a lot of studies on this very topic and they have a lot of possible answers. Based on the researcher and their prior understanding, they talk about various reasons for why leaders fail.
However, the most important reason why leaders fail is:
Losing touch with reality
Most leaders are smart people. If they understand a challenge, you could bet that they can find out how to solve that challenge.
However, the biggest challenge is that they might never understand or come face-to-face with the real challenges that their organization might be facing.
This happens if the leaders start to rely only on their direct reports (or middle managers) and base their decisions on the feedback that they get. They forget to validate the feedback they get from their direct reports (most of whom might in fact, by secretly hoping to land the top job themselves someday). This creates a blind-spot for the leaders. This also leads them to try and solve the wrong challenges and exposes them to be taken by surprise when the reality strikes.
So, what is the solution?
- Chose your ministers carefully: Leaders need to be careful of the team that they select as their direct reports. Most important criteria to select the team is that they should not deter from being the carrier of bad news and be honest about their thoughts and opinions, when asked.
- Create your network of spies: Leaders should not just rely on their team to stay abreast of the reality. They should create their own network of people who can access them as and when they want to. This can be at differing levels within the organization. This network of people known only to the leader. The leader should be careful in selecting these people. The main criteria for selection should be that each one of the team member is passionate about what they do and are not afraid of telling the truth as it is.
- Constantly meet your customers: Leaders should continue to talk to their customers and not just people at their levels but at different levels of their customers (depending upon the business that they are in) and observe their behavior over time.
- Network: Leaders should strive to build a network of people who are not from similar industries and continuously monitor what they are doing and how things are changing for them.
Having said this, I think it is very important for leaders to be able to lead or inspire their team; that they are good at execution and a lot of other things that they need to constantly work to improve to remain a good leader.
This ability to stay connected with the reality is what will tie everything else they do and ensure that the energies are directed at solving the right challenges and staying the course at all times.