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3 Types of Leaders Who Never Succeed

Do you rise again and again to the very edge of success, only to fall back down? You may be guilty of one of these leadership styles.
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It's an oft-quoted leadership trope: Because of his sin in striking the rock twice, Moses never lived to see his people into the Promised Land. That role fell instead to Joshua, despite Moses having dedicated his life to paving the way, including those 40 years spent in the wilderness.

Business leaders can, sadly, befall the same fate. Call them the Never-Gonna-Get-There Leader. The saddest part is that unlike Moses, for these perennially unfulfilled leaders, there's no real reason why it should be so--except for their own self imposed limitations.

There are a lot of hyphenated leaders: the Wanna-be leaders, Always-on leaders, Glory-grabbing leaders. But there's none so heartbreaking to work with as a Never-Gonna-Get-There leader. This is someone who rises again and again to the very edge of success, only, as in some twisted version of chutes and ladders, to fall back solely as a result of their own subconscious, success-restricting traits.

Here are the three main categories of Never-Gonna-Get-There leader, and, if you recognize yourself or a colleague amongst them, how to avoid Moses fate:

1. The Epiphany Junkie

The trendy new book absolutely everybody must read. The new social tool we gotta dominate. The perfect sales page layout that will send hidden buy messages on our web site...

That's the Epiphany Junkie, dropping the latest in their rapidly accumulating grab bag of realizations / discoveries / imperatives. 

Problem is, while they think they're confirming the fact of their genius, and leading their team to even greater heights of brilliance, the team is in reality simply being distracted from getting on with what's really important. 

If you think you might be an Epiphany Junkie, write down the last six epiphanies you dropped on your team. I have a two-fold challenge for you: (a) Were you actually able to recall the last six pearls of must-do wisdom you laid on your unsuspecting colleagues; and (b) What real, lasting impact did they each have, apart from unnecessarily distracting everyone for a few days?

The answer? When you come back from that conference, or read that book, or stumble on a stunning meme on your Twitter, keep it to yourself. Just shut the blank up about it for at least two weeks. If it's truly important, you'll see ways to integrate it quietly and seamlessly into what your team is doing. 

If it isn't important, you'll have found something new to fixate on soon enough.

2.The Strategy Yanker

"We're going to grow by 50 percent over the next two years."

A month later: "Growth can't be  our main objective. We're going to focus on customer service."

Six weeks later: "Profitability is all. We're going to deliver a 25 percent increase on the bottom line."

That's the Strategy Yanker, pulling their organization from pillar to post in a self-imposed search for the perfect plan for success. They strain everyone's patience, drain everyone's motivation, and rapidly lose credulity with everyone forced to listen to the next whiplash change of direction. 

The fundamental problem with the Strategy Yanker is that they're usually intelligent people so all of the proposed (and subsequently ditched) strategies are valid--if only they would choose one and stick with it.

Working with a Strategy Yanker is like getting into a car with a driver who knows 10 different routes to the place you want to go--and can't make their mind up as to which to take. You end up hopping from one route to another, then changing to another, never getting any closer to where you want to go.

The answer? A dose of the bleeding obvious. Pick a medium term strategy and stick to it. If you can't, get out of leadership before you seriously hurt some people.

3. The Hero to Zero Myopic

Leadership isn't a solitary occupation. By definition, a leader leads others. 

Those others are exactly like you and me--varied, competent in some areas, not so hot in others, a mixture of strengths and weaknesses, all of us trying to travel north in a southbound lane.

Some Never-Gonna-Get-There leaders refuse to see people as they really are. Instead, they view everyone as either spectacularly great (She's the best salesperson I've ever seen!) or woefully dreadful (I can't bear having him around me. Get him out of my sight.) Often they change their opinion of a person from one extreme to the other literally overnight.

Sound like you? Then you need to take responsibility for the hiring function. You need to put yourself in a position where having a zero on the team is clearly, transparently no-one else's fault but yours. Because chances are, it already is.

Last updated: Mar 28, 2013

LES MCKEOWN | Columnist

Les McKeown is the president and CEO of Predictable Success, a leading adviser on accelerated business growth. He has started more than 40 companies and was the founding partner of an incubation consulting company.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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