Seven Reasons Leaders Fail

Seven Reasons Leaders Fail
Thomas Rainer

I recently conducted a fascinating exercise, reviewing and analyzing some stories and records of leaders who have failed. While there is some subjectivity to the definition of the word, failure, I think most readers will agree with my choices. Among those I polled, there appears to be near unanimity that the leaders I researched did not fare well in their roles.

Some of my choices were historical figures; much has been written about them. Others were virtual unknowns in the annals of leadership history, consequently, little or nothing has been written about them. Still, in following their lives, I find it interesting how they fall into the same patterns as more-publicized leadership failures. Without exception, others who know these lesser-known figures agree with my assessment.

So, what are the common characteristics of leaders who fail? Although I have no illusions that I have compiled an exhaustive list, I am still amazed to see how often at least several these traits appear among such leaders:

1. They feel they are invincible.

Good leadership requires a level of confidence. However, when that confidence gravitates in the direction of arrogance and a sense of invincibility, it spells trouble. Shying away from accountability, such leaders are often involved in moral and marital failures. With arrogance abounding, they always see themselves as the smartest person in the room.


2. They are paralyzed by fear.

On the other extreme are leaders who exhibit little or no confidence. They are unwilling to make decisions because they don’t want to be wrong. They are more likely to move decision-making to multiple levels of committees and groups so they don’t have to take personal responsibility for any decisions (let alone mistakes.)


3. They fail to grow.

Some of these leaders were great in the past. But they fail to change and fail to grow. They are best described as leaders from another era that is no longer relevant. They are analog leaders functioning in a digital world.


4. They are not passionate about their area of leadership.

Since they often see their work as little more than a paycheck, they put forth the minimal amount of effort to get the job done. Their overriding goal is to keep their job. These leaders inspire no one, including themselves.


5. They fail to dream.

Leaders who fail often fail to dream. Their world consists of the immediate task at hand. They do not take time to dream the impossible, nor to see what can be. They don’t let others inspire them through books, podcasts, conferences or mentoring. Dealing only with today, they never dream about tomorrow.


6. They have a sense of entitlement.

Did you ever wonder how some leaders got to the place where they are now? Perhaps you know the reason: Some act as if their position is secure regardless of their actions or job performance. These leaders treat others in the organization solely as the means to an end. After all, it’s all about them because they feel they deserve special treatment.


7. They have a sense of victimization.

Other leaders fail because they see themselves as victims. Perhaps they were passed over for a promotion some time ago and are still carrying a chip on their shoulder. They spend so much of their mental and emotional energy feeling sorry for themselves that they cannot function. Every leader will receive bad news at some point in his or her career. The key test is how that leader responds.?

The opportunity to lead is one of the great gifts God gives us. Life is too short to be miserable or ineffective in our roles. I hope leaders today can learn powerful lessons from those who have failed.

I know I have.


Thomas Rainer is the president and CEO LifeWay Christian Resources. He is also a former pastor, seminary dean, and leader of a church and denominational consulting firm. Rainer is the author or co-author of nearly two dozen books.

From: web site. August 2012

The above article, “Seven Reason Leaders Fall,” is written by Thomas Rainer. The article was retrieved from, where the article was published on August of 2012.

The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study and research purposes