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6 Warning Signs That You're Failing as a Leader (and How You Can Fix it)

When you are in a position of power, it can be hard to realize that you are failing as a leader because no one is necessarily eager to tell you. Read on to find out the different ways you may be falling short and how you can work on it.

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When you are in a position of power, it can be hard to realize that you are failing as a leader because no one is necessarily eager to tell you. Read on to find out the different ways you may be falling short and how you can work on it.

Photo credit: DCStudio

When we look at leaders who inspire us, we tend to naturally focus on those who have achieved significant success in their careers. Most of the time, we hope to emulate them and even gain the same achievements. However, as we are looking to successful leaders for inspiration, we also need to look at the causes of leadership failure.

Failing as a leader can be easy regardless of how well you may think you are doing, after all, leadership is difficult. Good leaders know this, and they recognize that they are prone to errors and will occasionally make mistakes. You need to consider how those you lead experience your leadership and your effectiveness in the same. If you find yourself failing, then it is simply an opportunity to improve on your methods and learn from your pitfalls. 

Let’s take a look at some signs of failing leadership that may hinder your progress.

1. Risk Aversion

“If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever” - Thomas Aquinas

Once leaders achieve many past successes, they can develop a fear of failure which leads them to operate at the same performance level. This fear usually leads you to avoid taking any risk no matter how reasonable because it is safer to keep doing the same things to maintain success. You eventually stop making attempts towards innovation, even though this is what initially led to your success. Getting stuck in your ways in an ever-changing world does nothing for your growth. 

If you want to succeed as a leader, you have to adapt and get out of your comfort zone by challenging yourself. Learning to thrive within new and challenging situations is one of the best ways to improve your leadership. 

2. Lack of open and transparent communication

“Clarity affords focus” - Thomas Leonard

You are failing as a leader if you have no idea what you are working towards. When you lose focus of your vision and what is important, you may hide your uncertainty through unclear communication. This means you cannot explain what goals or vision you aim to achieve. You’ll end up assuming that your team will automatically anticipate your goals and know what to do without being told. Thus, when the team fails to do so, you might blame them for not putting in the effort, when your failure to communicate is to blame. 

People are also perceptive enough to know when you are not being honest, so if you are keeping information from your team or lying to them, they can definitely tell, and it will damage their trust and respect for you. When leaders hoard information, it is usually about controlling their environment and the people in it which shows they cannot be trusted. 

A solution for this is to maintain transparency as much as possible. This can be hard sometimes, especially when you don’t have all the answers or you have to deliver difficult information, but this is when it will count most. Clear communication helps to reduce fear, prevent rumors, and keep everyone on the same page. 

3. Not checking in with your team

“Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or conclude you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” - Colin Powell

When you are constantly having large group meetings and not taking time for one-on-one check-in sessions, it shows that you do not care about your team. Even though this may not be what you are trying to convey, that is how it will come across to everyone else. After all, the effects can be different from your intentions.

You can prioritize your team members by creating white space in your schedule for short briefings with them (ideally 15 to 30 minutes). Ask people to drop in during this time for mentorship, feedback, questions, concerns, or just a personal check-in. During these sessions, incorporate questions that will encourage them to give input and increase their engagement. This helps you learn where they think you are succeeding or failing as a leader and what can be done differently. It also encourages your team to think more strategically while meaningfully engaging them in overall operations. 

4. You’ve surrounded yourself with “Yes-Men” 

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus” - Martin Luther King, Jr

As a leader, you are one of the senior-most people in the company, so your subordinates will obviously approach you differently. Also, people will not be as eager to contradict your opinions or give you honest feedback. 

Sometimes leaders will ask for objective dialogue and truthful feedback with good intentions, but once they get it, they push back. This unintentionally creates a “yes-man culture” rewarding agreement and discouraging any opposition. 

Closing yourself off from feedback encourages a fixed mindset - that you do not desire to learn anything. It also encourages the belief that you always need to be the smartest in the room. Although having like-minded people on your team temporarily makes things easier, it is not beneficial for developing long-lasting results. 

It is important to get diverse thoughts and opinions from your team to encourage adaptive thinking, particularly during challenging situations. Additionally, having people on your team with more insight than you actually enhances and compliments your leadership capabilities. 

Successful and influential leaders recognize that they do not know everything and will continuously push their boundaries to keep asking questions, getting feedback, and learning more. 

5. Failing to acknowledge and develop other people’s strengths

“Leadership is unlocking people’s potential to become better” - Bill Bradley

Another sign you are failing as a leader is not appreciating other people’s unique talents or strengths outside their job description and how this can improve performance. This is a sure-fire way to kill your team’s engagement. 

Most people are always eager to use their strengths and special talents given the chance, so they will always appreciate being given the space to do so. 

As a leader, it is important to develop an environment that allows your team to work at their highest efficiency. For this to happen, you need to define what success looks like, eliminate obstacles, and provide the necessary resources to help your team make their best contributions. 

An effective leader also maximizes close relationships with their team to find out their strengths and do what is necessary to develop their talents so they can do their best work.

6. Leading with your head, not your heart

“Real leadership is leaders recognizing that they serve the people that they lead.” - Pete Hoekstra

Most people approach leadership with the “Do what I say, when I say it” mentality that focuses on commanding and controlling people, and this is where they go wrong. 

It is always better to lead from the heart by taking on a servant leadership approach. People always work more efficiently when their leaders treat them with respect and dignity and take the time to establish trusted relationships with them. 

Make emotional engagement part of the culture in your workplace by incorporating compassion, vulnerability, empathy, and openness. This does wonders in increasing morale and helping your team become more eager to participate. 


As a leader, you are prone to failure from time to time and it is best to look at these signs as a learning opportunity. If any of these points resonate with you, then it is a sign to take a long look at your leadership methods, find out where you veered off the path, and get back on track. After all, warning signs are there to tell us when something needs special attention.

Written by

Sandra Musonge

Sandra Musonge is a part-time writer at Fuzu with over five years of experience under her belt, helping numerous B2B and B2C clients with their content needs. She writes to inspire and not just to inform. Her educational background in Biochemistry has given her a broad base from which to approach many topics. You can find her enjoying nature or trying out new recipes when she isn't writing.

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