Causes of Leadership Failure – Emphasis of Title


Nameplate - PresidentCompetent leaders require no “title” to gain the respect of their followers. Leaders who make too much of their title generally have little else to emphasize. The doors to the office of real leaders are open to all who wish to enter, and their working quarters are free from formality or ostentation. – Napoleon Hill

[This is the 10th in a series discussing the causes of leadership failure presented by Napoleon Hill]

Titles. They’re everywhere. And yes, they have a purpose. They help identify the role someone plays within an organization. They outline a clear chain of command, so everyone knows who to call on for direction, ask for clarification, and to render final decisions. The trouble starts when we equate a title with respect, as in having a title means you automatically have the respect of those who report to you.

Let me clarify. Should people show respect for the authority vested in a particular office or position? Yes, absolutely. Without that inherent and automatic respect, teachers, police officers, and public officials couldn’t function. There’s a difference, however, in respecting an office (or position) and respecting the person occupying that office. The first is automatic. The second you earn.

As a leader, therefore, understand that the respect people show toward your position isn’t the same as having those same people respect you. If you’re emphasizing the position you occupying in an effort to command respect personally, then you’re a victim of this particular cause of leadership failure. How can you avoid this trap? If you’re already caught in this particular snare, how can you get out?

 “Excuse me, I’m the…!”

An extremely wise man, Jesus, had a fantastic discussion on the use of self-imposed honorific titles. It’s found at Matthew 23:8-12. True, Jesus directed this discussion at the early Christian congregation, not the business world. However, there’s a principle we can draw from his words. Older men served as overseers and shepherds. The apostle Paul also mentions ministerial servants in his letters (1 Timothy 3:8). However, these were positions of oversight and responsibility, not mere titles. Those appointed to such positions needed to maintain the attitude found in Jesus’ words, particularly the thoughts in verses 8, 11, and 12. He said, “all you are brothers,” and “But the greatest one among you must be your minister. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Let’s fast-forward to our modern, ever-changing business world. How do the preceding words apply? They help us appreciate that we’re not better than others, and that our function as leader involves serving others needs. Servant-Leadership deserves a post all it’s own, yet for this discussion the important thing to understand is it pertains to developing the abilities within our direct reports. For from coddling them or enabling wrong actions, by employing the Developer style of leadership you help others grow (read more about this from David Byrd by clicking here and here). You can’t imagine this type of leader ever insisting on an honorary title, or emphasizing the one assigned by his or her company. Rather, this leader defines him or herself by action. They gain respect through the things they’ve done, not by emphasizing a title. What motivates their actions? A desire to serve others and promote the interests of the organization, coupled with wanting to help their direct reports achieve their full potential. In short, they have the right mindset.

Earning Respect

Throughout my life, I’ve always been taught and have come to appreciate this simple truth: In order to receive a position, you must first act as one who has the position. If you want your company to recognize you as a manager, then first act like one (while still respecting existing authority, of course). If you want to be a leader, then first act like one. This requires setting the right example.

An article entitled Good Leadership – Where Can We Find It? quoted a report by Shelley A. Kirkpatrick and Edwin A. Locke of the University of Maryland. In that report, Leadership: do traits matter?, the authors made this statement: “Leaders must behave the way they wish their followers would behave.” Therefore, one of the first steps in earning the respect of others as a leader is doing the right thing. When people see you walking the walk, not just talking the talk, they’re more inclined to respect you. This then allows you to do something as magical as it is difficult. You become a catalyst for change.

The article mentioned above noted the challenges involved in being a change agent. Quoting a management textbook, it states: “The change agent [leader] needs the sensitivity of a social worker, the insights of a psychologist, the stamina of a marathon runner, the persistence of a bulldog, the self-reliance of a hermit, and the patience of a saint. And even with all those qualities, there is no guarantee of success.” Clearly, a leader must develop many skills, and the report by Kirkpatrick and Locke lists them. At the heart of it all, to be an effective leader you must lead by example, and have a genuine desire to help improve those around you.

Which leader are you? Just as importantly, which leader do you want to be? The answer to those questions give you a starting and ending point for your journey towards effective leadership. Maybe “ending point” is misleading; we’re always on the journey. However, knowing where we are allows us to devise a path toward our goal. So be honest in your self-assessment. Engage a trusted friend or adviser, one who will tell you the truth, not just what they think you want to hear. Ask them if you have a tendency to emphasize your title as opposed to being what your title implies. If the answer isn’t what you expect (or want to hear), don’t get upset. Thank the person for being honest, then analyze how what they tell you applies. Once you understand that, you can decide how to make adjustments.

True leaders don’t need to tell others who they are. By their actions, they prove their leadership. You can do the same by making sure you have the right mindset, and set the right example for others to imitate.

This brings our “Causes of Leadership Failure” series to a close. How do you rate yourself when it comes to this particular cause? If you find you tend to emphasize your title rather than living up to it, what can you do to change? Finally, how did you enjoy the series in general? Please leave your thoughts and experiences in the Comments below.

Causes of Leadership Failure – Emphasis of the “Authority” of Leadership



Authority - something you have, or need to emphasize?Efficient leaders lead by encouraging, not by trying to instill fear in the hearts of their followers. Leaders who try to impress followers with their “authority” come within the category of leadership through force. Real leaders have no need to advertise that fact except by their conduct, sympathy, understanding, fairness and a demonstration of knowledge of the job. – Napoleon Hill

[This is the 9th in a series discussing the causes of leadership failure presented by Napoleon Hill]

Austin Cline wrote an article discussing the differences between authority, power, and legitimacy. He first defines power as “the ability, whether personal or social, to get things done – either to enforce one’s own will or to enforce the collective will of some group over others.” He then differentiates that from legitimacy, in that the latter is “a socially constructed and psychologically accepted right to exercise power.” So while power is having the means and ability to make things happen, legitimacy is a social construct, acknowledged by all, that a person or entity has the right to exercise such power – but doesn’t necessarily mean the power resides with that person/entity. Authority, on the other hand, goes further. According to Cline, “It isn’t simply that [you accept] the factual existence of power or legitimacy; rather, it’s also that [you accept] that an authority figure is justified in making a decision without also explaining the reason for that decision and persuading others to accept that the decision was reached properly.”

Mr. Cline highlights something we fundamentally acknowledge: If you have authority, everyone knows and acknowledges it. You don’t have to insist people respect it. The moment your insistence is a necessary part of others recognizing your “authority,” you’ve lost it. In my mind, this is the primary reason Napoleon Hill lists emphasis of leadership “authority” as a cause for its failure.

How does this negative trait take root in us? What signs indicate it’s presence? How can we get rid of it?

“Hey! I’m an Authority Figure!”

Why would anyone feel the need to emphasize their authority as a leader? Here are a few reasons:

  1. They’re new to an organization and want to establish their position quickly.
  2. They’re new to their leadership role and want others to respect them.
  3. They’ve been taught this is the best way to establish their position as leaders.
  4. They’re generally insecure, and find comfort in “lording it over” others.
  5. They’re…how can I put it nicely…a tool.

The first four reasons deal with a measure of insecurity and/or poor development as a leader. Those are relatively easily quantified circumstances, and therefore relatively simple for a person to address. The last reason – that will take a lot more than one post to fully address.

What are some overt and subtle ways we manifest this trait? Think about how often you find yourself using expressions like these:

  • “Because I said so.”
  • “You need to respect me.”
  • “Do you know who I am?”
  • “I’m in charge here!”
  • “Are you questioning me?”
  • “You need to recognize!”

No, I’m not saying it’s wrong to say those things. However, in a business setting, if you find yourself interspersing conversations regularly with expressions similar to those above, particularly if you say them before any perceived infraction occurs as a pre-emptive strike, then maybe you’re guilty of emphasizing the “authority” of your leadership. Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, if you have to emphasize it, then it’s likely your “authority” doesn’t exist.

In addition to what you say, consider how you think about your direct reports. Do you find yourself painting a picture of people who are looking to shirk their duties? Are they lazy and apt to cut corners in your mind? Instead of collaborators, do you think of those who report to you as people to keep in line? Granted, a few might fit that description. However, if you imagine the majority of workers reporting to you in this way, there might be a problem.

If you recognize any of these tendencies in yourself, what can you do about it?

Great Leaders are Made, not Born


You can learn to be a great leader

Leadership isn’t inherent. We create leaders. Our upbringing, training, and experiences in life all contribute to our leadership skills. Still, we can benefit from a structured program that helps ingrain the attributes of leadership into people through assigning tasks designed to stretch a person and accountability for completing the tasks.

An example of this is the U.S. Military. Mark Smith, a six-time recipient of the Navy Achievement Medal and honored three times as Sailor of the Year for the 3rd Marine Division, said this about the Navy’s approach to leadership training: “The military is a leadership factory. That’s their secret. They are a factory, and they pump out leaders. Amazingly, they can take young people from every different background, educational level, social level, race, faith, etc., and they turn them into leaders.” (Byrd, D., & Smith, M. (2010). Achievement, p. 10. Waco, TX. BCG Business)

This makes it clear that leadership isn’t limited to a specific group of people. Rather, the application of a clear, consistent program of training produces leaders of anyone willing to submit to the instruction. Therefore, to weed out negative tendencies, like the need to emphasize the “authority” we have as leaders, we need a program of training that produces leaders. Thankfully, there are many. Here are three of which I am personally aware:

Though each of the above have different requirements of entry, they all develop qualities in people essential to leadership. As mentioned, there are many other programs available. The key is to choose one and stick with it.

Combining power and legitimacy, along with the psychological acknowledgment of one’s right to exercise that power without explanation creates authority. True leaders don’t demand authority; they have it. By checking our actions and attitudes, we can either root out negative traits associated with the desire to emphasize our “authority” or avoid developing those traits altogether. By so doing, we avoid succumbing to this particular cause of leadership failure.

Have you ever felt the need to emphasize your “authority” to others? Have you noticed this trait in those around you? How did you handle the situation? Were you able to root out any negative traits associated with this undesirable quality? If so, how? Share your thoughts and experiences in the Comments below.

Causes of Leadership Failure – Disloyalty



Perhaps this should have come at the head of the list. Leaders who are not loyal to their trust and to their associates – those above and below them – cannot long maintain their leadership. Disloyalty marks people as being less than the dust of the earth, and brings down on their head the contempt they deserve. Lack of loyalty is one of the major cause of failure in every walk of life. – Napoleon Hill

[This is the 8th in a series discussing the causes of leadership failure presented by Napoleon Hill]

Defined on as “the quality of being disloyal; lack of loyalty; unfaithfulness,” and “a violation of allegiance or duty, as to a government,” disloyalty represents a lack of faithfulness. When discussing synonyms of the word, the website says, “Disloyalty applies to any violation of loyalty, whether to a person, a cause, or one’s country, and whether in thought or in deeds.” Thus, this cause of leadership failure carries the sense of faithlessness and betrayal of trust. It applies to a person’s actions towards both individuals and organizations. Additionally, it encompasses not just our deeds but one’s thoughts as well.

While we all acknowledge some people display disloyalty, is it a serious problem in the workplace? According to an article by Sybil F. Stershic, a marketing and organizational advisor with more than 30 years of experience helping service-based companies develop employee- and customer-focused solutions to improve bottom-line success, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Citing a 2007 Walker Information study entitled Loyalty in the Workplace, she notes, “The percentage of “high risk” employees (36%) – those who plan to leave their employer within the next two years – now outnumbers the percentage of loyal employees (34%). This trend is frightening when you consider the costs of lost productivity and high turnover.” Obviously, it’s a problem worth our attention. Even Napoleon Hill commented that this particular cause of leadership failure possibly tops the list!

Let’s examine three areas: Where does disloyalty take root in a person? How does disloyalty manifest itself? What can we do to weed out any disloyalty possibly lurking within us?

How’s Your Faith?

David Byrd defines faith through this affirmation: “I am sure of what I hope for and certain of what I do not see!” That’s very similar to the definition of faith provided by the apostle Paul at Hebrews 11:1, which says, “Faith is the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld” (NWT). Thus, faith encompasses an assured hope and a certain belief in the unseen. How does this apply to business? Whether an owner, a high level executive, a manager, or an employee, you hope for certain things and believe in the organization’s ability to achieve that hope.

Disloyalty equates with unfaithfulness. Essentially, for this discussion, it means losing hope and lacking assurance of or confidence in the ability of an organization or it’s members to deliver as promised. If you no longer trust a person or business to do what they say, you take it upon yourself to make things happen, even if that means going around or through them. Therefore, a key component in combatting disloyalty is developing faith.

Knowing the cause, how does disloyalty manifest itself?

It’s All About Me, Myself, and I

In her article, Ms. Stershic listed the top experiential drivers of loyalty. So, presenting their antitheses, disloyalty manifests itself as:

  • A lack of fairness at work
  • A lack of employer care or concern
  • A lack of trust in employees
  • No feelings of employee accomplishment
  • No day-to-day satisfaction

It's all about me!At the heart of all the above is an inherent selfishness. Far from the justified self-interest we all need to manifest, the above conditions stem from a leader that only has his or her own concerns in mind. If you’re focused solely on self, fairness flies out the window because in your own mind you are fair. After all, you’re doing what’s necessary to get ahead! What could be more fair than that? Since your concern is all about you, there’s nothing left for anyone else, including employees, direct reports, peers, or supervisors. Obviously, you can only trust yourself, so why make the mistake of displaying trust in others? As long as you look good and move forward, everything is right in the world. Therefore the only accomplishments that matter are yours…which means there’s no need to share credit with anyone else. After all, you made it happen, right? Thus, at the end of the day, your satisfaction is what matters most. You’re only responsible for you. Everyone else has to fend for themselves!

That thinking is a recipe for disaster, and will derail your career as leader faster than a Wile E. Coyote attempt to catch the Road Runner fails. So how can you guard against developing disloyalty? Just as importantly, how can we weed out any seeds of disloyalty already in our psyche?

Watch for the Little Things

Since disloyalty has roots in selfishness, understand that it’s part of our nature. Thus, we’ll always have a tendency towards disloyal acts. However, like other inherent tendencies, we can guard against it if we know the signs of it in action. What are some things to guard against? Here are a few things to watch:

  • Focusing on the faults of others. All of us are imperfect. If we’re looking for errors, they’re easy to find. Therefore, if you find yourself excessively fault-finding, maybe you’re on the road leading to disloyalty. Why? Because if all you see are others’ faults, then you have no reason to trust them, and without trust, there’s no real basis for loyalty. The challenge is that it’s easy to say be on the guard for excessive fault-finding, but it’s not easy to do. At the moment, you feel perfectly justified in pointing out (mentally or verbally) the shortcomings of those around you. So take stock of yourself at the end of a day and ask if you saw more good in people than flaws. If you find yourself more on the side of noticing errors in others, you may need to work on your attitude towards them.
  • Displaying a lack of empathy. If you find yourself no longer relating to the feelings of others, maybe it’s time to check yourself. Empathy allows you to deal fairly with others, and to display care and concern. Don’t mistake displaying empathy with coddling others. A good leader allows those around him or her to shoulder their own loads. Yet that same leader understands not just what others do but also the circumstances surrounding those actions. This let’s a leader “get in the head” of an individual, thus better judging how to treat them in a given situation. “I hear what you’re saying, but that just opens the door to sob stories muddying the waters. People still have to follow the rules!” True, rules are there for a reason and it’s the responsibility of a leader to enforce them. Yet, if you find yourself focusing on the letter of the law instead of the spirit behind it, you’re in trouble. That’s especially true if you’re enforcing a law with a view towards promoting yourself at the expense of others. Which leads to the next point.
  • Taking credit needlessly. We all want recognition for our work. If you’ve accomplished something significant, naturally you want it acknowledged. So does everyone else. So if you find yourself taking sole credit for collaborative efforts, you’re displaying disloyalty. This increases the tendency of those on your team to distrust you in the future, reduces their sense of accomplishment, and flatlines any sense of satisfaction they have at work. You can bet they won’t push hard to make you look good the next time you head a project. Thus, they lose, the company loses…and you lose. Interestingly, this usually manifests itself in small ways, like not giving proper attribution to the source material used in research. Once taking credit for others work in little things becomes a habit, doing so in big things is just around the corner.

No doubt we can add to this list, but it gives you a broad strokes overview of things to guard against in our personalities. If you find that you’re doing great in these areas, bravo! Keep doing what you’re doing, even while keeping your guard up to ward off selfish tendencies. If you find there’s a problem in any of these areas, what can you do?

First, give yourself credit for making an honest self-examination. That’s huge! I’m betting most who manifest disloyalty never stop to think about their actions, much less seek ways to change them. Then, get to the root cause, which is a lack of faith. In whom or what have you lost faith? What caused you to lose your faith? Is it something over which you have control, and can therefore fix? If so, take steps to restore that faith. If you find you have no control over what caused your loss of faith, then ask the hard questions: Can you learn to live with the situation as it stands? If not, are you in a position to move on? Ultimately, if you can’t restore your faith in a person or organization, you’ll never be truly happy, and you’ll never have the loyalty needed to find success in your efforts.

Disloyalty is a powerful cause of failure in leaders that finds its roots in a lack of faith. By watching for the signs of lost faith in the people and organizations with which we work and taking steps to address the underlying causes, we can prevent disloyalty from taking root in our personalities. Doing this will lead to greater satisfaction for ourselves and others, along with increased accomplishment. In the end, everyone wins when leaders guard against disloyalty.

Have you experienced or displayed disloyalty in the past? How did you handle it? What was the outcome? Share your thoughts and experiences in the Comments below.

Causes of Leadership Failure – Intemperance


Woman Drinking WineFollowers do not respect an intemperate leader. Moreover, intemperance in any of its various forms destroys the endurance and the vitality of all who indulge in it. – Napoleon Hill

[This is the 7th in a series discussing the causes of leadership failure presented by Napoleon Hill]

Intemperance: A short word that is long on consequence. According to, it means “excessive or immoderate indulgence in alcoholic beverages.” It also adds, “excessive indulgence of appetite or passion.” The Merriam-Webster online dictionary says of the term, “lack of moderation; especially: habitual or excessive drinking of intoxicants.” The Legal Dictionary similarly says of this word, “A lack of moderation. Habitual intemperance is that degree of intemperance in the use of intoxicating liquor which disqualifies the person a great portion of the time from properly attending to business. Habitual or excessive use of liquor.”

Therefore, intemperance primarily refers to the habitual overindulgence of alcohol, signaled by an impaired ability to perform necessary duties. However, any lack of moderation that has a stupefying effect qualifies, which includes all recreational use of drugs.

“So, what are you saying? If I have a drink with my meal at night, am I intemperate? Wouldn’t that qualify entire cultures as guilty of this cause of leadership failure?!” A good question. Therefore let’s examine the effects of intemperance and seek ways to overcome any negative outcomes.

What’s the Harm in a Drink?

Having a drink with meals may offer some health benefits. According to an article published by the Mayo Clinic on their website, moderate alcohol consumption may reduce your risk of heart disease, dying of a heart attack, suffering from a stroke (particularly ischemic), lower your risk of gallstones, and reduce your risk of diabetes. However, the caution this does not apply to everyone, citing older adults and those with risk factors of heart disease as the principal beneficiaries. For everyone else, alcohol consumption may do more harm than good, and say in some cases it’s better to not drink at all. They warn women in particular to check with their doctor to see if they need supplemental folate to help reduce the risk of breast cancer associated with the use of alcohol. They also give guidelines for “moderate alcohol use.”

However, intemperance refers to the overuse of alcohol and other substances. It implies immoderate use of drink, excessively indulging our appetites. Alcohol Detox Magazine mentioned negative results of alcohol on both heavy and moderate drinkers. Aside from the many health risks, it notes these four physical effects:

  • Memory loss
  • Lack of concentration and coordination
  • Slower reactions and motor skills
  • Slurred speech

As a leader, demonstrating the above symptoms is never good. They impact negatively on your reputation. They also potentially hinder the ability of your organization to function smoothly, since much of that efficiency results from your effective leadership. Clearly, intemperance presents a real danger to any leader, thus warranting its inclusion in Napoleon Hill’s major causes of leadership failure. How then, does one develop moderation?

Getting Your Mind Right

Read Hear Associate

We must watch what we read, what we hear, and with whom we associate

Being temperate, or moderate, isn’t natural. While most will say they can keep themselves in check, the reality is we’re more driven by our desires and emotions than we realize. That’s both a result of human nature and the increasing focus on self permeating modern society (2 Timothy 3:1-5). In an article entitled Developing Self-Discipline and Moderation, Lakesha Gadson notes that, while there is nothing wrong or immoral about most desires, if we consistently allow our fleshly desires to overrule our minds and hearts, it weakens us. Therefore, we need to get a handle on those desires in order to bring ourselves in proper alignment to our goals. How can we do this?

The first thing is to get our minds right. Long ago, Paul commented on the relationship between what we think about and what we do. At Philippians 4:8, he encouraged, “Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are of serious concern, whatever things are righteous, whatever things are chaste, whatever things are lovable, whatever things are well spoken of, whatever virtue there is and whatever praiseworthy thing there is, continue considering these things.” He said this as part of a discussion encouraging two fellow worshippers to resolve their differences and get along, as well as helping those of the congregation in Philippi to demonstrate reasonableness in all things. He knew that accomplishing the things just mentioned started by feeding our minds on good thoughts, which would subsequently influence our actions.

Paul’s advice gives us a blueprint for getting our minds on track. To successfully implement what he suggests we must pay attention to what we feed our minds. This includes:

  • What we read. Whether in printed form or online, what do we take into our minds? Is it upbuilding? Granted, we can’t fully control everything we take in. We often end up reading public advertising before realizing whether or not it’s objectionable. Yet, when it comes to our choice of reading, let’s exercise good judgment. If we know we have a problem with alcohol or other substances, avoiding reading literature with lots of wine and spirits advertising is a wise course
  • What we hear. This includes music, live audio recordings, and yes, conversation. All should build up. If it does not, then change the station, literally or figuratively. If a conversation starts sliding into negative talk (in this case, discussions about drinking or substance abuse), make a conscious effort to change the subject. If that doesn’t work, then excuse yourself and take your leave.
  • With whom we associate. In addition to their conversation, our associates influence by their attitudes and actions. We often pick up more from what they do and from their mental inclination than from anything they say. This is especially true when it comes to the use of alcohol and other addictive substances. So surround yourself with people who help you move forward, not drag you back.

With our thoughts properly aligned, we’re now better able to keep our desires in check. We can better see not just the immediate benefits of things, but the long-term consequences as well. That awareness goes beyond knowledge. It encompasses truly understanding all the ramifications to ourselves and others. As Ms. Gadson states in her article, reflecting on the pain our actions bring can motivate us to make wiser choices. This especially applies to the results of immoderate use of alcohol and other addictive substances.

As leaders, we want to have success and inspire it in others. Intemperance works against that goal. Therefore, let’s work hard at setting the right example. By working on our thinking, we’ll take the right actions in regard to the use of alcohol and other substances. Once we do that, we’ll ward off falling victim to this particular cause of leadership failure.

What’s your experience? Have you ever personally dealt with or worked alongside a leader who suffered from intemperance? How did you handle the situation, and how did it turn out? Please share your thoughts in the Comments below.

Causes of Leadership Failure – Selfishness


Children "Sharing" Toy

© Shutterstock

Leaders who claim all the honor for the work of their followers are sure to be met by resentment. Really great leaders claim none of the honors. They are content to see the honors go to their followers because they know that most people will work harder for commendation and recognition than they will for money alone. – Napoleon Hill

[This is the 6th in a series discussing the causes of leadership failure presented by Napoleon Hill]

Let’s start by defining selfishness. According to, selfishness is “[devotion] to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.” It also offers the following, “relating to or characterized by self-interest.” With the preceding in mind, it’s appropriate to ask, “Is selfishness always bad?”

According to Vijay Govindarajan and Srikanth Srinivas, the answer is “No.” In an article appearing on the Harvard Business Review blog, they posit that there are times when it’s important to guard your own interests since that contributes positively to your team. How so, and under what circumstances? When a leader guards his own feelings in an effort to only maintain those that produce positive states of mind, it’s a good thing. We can all readily agree with their conclusion. A certain measure of self-interest is a good thing. So why does Napoleon Hill list selfishness as a cause of leadership failure? When we’re looking at the first definition above. Generally, when we think of the term selfishness, that is the definition which comes to mind. If a leader puts his or her own interests above those of his team, his peers, and the company, that leader is on a pathway to failure. How does such selfishness manifest itself, and how can we overcome any selfish tendencies?

It’s All About Me

Selfishness manifests itself because it’s part of our nature. A child naturally thinks of him or herself first. That’s why they’ll always choose the best toys, take the largest slice of pie, and grab all the attention they can. That’s why parents must teach children to be selfless, or they’ll continue to manifest selfishness in ever-increasing degrees throughout life. Indeed, much of the turmoil in our world today has it’s roots in selfishness. The apostle Paul under inspiration prophetically said “critical times hard to deal with” are characteristic of our day, and part of the reason for this is people “will be lovers of themselves,” displaying extreme self-centeredness. – 2 Timothy 3:1, 2, NWT

When such selfishness manifests itself in a business setting, it immediately starts undermining morale and eroding corporate culture. This is especially troublesome when displayed by a leader. Have you ever worked with someone who:

  • Stole ideas to appear better in the eyes of higher management?
  • Took sole credit for things requiring a team effort?
  • ‘Threw you under the bus’ by shifting personal blame onto you or others?
  • Dominated meetings in an attempt to force his or her ideas on others?
  • Was ‘always right,’ therefore making his or her opinion the only relevant one?

If you answered “Yes” to any of the above, you know firsthand the havoc a selfish leader wreaks on the workplace. No doubt the environment had a seriously negative effect on your drive. The “Monday blues” lasted all week, and you couldn’t wait for the clock to strike 5:00PM. That’s no way to spend nearly 50% of your waking hours; it’s a terrible way to live! If you experienced such feelings in the past, you don’t want to ever feel that way again. More importantly, you don’t want to put anyone else in the same situation.

It’s clear that selfishness has a negative impact on the workplace, particularly if manifested by a leader. Yet, selfishness is part of our nature. So what can we do to knock it down when it rears its ugly head?

Focus on the Benefits

I first heard a meaningful statement from one of my mentors, Mrs. Racquel Pilet. She said everyone tunes into the same radio station, WIIFM (What’s In It For Me). So while we all acknowledge the negative effects of selfishness, that alone might not get you to make changes in your daily modus operandi. However, if you knew there were serious benefits to YOU from weeding out selfish tendencies, you’re more likely to put forth the effort needed to change your habits. Therefore, what benefits come from removing selfishness? See how these grab you:

  • Greater company morale. When you consider others needs and not just your own, you immediately create a positive work environment. That not only helps your employees, but you as well. After all, you’ve got to work there too, and negative energy is an equal-opportunity depressant! This leads to the next point, which is…
  • Greater productivity. When people feel good at work, they tend to work harder. Often they work more efficiently. Why? Because they know you appreciate and recognize their efforts. When people feel appreciated, there’s no limits to what they can accomplish in order to maintain and even increase that appreciation.
  • Greater creativity. Not only are workers apt to work harder, they become more inventive as well. If your team knows you care about what they do, nurture their efforts, and have their back if things don’t go as planned, they’re more likely to come up with innovative solutions to challenges you face. All the preceding contributes to the next point…
  • Greater honor for you as leader. You’re not actively seeking it, yet it comes as a natural extension of putting others first. By giving all due credit to your team, they work harder for you, which makes you look good. This is true whether you’re a mid- or senior-level manager reporting to upper management, or a business owner delivering goods or services to customers.

Those are just a few broad-stroke categories. We could list benefits for days! The point is, there’s incentive for you to curb any negative selfish tendencies.

Overcoming Selfishness

No SelfishnessSo…how do you do that? In an article entitled Overcoming Selfishness, internationally recognized thought leader in the area of leadership and product management Michael Ray Hopkin suggested the following three steps:

  1. Think of others first. Every decision you make has an impact on others. This is especially true of those in leadership positions. True, you still have to make the tough call, and ultimately you bear responsibility for that choice. Yet if you consider how your decision impacts those on your team, you’re more likely to make a selfless choice. This isn’t new advice. Paul advised those living in the first century CE to “[keep] an eye, not in personal interest upon just your own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.” – Philippians 2:4, NWT
  2. Practice integrity. A person who operates with integrity naturally gravitates towards altruistic behavior. If you incorporate this quality into your personality, you’ll automatically adhere to the Golden Rule found at Matthew 7:12, “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.”
  3. Develop trust. It’s extremely difficult for a selfish person to gain another’s trust. Once people know you are “in it for yourself,” they’ll only trust you to do what’s best for you – meaning they know you won’t look out for them. This requires that you consistently take into consideration your team’s needs when making decisions (see point #1) and stand up for them if they do what you ask, especially if things don’t turn out as planned. Once they know you have their backs, trust develops naturally.

Incorporating the above actions into your daily routine develops the Servant Leader persona that’s the hallmark of effective leadership, as advocated by Robert Greenleaf. The article The Best-Kept Secret of Our Business Generation discusses his philosophy in more detail. In it, he references the teachings of Lao Tzu and Jesus Christ, and shows how no less notable figures than Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and George Washington among others applied the principles they taught with dramatic effect. It makes fascinating reading.

Selfishness will cause even the most gifted leader to fail. Thankfully, we can counteract our natural tendency towards selfishness by taking simple, deliberates steps that help retrain our ways of thinking and methods of operating. Doing so will bring benefits to your teams, your organization, and yes, to YOU.

Do you find yourself leaning towards selfishness? How have you managed to overcome this tendency? Share your experiences, insights, and observations in the Comments below.

Cause of Leadership Failure – Lack of Imagination



By Mehdinom (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Without imagination, leaders are incapable of meeting emergencies, and of creating plans by which to guide followers efficiently. – Napoleon Hill

[This is the fifth in a series discussing the causes of leadership failure presented by Napoleon Hill]

It’s a brave new world, one that’s constantly changing. New laws, emerging technologies, and changing workforce demands require careful but rapid evaluation and bold yet measured implementation of new policies and procedures to guide our steps. A decade or two ago, no one thought about implementing social media policies or devising cyber security measures. Today, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Now we have technical innovations that fairly boggle the mind, and a bevy of ethical questions surrounding them. Without the faculty of imagination, it’s impossible for a leader to survive. What exactly is imagination, and why is it’s lack a cause of failure for today’s leaders?

Imagination and You

Wikipedia defines imagination as, “The ability to form new images and sensations that are not perceived through sight, hearing, or other senses. Imagination helps make knowledge applicable in solving problems and is fundamental to integrating experience and the learning process…. It is a whole cycle of image formation or any sensation which may be described as ‘hidden’ as it takes place without anyone else’s knowledge.” defines it this way: “The faculty of imagining, or of forming mental images or concepts of what is not actually present to the senses.” It also adds that it is the “ability to face and resolve difficulties; resourcefulness.”

Essentially, imagination is that faculty that allows you to see the unseen. In a practical sense, this allows innovation, such as the development of aircraft, the light bulb, and the telephone. At one point, those things only existed in the imagination of their creators. Now they’re as common as breathing. However, imagination isn’t just for creating new inventions. It’s also at the heart of devising new solutions. As mentioned above, it allows you to take your existing knowledge base and apply it creatively in solving new and intriguing problems. That may mean devising new programs to address situations that suddenly arise, like the social media policies mentioned above. In a world where we seem to redefine “status quo” daily, your ability to use imagination to keep in step with those changes is critical.

The issue goes deeper, however. David Byrd discusses the use of imagination in his Next Level Achievement System®, and makes this profound statement: “The use of the gift of imagination is the key to life’s direction, purpose, and power.” So, beyond just having the ability to devise innovative solutions to problems, effective use of the faculty of imagination is the key to everything we hope to achieve in life. No wonder this is a cause of leadership failure!

Can we develop our powers of imagination, especially as they apply in a business setting? If so, how?

Developing our Imagination

Remez Sasson wrote an article discussing the power of imagination. He discusses both the proper use and misuse of our inner vision. For this discussion, we won’t focus on misusing our faculty of imagination as much as not using it. Mr. Sasson notes that no one is without imagination. Rather, people tend to have a poorly developed one. Thankfully, that’s something we can correct. After providing everyday examples of imagination in action (like cooking, decorating, or thinking of past and/or future activities), Mr. Sasson gives some great advice on strengthening our inner vision.

  • Set aside 15 minutes a day and imagine something you know you can achieve, like sharing a special occasion with someone you love.
  • Imagine it in detail; not just images, but sounds, smells, and feelings. Involve all five senses. Granted, you may find it difficult at first to use all senses in the exercise, but eventually you’ll get better.
  • One caveat: Your mind may start to verbalize what you’re experiencing. Don’t allow it to replace imagery with words; the focus is on developing your imagination, not your prose. Read the article for more details.

Napoleon Hill spoke extensively about the power of imagination and how it assisted him in Think and Grow Rich. In the chapter entitled “The Sixth Sense,” he talks about an advisory cabinet consisting of the nine men he admired most: Emerson, Paine, Edison, Darwin, Lincoln, Burbank, Napoleon, Ford and Carnegie. Since the majority were already dead, he held meeting with them in his imagination. After a while, an interesting thing occurred. They took on distinct personalities, and he found himself having free-flowing conversations with them. “Those are the actions of a crazy man!” some might say. Yet they helped him achieve great success and inspire greatness in others. So maybe, in order to accomplish our goals, we all need to “get a little crazy,” as Seal sang.

Be an Imaginative Leader!

There’s no debate: Imagination is a necessity for the successful leader. If you’ve already developed this faculty, then put it to good use. If you need to beef up your inner vision, then get to work on developing your imagination. One thing is certain: With the challenges we face in our world, we can’t afford any lack in the imagination department if we hope to succeed as leaders!

How would you rate your ability to use imagination? What are some success stories and/or cautionary tales regarding this important faculty you have? Please share them in the Comments below.

Causes of Leadership Failure – Fear of Competition From Followers


Fear of Followers?The leader who fears that one of his followers may take his position is practically sure to realize that fear sooner or later. Able leaders train understudies to whom they may delegate at will. Only in this way may leaders multiply themselves and prepare to be at many places, and give attention to many things, at one time. It is an eternal truth that people receive more pay for their ability to get others to perform than they could possibly earn by their own efforts. Efficient leaders may, through knowledge of their jobs and the magnetism of their personalities, greatly increase the efficiency of others, and induce them to render more service and better service than they could by themselves. – Napoleon Hill

[This is the fourth in a series discussing the causes of leadership failure presented by Napoleon Hill]

It’s a common sentiment: Don’t teach others everything you know, or else one day they may take your job. If you’re a business owner, that maxim reads slightly differently: Don’t teach employees everything you know, or else one day they’ll be your competition. There’s some truth in both statements. The sad fact is, sometimes the person we train ends up filling our shoes when we’re “downsized” (or whatever popular euphemism you prefer). Additionally, our best employees are often ambitious as well, leading them to strike out on their own. Therefore, it makes sense to worry about competition from your followers…right? Wrong, and here’s why.

How Fear Holds You Back

Most leaders want their organizations to grow. In fact, even if your goal is maintaining the status quo, you need growth. Why? Because part of life is decay, and that’s true in business as well. Whether it’s due to retirement, attrition, or economic factors such as cost-of-living increases, to do the same thing this year likely costs more than it did a year ago, and definitely more than it did five years ago. If you function in an environment of fear, particularly the fear that your followers will compete with and surpass you, growth can’t take place. Here are some reasons why this is true:

  • Fear prevents delegation. In order to grow effectively, it’s imperative that you delegate responsibility. This allows an organization to function even when you, the leader, is not available. Delegation involves trust, and trust can’t exist in an environment of fear.
  • Fear inhibits innovation. If you’re afraid your followers can outshine you, then you’re less likely to adopt any of their ideas. You don’t want them to seem smarter, more inventive, and more progressive than you. A manager in fear of the abilities of his followers is also more likely to take credit for the ideas of others, and that’s a guaranteed way to insure no one offers you any quality suggestions. Because of this, you, your team, and the organization as a whole suffers.
  • Fear stymies communication. Communication is a two-way street. Good communication has its roots in trust. You trust the other person to communicate with you honestly, and expect them to listen to you. Matthew J. Geiger wrote an insightful article on this. In it, he touched on managers’ fear that their employees surpass them. Ultimately, that fear kills communication and prevents the achieving of objectives.
  • Fear kills motivation. Let’s face it, if you’re in an environment where your manager or team leader is only out for him or herself, seeks to bury your ideas, take all credit for the work of the team, and throw you to the wolves to safe face, that’s one serious buzzkill! Under those circumstances, why would anyone strive to excel? The leader’s fear turns everyone into drones simply seeking to make it through the day without causing any waves, and that does no one any good.
  • Fear fosters alienation. According to an article in Gallup Business Journal where they interviewed Tom Rath and Barry Conchie, what followers need most is for leaders to promote “trust, compassion, stability, and hope.” They need leaders to connect with them on significant levels so that, even though they have vastly different perspectives, they can all be on the same page. Fear throws all of that out a window. Instead of pulling together, fear keeps leaders and followers apart. This separation promotes alienation, which in turn means your followers won’t claim the company’s vision as their own. That’s the start of a potentially massive downhill slide.

It’s clear: Fear of being surpassed by one’s followers does more harm to you and your organization than any perceived good resulting from “protecting your position.” Yet how do you deal with the fact that sometimes our best and brightest learn what we teach and ‘move on up’ like the Jeffersons?

Change Your View or Change Your Paradigm

New Paradigm

Sometimes you just need a need a new paradigm.

It’s important to recognize two things. First, it’s not every person that will outshine you to the point of replacing or surpassing you. A study conducted by Hakenes and Katolnik discovered that with a large enough group of followers, delegation of tasks results in a reduced risk of being replaced (although it also reduces the chance of identifying a star performer). So if you have a large group of people reporting to you, chances are delegation poses little risk. Second, even if your group is small (thereby increasing the risk of replacement), understand that growth is natural and inevitable. You can’t prevent it, so stop worrying about it. Take a different view of what’s happening, and you’ll be less stressed.

If that last part brings little comfort, there is something else you can do. If changing your view about the way things work isn’t working for you, then change your paradigm. Find a way to structure your business so that anyone who excels to the point of surpassing you, perhaps becoming the leader of his or her own team, still benefits you. You’ll find this paradigm in most direct sales organizations, and it may transfer well to your particular line of work.

Fear of competition from followers is an ingrained part of modern corporate culture for many, but a truly great leader rises above this cause of leadership failure. By shaking of this fear, he or she creates a positive work environment. By proper delegation, the effective leader promotes innovation and communication, spurs motivation, and virtually eliminates any feelings of alienation by his or her followers. That benefits the organization as a whole, the followers in general, and the leader in particular.

Do you find yourself fearful that your followers (employees, team members, etc.) are competing with you? If yes, have you managed to handle your fear, and if so, how did you do it? Share your thoughts and stories in the Comments below.

Causes of Leadership Failure – Expectation of Pay for What They “Know” Instead of What They Do With What They Know


What you know may NOT be worth moreThe world doesn’t pay for what people “know.” It pays for what they do, or induce others to do. – Napoleon Hill

[This is the third in a series discussing the causes of leadership failure presented by Napoleon Hill]

You’ve probably heard some variation of this story: A company is working hard to complete a production run for over 10,000 items to satisfy a multimillion dollar order when suddenly a key piece of equipment breaks down. Frantically, their techs try to get the machine back online, but have no success. So they call a specialist to come in and get the unit back up and running. After getting some details on the make and model, how long it’s been in operation, and some facts regarding what occurred leading to the breakdown, the specialist quotes a price of $5,000. The factory manager readily agrees to the terms. After all, there’s over $1M, not just in sales but also in profits, on the line!

The specialist shows up about a half hour later. He checks the logs, looks at the gauges, and crawls under the machine. Then he takes out a wrench and begins tapping the unit in select locations. After five minutes of his doing this, the unit starts up! The factory is back in business and can complete the production run in time to satisfy the order. The specialist was there a total of 15 minutes.

A few days later, the factory manager receives a bill for the agreed upon $5,000 – and he’s furious! “He wants this much for 15 minutes worth of work?! He’s out of his mind!” So the manager calls the specialist and says he wants a breakdown of exactly what the specialist provided to justify his $5,000 price tag. Five minutes after that call, a fax arrives from the specialist to the manager’s attention. It broke down the charge as follows:

  • One hour of labor:                                       $50.00
  • Knowing where to tap the unit                $4,950.00

Aside from getting you to read three paragraphs without even realizing it (and hopefully keeping you entertained), what does that story have to do with this particular cause of leadership failure? What lessons can we learn from it, and how can it help us avoid the pitfall Napoleon Hill describes above?

Use What You Know

Female manager

Do you feel passed over for a deserved promotion even though you “know more?”

Regardless of whether or not you think the specialist deserved his fee, one thing is certain: He used his knowledge to produce results. He wasn’t asking to simply be paid for what he knew, but for the results that knowledge produced when applied. Let’s contrast that with another type of person you’ve probably met in your professional life. We’ll call him Joe (no offense to all the successful leaders of the same name).

Joe’s been at his job over 20 years. In that time he’s received good performance reviews and as a result received pay increases slightly above cost-of-living. He’s also received the occasional modest bonus. Joe is on time and competent. Joe is also risk-averse. He doesn’t volunteer anything unless directly asked, and he’s as likely to follow orders even when he knows they’ll probably cause trouble down the line. Why? Because ‘it’s not his job’ to make those type of decisions, he reasons. Joe worked with all types of managers and has seen almost all aspects of the operation, and serves as a de facto team leader of a small group within his department, even while still answering to the department head and running every decision by his overseer no matter how small.

The company hires a new person, whom we’ll call Jane. Fresh out of school, she’s full of energy and wants to contribute. She works with different people in various areas, including Joe, who tried to share his views on keeping a low profile and only doing what you’re told. Jane has different ideas, however, and learns what she can from Joe, but remains ready to take on new tasks, always volunteering if it means an opportunity to showcase her skills. Jane quickly rises through the ranks and becomes a department head in three years. Eventually she takes over the position left by Joe’s former department leader, thus having Joe answer to her. As you can imagine, Joe isn’t very happy with this turn of events.

“Who does she think she is? She’s so wet behind the ears, she needs a towel! I know 10 times more than she does, and they’re giving her 6-figures, not including bonuses and perks, instead of me?! That’s just wrong.”

Poor Joe! The sad truth is, it’s not wrong for Jane to earn what she does. Although relatively new, Jane proved her value long before she received the compensation. Here are a few errors in Joe’s thinking to keep in mind:

  • He knows 10X more than Jane. That’s probably true – but unused knowledge is like potential energy. It has no real worth until it’s put into action.
  • Jane’s inexperience is a liability. While she lacks Joe’s years on the job, she’s filled her few short years with meaningful experiences that drastically increased her practical knowledge. That’s why she received the promotions never offered Joe.
  • Keeping under the radar is safe. Even if you’re looking to remain status quo, never challenging yourself to grow is dangerous. The world around us is constantly changing, and to simply maintain whatever level of success or advancement you currently have often requires developing new skills. So never taking on new challenges and forcing yourself to grow is the riskier course.
  • Not sharing your insight is safe. Even though the final decision rests on another’s shoulders, it’s in your best interests to speak up and share that knowledge. If a project tanks because of poor execution or poor planning, it’s not your responsibility. However, if you knew how to correct the problem and didn’t speak up, you bear some of the blame. Ultimately, a failed project affects everyone, not just the one in charge.

Joe fell victim to a sense of entitlement, the belief that he deserves compensation for what he knows. Sure, his years of service taught him much. However, as was eloquently stated by Napoleon Hill, the world pays you for what you do, or can induce others to do. It never pays you for what you know.

Don’t Fall Victim to the Trap

You’ll often see sites advertising, “Get paid for what you know!” Many, like Rewarder, Maven, and others, legitimately allow people with expertise the opportunity to share that knowledge with others for a fee. That’s a great resource; those sites provide a valuable service. That’s a far cry, however, from feeling you deserve a high five or even six-figure income simply because you’ve “been around” and “know a lot.” Business is like the Janet Jackson song; it always asks “what have you done for me lately?” So if you know a lot but haven’t done anything with it, don’t expect any compensation either.

If you really want to get paid for what you know, find ways to put what you know to good use. Establish yourself as the go-to resource in a particular field or niche market within that field. Once you’re respected as an expert and the word gets out, others will start seeking you out. You’ll get to share your knowledge with others, and eventually you’ll start getting paid for what you know and use in the service of others.

Have you ever found yourself victim to thinking you deserve payment for what you know rather than what you do? How did you overcome such thinking? What did you learn from the experience? Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.

Causes of Leadership Failure – Unwillingness to Render Humble Service


Willing to render humble service?Truly great leaders are willing, when occasion demands, to perform any sort of labor that they would ask another to perform. “The greatest among ye shall be the servant of all” is a truth that all able leaders observe and respect. – Napoleon Hill

[This is the second in a series discussing the causes of leadership failure presented by Napoleon Hill]

‘Don’t ask others to do something you won’t do yourself.’ That truism is at the heart of this cause of leadership failure. One of the reasons for violating this statement is the feeling that a task is beneath us. In some ways, that’s worse than simply being too lazy to do the task yourself. It fundamentally shows a belief that you’re superior, and others will quickly pick up on your attitude. Believe me, no one likes to have anyone look down on them. What causes this failure in leadership to manifest itself? More importantly, how can you overcome it?

A Great Leader is a Servant

There are a number of reasons why a leader doesn’t perform certain tasks. Some of them are valid. For example, a person may delegate tasks for any of the following reasons:

  • They don’t have enough time given their other responsibilities
  • They don’t have the necessary skill to perform the task
  • They lack confidence
  • They feel overwhelmed
  • They’re lazy
  • They think they’re too good for that kind of work

The first two are valid. If there are many facets of an assignment requiring multiple simultaneous tasks, you simply won’t have enough time to do everything yourself. Therefore it makes sense to delegate. Similarly, if you lack the necessary skills to perform an assignment, trying to develop the skills needed while on a deadline may not always be the best choice. You may better serve your objectives and benefit all on your team by assigning that particular task to someone with greater ability. Notice I said may; sometimes stretching yourself leads to discovering unknown abilities, as my fellow blogger Jessica mentioned in this post. The next two deal with self-worth and assessment of your own abilities. If you lack confidence, then take steps to increase it. Typically, setting small goals and achieving little wins is a great confidence boost, as David Byrd points out in his Next Level Achievement System® (NLAS). Additionally, a system by which you manage your development process, such as the NLAS, allows you to break down tasks into manageable daily tasks, thus reducing the feeling of being overwhelmed. The last two, however, are more challenging. They deal with a persistent and pervasive mindset, and that’s a tough nut to crack. The first of the two the NLAS addresses. Having you break down your goals into small action steps and then holding you accountable for achieving them often helps overcome any inherent laziness. The last point deals with a feeling of entitlement, that others need to do certain things for you. Once you feel you’re above others, you’re in trouble.

Servant Leader

A good leader is also a servant

Napoleon Hill quoted the words of Christ Jesus (Matthew 23:11) who emphasized a willingness to serve others. This is what leads to greatness. Though speaking to his disciples within the context of their ministry, those words apply to so many other areas, including our professional lives. Instead of a feeling of entitlement, this attitude encourages service to others as the means for achieving greatness. Is it any wonder that a lack of willingness to perform humble service is a cause for leadership failure?

Developing the Right Attitude

One of the simplest ways to get your mind right about serving others is to practice what you preach. I’m reminded of Paul’s words to Christians living in Rome when he said, “Do you, however, the one teaching someone else, not teach yourself? You, the one preaching ‘Do not steal,’ do you steal?” (Romans 2:21) We need to set the right example when it comes to humble service, and this is especially true when it comes to serving the needs of our customers. If you as a leader have a poor attitude towards dealing with the problems customers bring to your organization, you can bet your team picks up on that. Before long, you’ll have a team of people with a similar (if not worse) attitude.

Do you do the things you expect others to do, no matter how great or small? Sometimes we find it easy to do the big things but balk at the small stuff, especially when that small stuff is inconvenient. Since the best way to lead is by example, how you handle the “small stuff” gives an indication of your willingness to render humble service to others. If those you lead perceive you hold yourself to a different standard than that to which you hold them, they won’t follow you for very long. At the very least, they won’t give you the full respect and cooperation necessary to make your leadership effective. So get into the habit of doing the very things you expect of others. Demonstrate your willingness to render service by performing even the smallest tasks and you’ll be surprised at how well others follow your example.

How would you rate your willingness to perform humble service (to do the “small stuff”)? How can you improve in this area? Do you have stories, good and bad, of how you dealt with this cause of leadership failure in your organization? Leave your comments below.

Causes of Leadership Failure – Inability to Organize Details


Details MatterEfficient leadership calls for ability to organize and to master details. Ho genuine leader is ever “too busy” to do anything which may be required as a leader. When a leader or follower is “too busy” to change plans or give attention to any emergency, it is an indication of inefficiency. The successful leader must be the master of all details connected with the position. That means, of course, that the habit of delegating details to capable lieutenants must be acquired. – Napoleon Hill

“That’s not in my job description!” Whether said jokingly, half-seriously, or an adamant statement of defiance, those are familiar words to many. More importantly, the sentiment is one many share. Whether we say it outright or keep the thoughts to ourselves, the feeling that a certain assignment or task isn’t our responsibility is common…but generally not for a leader.

As noted by Napoleon Hill, an essential for successful leadership is mastery of details. Nothing is too little, too difficult, or too worrisome for a true leader when it comes to accomplishing a predetermined goal. Maybe that’s why he listed this as the first cause of leadership failure. What does this mean for a leader? Is it necessary for him or her to take care of everything? After all, doesn’t the old maxim state, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself?” Let’s take Mr. Hill’s words above and examine them more closely.

A Leader is Never “Too Busy”

Don’t misunderstand; leaders are busy. However, when it comes to accomplishing an assigned task or reaching a specific goal, there’s no room for being “too busy” for even the smallest detail necessary for completing your objective. Those details fall in the job description, no matter how much you wish otherwise. As stated above, a true leader makes time to do anything required in connection with the task at hand. This is extremely important when plans change or emergencies arise – and let’s face it: plans do change and emergencies will arise. Still, not everything qualifies as an emergency, nor should plans change frivolously. Therefore, to avoid leadership failure, a necessary skill is learning to distinguish between what’s necessary and what isn’t. That way, you can focus on the former and either delegate, delay, or dismiss the latter.

This leaves us with an important question: How can you tell the difference between the two? In an article on entitled Learn the Difference Between Urgent and Important, Whitson Gordon shared an interesting perspective on the matter. Quoting one of their readers, he said: “Almost all of those Urgent items are things that are interruptions that we react to and not things we have chosen to act on. I think that is the biggest difference. Too often we spend time reacting instead of acting. And I think that is where we most mess up our lives.” Therefore, if something interrupts your activity but isn’t directly related to your goal, put it on hold until a time you set to deal with those matters. Meanwhile, continue focused on the important tasks at hand.

Some might argue, “Isn’t an urgent matter an important one?” It’s true that one definition of urgent involves something requiring immediate attention. Yet it’s more often defined as an earnest solicitation or an insistent request. Therefore, while attempting to command your attention, an urgent issue isn’t necessarily an important one, requiring you to stop what you’re doing and address it. Understanding and embracing that distinction allows you to focus on important matters and their attendant details in a manner that assures you complete them.

Leaders Know how to Delegate

No one can do everything. You may not have the necessary skills to tackle certain tasks. More often, however, you simply don’t have the time. Therefore the effective leader learns to delegate properly. Delegation is a deliberate act. You assign tasks to those best suited to complete them, and monitor their progress (Note: Monitoring is completely different from micromanaging). To do this, you need the following:

  • An in-depth understanding of the required task(s)
  • Knowledge of the person’s capabilities that receives the assignment
  • An effective method for tracking progress

Success depends on learning to delegate and properly monitor your team

Naturally, this takes a certain amount of forethought. You’re not simply abdicating authority but assigning a task to a capable person. Thus, you have to think about what needs doing and in what time-frame it needs completion. Then, considering those with whom you work, pick a person who can complete the assignment on time. That’s challenging. Here’s an additional (and perhaps more difficult) challenge: You must design a method for tracking that person’s progress. Since you likely didn’t have time to complete the delegated assignment and the other aspects of the project yourself, you certainly don’t want to spend all your time following up with each person to whom you delegated tasks. That’s just as bad (if not worse) than trying to do it all yourself! Yet you must follow-up. If not, you won’t know the status of the overall project, and you certainly won’t master the projects details.

How can you avoid micromanaging while still keeping necessary tabs on progress? In an article featured on the Tech Republic website, Peter Woolford discusses this topic. After discussing how to tell if you’re micromanaging, he suggests making a thorough list of what you inspect and to what extent. Are there items on the list you need not monitor? For example, are there things on the list that your team always gets right? Then spend your time focusing on areas in which they’re weak. The real question is: Do you trust them enough to do the things you know they do well?

All teams need monitoring. The key is to monitor the areas where they fall short. Sure, you’re still responsible for the whole ball of wax. Yet constantly inspecting things you know they can and will handle does no one any good. It all comes down to trust. When you monitor every move of those for whom you’re responsible, you’re essentially saying you don’t trust them to do the job correctly. That creates an environment which stifles creativity and productivity. Therefore strike a balance between the need to effectively manage details and giving your people enough room to accomplish a task. Doing say often leads to surprisingly innovative results.

Are you a master of details? Do you micromanage? How can you change your management style to help you better handle all the details of your projects without stifling your team? Leave your replies in the Comments below.