7 Reasons Why Many Smart People Fail to Lead

By Rajesh Setty | Published on:

You have seen these people – the best of the best in the lot. They get promoted to become the leaders and all hell breaks loose. They are not only frustrated but they will also royally frustrate their followers.

Here are seven reasons why this might be happening:

[Note: Replace “You” with the appropriate person as applicable]

1. The ingredients and the recipe for future success is different

As Marhsall Goldsmith highlights in his wonderful book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” one can’t use the same skills that got you to a leadership position to succeed IN the leadership position.

To be a superstar performer, you needed to have certain skills. You demonstrated that you have those skills and you produced results too. You got promoted to be a leader. But, to be a superstar leader, you need very different skills. Change is not optional here.

As a superstar performer, you were the master and as soon as you become a leader, you are back to being a student again. You may not be comfortable with that switch.

2. You enjoy fishing so much that you forget to teach your people how to fish

I remember this quote from one of the Stephen Covey‘s books – “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

But, what if you, the leader loves to fish? If someone is hungry, you will go fishing and feed them the fish. It it works, it solves the short-term hunger but it will never help them to be self-sufficient. If it works very well, it will teach your followers to keep coming back to you whenever they are hungry.

You got to the leadership position by being a really good problem solver. It’s easy to forget one of your goals has to be to make your followers really good problem solvers. When a problem arises, if you jump and solve the problem, when will the team members learn to build the muscles for problem solving?

3. You tend to forget the law of the lid

John Maxwell, the leadership guru talks about the concept of the “law of the lid.” To paraphrase him, leaders sometimes put a metaphorical lid that will set the limits for the growth of their followers.

After I read about the law of the lid, I became conscious about the concept. As I met with leaders during my travels, I noticed that many leaders didn’t notice the lids they had placed that set the limits on their followers growth. It was supervision gone amok. They had interesting labels for those lids but ultimately they were hurting their followers.

What about you? Have you placed any lids to limit the growth of your followers? It’s time to lift them forever.

4. It takes time for transitioning from individual glory to team glory

Individual glory is what you are used to before and team glory is what is expected of you when you become a leader. I am not saying that you didn’t believe in teamwork before but somewhere you had to draw a line and standout from the crowd and naturally there was some focus on individual glory. As a leader, your focus needs to be on making your team shine. This requires you to make a quick mental switch to take the focus away from you and towards the team. Make that switch for the benefit of your team.

5. You are uncomfortable without the spotlight

You were a superstar performer which came with a perk – an “always on” spotlight. As a leader, you are not in the spotlight but are given control of one – to shine it on one or more of your team members. To shine the spotlight on others, you have to move out of the spotlight yourself. But, you may not be comfortable living outside the spotlight.

Learning to shine the spotlight on others is part of your own growth. Someone put you in the spotlight and helped you grow into a superstar performer – it’s now your job to pay it forward.

6. Your comparisons lack the time lag factor

When you started on your journey, you were not the very best at what you did. It took you a few years to become someone really good. When you become a leader, you start expecting people to behave at the level you performed when you were at your best. You forget that they are just like you – they require a few years of development before they become the very best. In other words, you compare people forgetting the “obvious” time lag involved.

To escape this trap, always remember your own growth path and the time it required to get where you got. With that in the background you can think about how you can accelerate that growth path for your followers.

7. You forget your ultimate scorecard

The key measure of your success as a leader is in seeing what the people you led “become.” It is not what you achieve but how you transform the people you lead to unleash their highest potential. When the people you lead grow and become strong, the organization WILL grow without a doubt.

As a smart achiever, your scorecard may be all about you. As a smart leader, your scorecard will all about what happened to the people who you led.

Always remember the old saying –  “People don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care.”

Photo Courtesy: dammus on Flickr

Rajesh is a frequent speaker at conferences and companies on
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