Why some people fail in their attempts at leadership. 

The recent resignation of the UK Prime Minister, and now the scramble of ‘leadership’ hopefuls to replace her, has led me to consider (again) why some people fail in their attempts at leadership. 

There is a conceptual model sometimes known as ‘leadership in action’, but I prefer to call it the ‘leadership loop’, which can help us to understand these failures.

This model is therefore principally focused on establishing a ‘future’ and then delivering that future. The leader is showing the ‘followers’ that what they want is achievable and that the leader is able to effectively lead them in the delivery of it – in other words the leader has created ‘a compelling vision’ – that sense of where the leader is going.

Women and Leadership Leeds 2019

The process starts at the top of the loop with an individual aspiring to be a leader by having followers (you do not lead an organisation, you lead people). To be truly effective as a leader those ‘followers’ have to become the leader’s ‘volunteers’. 

A vision is the leader’s view of the future. It is the ultimate place the leader wishes to be. For the people being led (the followers) vision is another word for their belief in the overall plan. To be converted to a ‘volunteer’ the ‘follower’ must want to be a part of that vision or future.

It is the role of the leader to fire the imagination of the followers. A leader who is able to adopt the right attitude, spirit and exude self-confidence will ultimately see that same example flows through the followers.

However, please note: The opposite is also true.

A lack of determination, poor self-confidence, a negative attitude and expressions of anxiety will have the exact opposite effect and will not fire that imagination!

So the second part of the leadership loop is converting those followers into volunteers. A leader inspires – not manipulates. The leader provides clarity on the way forward.

The third component is explaining and demonstrating to those volunteers and indeed those followers that you can give them what they are looking for. That will vary, depending on the situation. It could be a meaningful salary, it could be a sense of purpose, it could be they want to belong to a team or a great cause et cetera.

But then we come to the most important part, which as a leader you are effective in delivering what you promise. Whatever your vision, whatever you’ve outlined is your strategy or your plans, you have a particular style that enables you to deliver what your followers and your volunteers want. We continue to move around the loop clockwise because that naturally is going to attract new followers and then the circle begins again as we convert those new followers to volunteers.

You can apply this loop to yourself and self analyse where you sit on the loop. Do you just have followers? Why are they not volunteers? Do you have a compelling vision? Can you inspire action? Has your vision lost its edge? Has recruitment of new volunteers stalled?

Sadly, those leaders who fail often lack the self-confidence or self-awareness to put themselves through such self-reflection – and to take corrective action. I would hope those who aspire to the greatest leadership/position/office in the land – Prime Minister of the UK –  reflect carefully on such a model as this. A lack of vision, or the lack of determination and courage to deliver a compelling vision, will not attract and retain the followers needed. Sounds simple doesn’t it!

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