Why are so many leaders failing today?

 
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Why are so many leaders failing today?

Dan Burrier / Executive Director & Senior Faculty / Institute for Personal Leadership

 
 

If ever there were a time for a new way of leadership it seems to be now. Hardly a day goes by without another story of yet another leader—whether in the realm of business, politics, law enforcement or education—falling from grace. The CEO of a sharing economy darling is ousted. A leader in pharmaceuticals becomes a public—and not positive—internet meme. Questions arise about political leaders in all parts of the world. Initiatives stall. Inaction reigns.

The costs of these failures are enormous. Not only are share prices, market share and political capital squandered, but longer-term assets like trust and brand value are eroded as well. Reputations are ruined, often quite publicly, as the power of social media and instant global communication doesn’t just amplify the bad news, but often can catalyze the fall in the first place.

Without presuming to analyze any particular case from afar (unprofessional at best, and certainly unfair and unkind to any individuals involved), here at the Institute for Personal Leadership, we do see a trend in all this, and more importantly a clear way forward to a more powerful form of leadership. In these dramatic and public falls from position and grace we see a failure of Inner Mastery in the race to achieve ever greater Outer Impact.

Outer Impact as a concept needs little definition in business and leadership circles. At the organizational level, impact is typically quantified in marketshare, market cap, ROI and brand value. Meanwhile entire industries have emerged to train legions of managers, MBAs and CXOs in the process and mechanics of business leadership in the effort to increase their individual impact on those metrics. Leaders have traditionally been taught how to plan, project, analyze, strategize and lead. How to be effective, powerful, unflappable, strong. On the outside.

Yet this training and development is often done with very little attention to what is going on inside of the leader being developed. As though we can “add to” or “paint on” a set of skill sets and behaviors to the person already there. Take Dan, for example, and create Dan+. Dan plus new knowledge, new skills, new tools, new techniques and new processes equals Dan the better leader. If only it were that simple.

What happens when surrounding conditions change rapidly? What happens when a case of bad customer service experience or product failure goes viral? How should a leader in today’s world respond to the instant demands for change, coming not just from customers but from an increasingly empowered and vocal workforce? This requires a new kind of agility and adaptability like nothing ever before experienced. This is a kind of agility that can only be achieved by authentic leadership that originates from within. And that requires Inner Mastery.

What is Inner Mastery? It is the difference between Goals-Based Leadership and Values-Based leadership, with a shift to leading from a core set of values. It is the development of personal principles based on those values that guide behavior in all situations. It is having the wisdom to harness our thoughts and emotions in service of our values and goals, rather than being victims of inner emotional demons as they push and pull us off course. (Being caught on camera in a moment of loss of control, for example.) It is being able to operate from an inner core of calm and truth, deftly parrying all that comes at us from a centered place. (Somewhat like Neo in The Matrix seeing bullets as slow motion objects that can be plucked from the air. No problem!)

When we achieve some degree of mastery over what’s going on within—and keep practicing and refining that mastery— then our training in the skills of Outer Impact seems natural and authentic, because it is. Now we can apply new skills, processes and techniques with the calm assurance that comes from within, with the confidence of self-awareness, knowing what we’re up to and why. And in the process we become better leaders.

Will we fail at times? Of course. To be a leader is still to be human. Great potential is within all of us: the potential to fail, yes. As well as potential to learn and grow and become soaring stars once more.

(Next month: One of our favorite inner tools at IPL for Outer Impact: the Pause Button.)