Bret Hood on Why Leaders Fail [Podcast]

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By Adam Turteltaub

Why is it that so often leaders in organizations fail? They seemingly had all the skills, accumulated all the experience, and then something went wrong, sometimes disastrously. Not just the CEO, it can be leaders at other levels in the organization.

Bret Hood (LinkedIn), Co-Founding Partner of 21st Century Learning & Consulting provides some fascinating answers to that question in this podcast in which he draws from, amongst other things, his 25 years in the FBI.

He explains that as individuals move up the organizational ladder feelings of empathy may start to deteriorate without the person realizing it. They may grow to become self-centered, taking credit for the success of others, and distributing blame for failures, including their own.

This can be coupled with what he calls “illusory superiority”: the belief that you are better than everyone else. Most of us suffer from that to a degree. A very disproportionate percentage of people feel that they are smarter than their peers or even a better driver than most. In an exercise he frequently does, rarely do more than 3%-5% believe that they are in the bottom half for leadership skills. Clearly, it’s not possible for 95% to be in the top half.

Many leaders (and others as well) also suffer from what he refers to as “sunk cost bias.” A mistake is made, and instead of owning up to it there is a tendency to double down. A small fudge of the numbers in one quarter when thinking “well, it’s a small one-time dip” leads to greater fudging the next, and then on and on, rather than an honest accounting.

The bottom line is knowing your capabilities and performing an honest self-assessment is difficult. That’s why he recommends two approaches. First, think about what your gut says, and then ask: what if I made the opposite decision? What would be the consequences? This technique helps you see things from more than one perspective.

The second recommendation is to find people you respect who trust that it is safe for them to ask hard questions and offer opinions that contradict yours.

Listen in to learn more about leadership, and also the concept of followership.