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London Business School: Five reasons why leaders fail

Leadership has to be adaptive. Effective leadership involves being the right person, at the right time and place, doing the right thing. This means leadership can take myriad forms for a multitude of situations, and leaders fail when their model, insights or relationships are wrong. The following five types of failure are commonplace, according to the leadership experts of London Business School:


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1. The pathological leader

There is a disturbing tendency for us to choose narcissists, bullies and psychopaths to lead us. They may make us feel safe, but ultimately people like Robert Maxwell, Al “Chainsaw” Dunlap and political despots through history leave a sad legacy.

2. The inflexible leader

The world does not stand still, and neither can leaders. Business history is littered with the wreckage of firms whose leaders failed to adapt their style and strategy to changing times, such as Kodak or Lehman Brothers.

3. The over-reaching leader

There have been leaders who have tried to force the world to adapt to their will – stretching their vision to breaking point. There have been plenty of these in political history, from Napoleon to Margaret Thatcher.

4. The lopsided leader

It is OK for leaders to have an unbalanced portfolio of skills, but only if they have re-balancing co-leaders and teams. Those who don’t fail to meet critical challenges of the role, such as Fred Goodwin of Royal Bank of Scotland, who was all operations and no strategy.

5. The unlucky leader

“Chance favours the prepared mind”, and leaders have to be able to identify opportunity and ride their luck. The financial crisis destroyed many firms, but good leaders hedge against extreme circumstances. Yet even good men and women can go bust if the sky falls in on their business.

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Five reasons why leaders fail

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