When Leadership Fails

First off, this is not a political or partisan article but a thought piece on the leadership tragedy we witnessed as a nation and world. I am compelled to share my insights because of the emotion and passion I have for leadership and community. While one can point fingers at individuals for our eroding democracy from the inside out, the reality is quite simple, this is a lesson in failed collective leadership.

Every day I roll out of bed to coach and inspire executives around the world to strive for greater ideals and purpose. I was born to do what I do. I take the concept of leadership extremely personally. Leadership is not a right, or a position, but rather a calling to serve a greater purpose than oneself, your admirers or immediate beneficiaries. It is a calling to serve the greater good through pure intent, actions and impact.

The actions and dynamics that occur within an inverted pyramid can stall growth, create pain, erode trust and destroy the very entity that leadership was entrusted to nurture. While it is not exclusive to a leader’s actions, wherever it starts it easily carries throughout the entire system, much like my mother’s lymphoma. As its spreads, it unequivocally hinders the functions that allow us to ward off sickness. We have all experienced the inverted pyramid in our life, and many have felt the pain while existing within environments caught in its cycle. Interestingly, few of us know how to call it out beyond the impact we experience.

The most successful and vibrant businesses operate from the upright pyramid of leadership responsibility and purpose; Enterprise, Team and then Self. The inverted would be Self, Team and then Enterprise. The pyramid of leadership responsibility and purpose is something that Transcend embeds within every executive we coach, every team we develop and every business we grow. An executive team that operates enterprise first, has greater accountability, transparency, and shared responsibility for the good of the entity. They strive to meet the needs of the enterprise before prioritizing the needs of their team, and then finally themselves.

The reality is that leading enterprise first is rare. Enterprise first is typically represented in smoke screen messaging designed to fulfill the needs of the business unit over the whole. True enterprise leadership requires sacrifice, and sometimes taking heat from the team you lead and love to confidently stand strong for the needs of the enterprise. Spend thirty minutes in a board room, executive meeting, or leadership group and you can immediately see the immense focus, or lack of focus, on enterprise first decision making.

Without enterprise first actions, we are all left with power imbalances that reward individual relationships more than the collective best interest of the entity. Without enterprise first, individual executives advocate in silos for resources that can potentially create imbalance. In this space, the people of influence and loudest voice ultimately drive the direction. The cancer begins to spread.

Enterprise focus in the second or third position is an impending lesson of failed collective leadership. Executives that promote the needs of their team over the enterprise are a huge part of the problem. They are not collaborators and advocates for the greater good, just advocates for their “leadership brand” in the eyes of their team and the fractional part of the system they drive forward. We all know that systems without equal balance will never function at full potential. While the engine builder may carry exceptional pride in the resources they turned into a V8, that masterpiece is of little use in a vehicle with an underdeveloped transmission and no suspension. Over-resourced and relationally protected elements of the business will never result in a better long term performance.

The symptom charged the capitol, while the origin was in session. Where the U.S. Constitution and democracy are the enterprise, we have witnessed continual prioritization of party (team) and individualism (self) over the greater calling. One hundred senators, and 435 voting house members have sworn to preserve the vitality of our nation’s constitution and democracy. A continuous barrage of intentions, actions and communications (smoke screened as preserving the constitution and democracy) have been destructive to the enterprise in lieu of party promotion. The sheer volume of jaw dropping “leadership actions” is undeniable. However, somehow the greater leadership of these two bodies seemed shocked and dismayed at the state of the union yesterday. The cancer has spread without them even knowing that ALL of their own actions were the source. This is a master class in failed collective leadership. It resembles the executive team struggling to understand why the business is underperforming when the dynamics in the room tell the complete story.

The promotion of enterprise second, or even third in most cases, has resulted in a chronically ill governing system. As citizens, if we want great leadership, we should elect great leaders, not politicians. What we are learning is that being an elected official does not universally grant the sacred title of leader, one who grows the greater good. Thus, what we have come to witness is people in power who are vacant in leadership acumen, platform, and awareness. Sadly, we’ve seen this in business at times too.

Executives are not inherently leaders; they choose to embed leadership behaviors into their role to grow what has been entrusted to them. To earn the title of a leader they act in accordance to the greater good first. In a country where surrendering self is a major challenge, and community connection has plummeted, we are left with the hope that business can be a place where leaders create a platform where greatness is possible. I am proud to continue the charge towards creating the healthiest and most vibrant business performance possible. Join me by leaning into enterprise first. Only then can we begin to build the places that inspire the best within all of us.

About the Author: Craig Wiley is the CEO of Transcend, a coaching firm dedicated to transforming executives and the companies they lead. He is a leading coach, speaker and advisor within the world’s largest CEO organizations. Fortune 50 to well-funded startups have leveraged Transcend’s insights to accelerate growth and build exceptional leadership capabilities. Follow Craig and the rest of the Transcend coaching organization here:

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