How Leaders Fail

Posted: November 29, 2022 in Quintessential Leadership

titanic-sinking-under-an-aurora-quintessential-leaderHow do leaders fail? Let’s face the facts. We’re human. As such, we’re imperfect. None of us knows everything and none of us is good at all things. We have strengths and we have weaknesses. Quintessential leaders recognize this about others and about themselves.

Quintessential leaders are always looking for team members who will offset their weaknesses. They have no problems with people who shine in areas where they don’t; in fact, they welcome them with open arms and recognize the value they bring to the team. But, most people in leadership positions, sadly, are not quintessential leaders. This doesn’t mean these people don’t bring assets to the table, but their weaknesses, which they don’t see and wouldn’t admit to if they did, cause them to fail as leaders.

When the Titanic, a cruise ship that was touted as “unsinkable,” sunk in 1912, more than 1,500 – two-thirds – passengers and crew members died. Only about 750 – one-third – of those on board survived. The fate of the ship lay in how the leaders involved failed.

The owner of the ship, the White Star Line, decided to cut production costs while the Titanic was being built, so the steel that was used in its hull was cheaper and weaker than top-of-the-line steel. Additionally, the White Star Line was so confident that the Titanic could be a floating lifeboat that it did not equip the ship with an adequate number of lifeboats for the maximum number of passengers.

On the night of April 14, 2012, most of the captains of ships in the icy waters of the North Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Newfoundland had prudently shut off their engines to wait for daylight, after determining that there were too many icebergs to safely navigate the waters at night. The one notable exception was Edward J. Smith, the captain of the Titanic.

Iceberg warnings had been issued for the waters off of Newfoundland, but the Titanic’s senior radio operator, Jack Phillips, never passed the warnings on to Captain Smith.

The ship was just four days out from its Southhampton, England launch, but a coal strike in the country had left the Titanic with a short supply of coal. Captain Smith ordered the ship to proceed “full speed ahead” in an attempt to get to a coal supply source quickly.

All of these demonstrate how leaders failed and the result is one of tragedy for all involved.


How You Fail as a Leader

Maybe how you fail as a leader hasn’t resulted in an oceanic disaster such as the sinking of the Titanic or a space disaster such as the Challenger and the Columbia explosions that killed all those on board. Don’t assume, though, that how you fail as a leader is not just as catastrophic, on a more individual level.

How leaders fail comes in many flavors, but there are four general areas that cover all of them.

Dissatisfaction with Everything

There is something wrong with everything. If it’s not obvious, you nitpick it to death until you can find something you’re dissatisfied with. This how failure is rooted in skepticism and criticism. You are not a perfectionist; instead, you believe you’re smarter than everyone else in the room and you are the epitome of “right.” Therefore, everyone else is wrong and no one can live up to your standards (which are often arbitrary, shifting, and subjective).

Because of your dissatisfaction with everything, you dismiss and disrespect your team and any partners you work with. Perhaps it’s unintentional – although when you preface a statement with something such as “I’m not trying to be rude . . .,” it means you know you’re being rude – but your M.O. is to try to make everyone else look inferior, at best, and stupid, at worst. You have no qualms about publicly humiliating anyone and everyone, especially when other people are there to witness it.

Constant Negotiation

Nothing is ever settled. Even when you agree to something, you constantly revisit it to try to seek a better arrangement for yourself. Your word means nothing because it will change within hours, days, weeks, or months. This how failure is a projection of your sense that people aren’t dealing fairly or honestly with you.

You expect much for free and are angry when your team and your partners don’t give things away. Even if they do occasionally provide things at no charge, you seek to take advantage of that and get even more without paying for you. You cloak these efforts in phrases such as, “I’m disappointed that I have to pay for something that you didn’t see or know.” Whether you realize it or not, you are trying to shame and guilt the other party into acquiescing to your demand for free services, work, overtime, etc.

Feigned Ignorance

“I don’t understand.” What this conceals is that you do understand, but you don’t agree. This how failure is a character failure because you’re being dishonest. By feigning ignorance, you are able to keep your team and your partners running around in circles and accomplishing next to nothing, which drops their esteem even lower in your eyes.

You often think, they’re so inept and useless or they’re wasting my time or they are a waste of my time. At that juncture, you decide that you don’t need them and if they disappear, you’ll be just fine.


You want what you want. If you can’t get it outright, you work from every angle to disrupt, go around, and bend every situation to make sure you get what you want. Often, what you really want is to be right and everyone else to be wrong or you want to be the top dog at all times. 

This comes from your own insecurity about who you are and your place in life. No matter how successful you are, how much you acquire, or how much money you make, it’s never enough and you’re never enough. Manipulation is the only way you feel better about yourself because it’s the only time you feel in control.

Quintessential Leaders Fail, But . . .

. . . they aren’t always dissatisfied with, constantly negotiating with, pretending to be ignorant of, or manipulating everything and everyone around them. When quintessential leaders fail, they acknowledge the failure and they own their failure. Quintessential leaders value the people around them, so they are always serving them and making sure that if anyone gets the short end of the stick, it’s not those people. They are kind, generous, and respectful. Quintessential leaders always look so that they can catch people doing things right and recognize them for those.

Which Kind of Leader Are You?

Are you dissatisfied all the time? Is nothing ever good enough? Are you constantly negotiating with the people around you to try to gain a greater advantage? Do you act ignorant about things simply because you disagree with them? Do you manipulate people and situations to make yourself feel better?

Or do you strive to be a quintessential leader in all that you think, are, do, and say?

You may think only you know the answer. But the reality is that every one your life intersects with knows the answer, too. It might be instructive to ask a few people closest to you what their answer is. But be prepared to hear the truth and be prepared to take immediate action if you need to change. 

  1. mepeep says:

    This was right on the money! We’ve all come into contact with people who claim to be leaders but are disruptors instead. They can cause no end of must for those who are simply trying to do their job to the best of their ability. Excellent insight here!


  2. mepeep says:

    Great post, Boo! I left a comment — I think it’s one of your best. (I also have a sneaking suspicion about who motivated it!) Love you and the boys like crazy!!! 🧡💚💙🐶😺💜♥️💞💞💞


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s