6 Warning Signs Your Successful Leadership Needs Help

If adversity makes us stronger, then what about success? Sometimes success leads to our failure. Here are 6 warning signs your successful leadership needs help, and what to do about it. 

Your leadership success earned you position, budget, and authority. As your leadership influence increases, fewer people are willing to give you feedback or able to question your actions. As a result, you are less accountable for your day-to-day behaviors. This is a dangerous place, and can lead to your decline.

6 Warning Signs Your Successful Leadership Needs Help

These warning signs begin in the leader’s attitude and perspective, then move to his or her behaviors.

Avoid thinking about how these apply to someone else. Take an honest look at yourself. Talking with a trusted advisor might help you determine how much these warning signs apply to you.

  1. You are the smartest person in the room. This is either not true or it is true. Either way you’re in trouble. Smart leaders surround themselves with other leaders who are more capable and smarter than themselves. The fact that you are the smartest in the room, or think you are, is a warning sign.
  2. You talk more than listen. In meetings it’s your voice that is most heard. During one-on-ones, you talk they listen. You aren’t tapping into other people’s creativity and experience. People learn from you, but your learning and growth has slowed as a result.
  3. You are not hiring or promoting mavericks. You were once one of them. Mavericks question everything, sacrifice the sacred cows of tradition, and operate from drive and passion more than fundamentals. Now mavericks are a threat to the processes you have put into place.
  4. You are playing it safe. Others may not notice, but you know you are taking predictable paths, the safer bets, rather than risking what you’ve established. You say to yourself, “Everyone is happy so why push for more?” You are satisfied with safe results.
  5. You allow others to take the blame. Taking responsibility, even for the mistakes of subordinates, demonstrates your commitment to the team. You subtly (or sometimes not so subtly) communicate you are working for your own success, your own legacy, even at the expense of others.
  6. You are tired. Not physically tired perhaps, but weary inside from pushing for years. You now find yourself thinking about golf and your next vacation. After all, you’ve earned it.

How many of these warning signs ring true for you?

To be honest, I see myself doing several of these, but less so than 18 months ago. It’s not the absence of these indicators that make you a great leader. It’s acknowledging what’s really happening and addressing it.

How To Get Your Leadership Back On Track

You are a capable leader. As you read the list of warning signs you already know how to address many of these from a skill perspective. Skills help, but the problem usually goes deeper than that.

Consistently, when a number of these warning signs are present in the life of a leader, I discover problems and solutions around the leader’s calling. Here are three patterns:

  1. The leader’s calling is unclear. Calling is a funny thing. It doesn’t change. But our understanding of our calling often changes. Experience will refine and clarify it. Many leaders, however, do not pay attention to the quiet voice of calling. We continue to pursue the pathway right in front of us, walking where others walk. Calling takes leaders on unique paths that make sense for you, not everybody else.
  2. The leader’s role is misaligned with his or her calling. Our abilities, experience, and successes gain attention and lead to promotions. The system promotes according to results, not calling. It’s common to find very capable leaders in roles that have little to do with their calling. I found myself here 18 months ago, leading a growing organization that I founded. My calling is about developing processes, then writing and speaking about them, not leading an organization. Realigning my role with my calling changed everything, for me and my business.
  3. The leader has given up on his or her calling. Pursuing one’s calling isn’t easy. It require us to sacrifice comfort and status quo. Calling does not usually come with all the abilities and experience necessary to live it out. We must go after these things. Learning and growing doesn’t stop in our early 30s, but continues for our lifetime. Sometimes that means stepping away from our “success” to the unknown. Understandably, some leaders don’t want to risk what they’ve worked to achieve. The sense of fulfillment leaders seek, however, can only come by fully living out our calling.

It takes courage to address these warning signs. After all, you’re on top with a lot to show for it. No one will force you to change. Not now anyway. There will come a day, and you’ll know it’s long past due.

Instead, dig into your calling. Explore your unique path to pursue it. Step out of the comfortable and known, and step back into passion and mystery. Here you can rest knowing that you are becoming the person you are called to be and living out the contribution you are called to make.

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    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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