Why Leaders Fail


We recently had a high potential who seemed like a superstar. He executed his responsibilities well. He seemed to manage well and looked like someone who could make it to the executive level. But when he was promoted to Vice President, he began to flounder and went downhill over the next 18 months until we had to fire him. Have you ever seen this? Why would someone with such talent fail after a promotion? 


There are many reasons leaders fail. In fact, statistics show that leaders fail all the way up the leadership pipeline. There is no point on the path where failure becomes less likely. In our own work and research, we have found that there are many reasons leaders fail. Here is a list of some of the common reasons: 

  1. They developed too quickly and went beyond their capabilities and maturity level. When this happens, they can have expectations of the rate that they are going to move up. They think that they should be moving up very quickly and when they do not move up, they lose patience. They can become disillusioned.”  
  2.  They have repeated failures and begin to lose self-confidence. 
  3. They have poor or underdeveloped decision-making skills. 
  4. They are a “One Trick Pony.”  For example, a person can be a superstar engineer or technical expert and a complete failure at managing people. 
  5. They do not follow through well. 

There are signs that a person is going down the wrong path and if caught soon enough, the person can often be saved, coached, and developed for a successful end. Here is what to look for: 

  1. Lack of communication; Lack of response to requests; Engagement decreases. They no longer go above and beyond.  
  2. Personal issues and outside stressors. “Nine times out of ten in derailment, it is related to personal issues.” 
  3. Not following through on responsibilities/assignments 
  4. Maturity Issues: (Poor self-control; lack of self-awareness; low or underdeveloped emotional intelligence). For example,  
    • “Getting mired in the details and forgetting their strategic vision is a derailment factor. They become too married to an idea to change and if the vision needs to change, they cannot change with it.” 
  5. Character Issues (Ego; Self-Serving; Lack of Integrity) 
    • High performers are motivated by a strong sense of pride. By encouraging them to have a team perspective and developing themselves by developing others, you help them maintain a healthy perspective.  
    •  “If they have strong results, but they sacrifice team members or the bigger picture or are too self-serving, they would no longer be considered high potential.” 



Bonnie Hagemann

CEO of EDA, Inc.


About EDA, Inc. 

EDA, Inc., a world-class human capital firm with powerful Employee Experience platform, providing SaaS and AI solutions, premium executive development services and leading industry research. EDA’s services include.

  • C-Suite & Executive Coaching,
  • Custom Executive Development,
  • Succession Planning,
  • Assessment & Selection Services, and
  • High-Potential Development.

It is our pleasure and passion to help organizational leaders create conducive workforce environments so that they can attract, retain, and develop top talent and advance their mission and strategy.


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