Are You in Pursuit of Victory or Avoiding Failure?


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Many of the biggest stories of 2010 in the business work involved leadership failures. Mark Hurd resigns from Hewlett Packard after a sexual harassment investigation.  Louis Lower resigns from Horace Mann after a guilty plea for driving under the influence.  The highest profile is likely Tony Hayward’s resignation from BP while mishandling the gulf oil crisis.

Have you ever wondered how leaders can be so successful that they are trusted with critical roles in high-profile companies only to end up leaving these roles in disgrace?

A recent Washington Post article titled Episodes of Failed Leadership in 2010 Taught Lessons by George Everly Jr. sheds some light on the topic.  I was particularly interested in the article when a friend forwarded it to me because it reminded me of a similar article in Forbes titled Why Leaders Fail Under Pressure by Paul Sullivan.

Both authors list what led to leadership failures and have a formula for success.  While I don’t dispute their findings, there was not as much overlap in their conclusions as I expected.  Yet, it’s an interesting list between the two authors:

10 reasons leaders fail under pressure:

  1. Failing to accept responsibility
  2. Overconfidence
  3. Over valuing one’s importance
  4. Acting impulsively
  5. Excessively delayed action
  6. Trying to please everyone
  7. Failure to communicate
  8. Compromising one’s own integrity
  9. Trying not to fail rather than seeking victory
  10. Failure to take care of oneself (appearing worn, exhausted, demoralized)

11 characteristics of leaders who succeed under pressure:

  1. Focus
  2. Discipline
  3. Adaptabe
  4. Staying in touch
  5. Balance of fear and desire
  6. Optimism
  7. Innovative
  8. Decisive
  9. Trustworthy
  10. Accepts responsibility
  11. Effective Communication

What have you learned in times of crisis?  Do you agree with these attributes of success?  What about the formula for failure in crisis?  What can you do differently to become a more effective leader?

Best regards,

Christian Paulsen
The Lean Leadership Blog
Written for

Related article:  3 Reasons Leaders Fail Under Pressure – Will You?


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About Christian Paulsen

Christian Paulsen is an Executive Consultant with 20 years of Lean Manufacturing. Chris adds value to organizations by driving process improvement and bottom line savings. Chris intends to help others by sharing the lessons learned after a quarter century of operational leadership, marriage, parenting, and even longer as a Cubs fan. Your comments on this blog are welcome. You can also connect with Chris via LinnkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook in the right sidebar. Chris welcomes your comments. Christian's professional services are available by contacting him through LinkedIn (right side bar)
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2 Responses to Are You in Pursuit of Victory or Avoiding Failure?

  1. Matt Wrye says:

    Great list. The one that popped out unexpectedly to me was looking warn down. It makes sense but was never anything I thought about. It seems like something that would be easy to take care of, but with people having so much to do I can see where taking care of yourself can be neglected.

    • Matt,

      Taking care of oneself is an interesting point on the list. The greater the leadership challenge, the greater the temptation to throw yourself at it 100%. 100% sounds great but isn’t healthy over the long run if it comes at the expense of balance and taking care of oneself. I hadn’t thought of the negative impact on the leader’s appearance also having a negative impact on those who are following. Thanks for your insight.


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