Rethink Leadership Change or Fail

 In Business Success, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Organizational Change

It is time for leadership change. Abigail Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson in 1790, “These are hard times in which a genius would wish to live. Great necessities call forth great leaders.” We desperately need better leadership now as in the past.

The Leadership Change Challenges

We are in those difficult times today. In the media we are confronted daily with the effects of serious global issues:

  1. Dramatic climate change and global warming
  2. Never-ending conflicts and wars
  3. New and deadly plagues
  4. Widespread Terrorism
  5. Greater income disparity between the haves and have not’s
  6. Structurally high unemployment
  7. Overpopulation, poverty
  8. Political and social instability
  9. Food and water shortages
  10. Collapse of world financial institutions
  11. Lack of trust in leaders in government and corporations
  12. The rise and impact of the digital and robotic eras.

We can add other issues but let us not get depressed. Our leaders are increasingly incapable of dealing with these problems to make any substantial positive progress. It is true that all ages have their troubles, but in the 21st century we have an unprecedented global interdependence. Each issue also has warning signs of catastrophic potential.

It is Past Time to Rethink Leadership and ChangeBusinesses are confronted with quandaries within all the above. At the same time, they face a devastating lack of trust in corporate leaders, whose priorities seem out of step with employee and public concerns. Employees are more dissatisfied and disengaged than ever before. However, they resist changing their leadership behavior.

We need something better. Ted Bauer, in his post, talks about a company without managers. Please also see the CEO Balanced Scorecard in my post, Why Most CEOs Should Be Fired or Reprimanded. Bottom-line, leadership performance on a large scale is gravely lacking, and it’s time for a change in focus and behavior.


I believe the fundamental reason for these failures is that too many leaders are self-focused. This means they are too selfish and seemingly only want what they want. Their needs trump the needs of others. Personal gratification and cash seem to rule for them more than anything else. This supplants the dire need for synergies, teamwork, and cooperation.

The US Congress is an example. The Republicans and Democrats have battled one another throughout history but found ways to compromise, except during the civil war. The country grew and prospered. For over two decades now their differences have escalated to toxic levels of partisan politics. Their attacks on one another are personal. Little gets done, and the public is fed up with it. 67% of the electorate rates their performance poorly and don’t believe that they care. Neither party nor individuals have risen above the caustic babble to do what is good for the country. All of this is going on when the US is faced with daunting issues that require immediate attention and change.

Many of these leaders follow a traditional ego-driven model of leadership that focuses on their interests, views, goals and needs above all others. Notably, they:

  • Take power for accumulation of personal influence, wealth, recognition, and advancement.
  • Control and manipulate people for their own narcissistic means and agenda.
  • Strive to be served by others to gain what they want when they want it.


As a result of the self-focused approach, our world and business issues become exacerbated in a continual struggle for selfish gain. A scene in the movie, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, showcases the obstacle. Jake asked Bretton, a Wall Street tycoon, “What is your number?”, and he responds with a devilish grin and says, “More!”

We MUST change what we think works. For example, Andrew Carnegie is often upheld as “the successful businessman.” His goal was to make as much money as he could in his career and then give it all away later.

Was he a saint or a robber baron? Supporters say he was no worse than others of that time and sometimes better. They point out that he donated over $350 million to a variety of institutions. Critics say some of his practices would be considered immoral, and possibly illegal, today. Moreover, he fought against the unions, lowered labor costs egregiously, and set up grueling 12-hour days in unsafe environments. In addition, he was engulfed in a variety of manufacturing scandals. Furthermore, many called him greedy, ruthless, and a taskmaster. He hired lieutenants to do his dirty work.

As leaders, if we run over people and make a lot of money, are we okay if we donate a lot away later? I do not think so.

Too many leaders fall into this trap. A couple of years ago, I was in Toronto on a consulting assignment. While unwinding at the end of a busy day, I had the news on the television. A reporter interviewed a business tycoon because he donated millions to a new hospital. Consequently, it bears his name now. He said to the reporter, “I have done many things I now regret in life. With this donation, for sure, I am going to heaven!”


Throughout history, some leaders have given us clues to the powerful potential in a divergent but other-focused leadership approach: Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Albert Schweitzer, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela and Jesus of Nazareth to name a few. They all disrupted accepted leadership practices of their day. Their goal was to help create a better world, not to gain recognition or become wealthy.

I define Servant Leadership to mean:

  • Empower all people, treating them with respect, care, and dignity.
  • Free people up to use and develop their talents to the fullest.
  • Serve others by leading with integrity and providing them hope, opportunity and security.

The late Steven Covey was the author of Principled Centered Leadership. He would also define this as servant leadership. The servant-leader shares power puts the needs of others first. Likewise he or she helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. It focuses on values, and virtue or character. He demonstrated how this approach builds more employee-friendly and profitable companies. What if our political and corporate leaders would do this?


It is Past Time to Rethink Leadership and ChangeMany of the skills of a Servant Leader involve listening, managing emotions, coaching, communicating, and enrolling people in a vision. In addition, Servant Leader’s demonstrate valuing diversity, team building, engaging employees, and dealing with conflict constructively. Dr. Daniel Goleman and Dr. Travis Bradbury label these the skills of emotional intelligence.  Most importantly, Dr. Bradbury shows that often executive leaders lack many of these skills.

However, few people are completely self-absorbed or self-less. Subsequently, I am talking more about a consistent pattern of behavior, not perfection. Maybe we cannot change the world all at once. It is unrealistic to believe that all leaders will become more collaborative, and caring. Yet, there is hope for change. The Giving Pledge is an organization started by Bill and Melinda Gates. It is about a commitment by the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate most of their wealth to philanthropy. This is a step in the right direction and leading by example.

Unfortunately, few of us can do what the Bill Gates of the world are doing. Mother Teresa said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”  Leadership change begins one person, one manager, one executive, and one senator at a time. There are local leaders everywhere with little money, who are doing the right things. They do it selflessly and without attention. Certainly, they strive to make a positive difference. Likewise, we need to champion these people and their efforts.


For those of you who are leaders or want to be, keep learning. For example, do a self-analysis. Be critical and aim to raise your capabilities. Attend altruistic or servant leadership training programs. Find a coach, to empower your improvement. Learn how to tap the true potential of your employees or constituents. Pay it forward and do planned acts of kindness daily. I know you will astound yourself with revelation. One CEO and COO we are currently partnering with are doing just that. They are not a global conglomerate. However, they are a small growing and successful manufacturing firm. Their goal is to leave a leadership legacy that makes a difference, not just a profit.

Greenleaf, Blanchard, Reichheld, Kouzes and Posner, Covey, and others present helpful models for excellence. Not enough leaders have taken steps to learn or apply these. For example, research shows that two-thirds to eighty percent of managers fail. This is ludicrous! We do not have the luxury of failure. Employees deserve better from us. As a result, we need bold action to change organizations, let alone the course of history. We all play a role in this. People earnestly need “more” from their leaders. We need a movement to make it happen.


Certainly, we must pay attention to these words by Albert Einstein. He said, “We cannot solve the with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Therefore, why not begin to rethink YOUR leadership today?

Also, you have team challenges or bigger goals to achieve? Go here for the complimentary dynamic eBook: Create a High Performance Team. 

Finally, do you want a helpful and proven game-plan for your management career success? If so, check out Rick’s Superstar Leadership Performance Plan.

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