How Most Leaders Fail

Having spent my life in leadership, for the first time in my life I find myself somewhat at peace being on a sabbatical from all the responsibilities leadership piles on. I am no longer a business owner with employees, a pastor, a music director, a worship leader, a community leader or a piano teacher. During this time of rest, I see myself and my own failures being replayed in the leaders around me. The angst that accompanies this viewpoint is similar to watching a sporting event and seeing a big “fail” on the field. It may be easy for spectators to criticize, but having been “in the game” it is also part empathy for me. There is nothing as all-consuming, or exhausting as leadership. Leaders will always have my empathy and sincere appreciation. Even still, it is disheartening to see any leader fail. Because of this, with much love and appreciation I write this article.

Tenacity and Perseverance

Most leaders learn through experience. They try this and then they try that and they go with what works for them. They stick to it until the obstacle is overcome and the goal is achieved. When you are responsible for children, employees, church parishioners, singers, players, artists or just people in general, no leader wants to face them, not having done everything possible to overcome and prevail. Leaders are inspired and quitting is not an option. Even when they are temporarily set back, their mind is overworking the issues for a resolution and a positive outcome. However, the biggest problem with most leaders is they end up at the top because they persevered. This is both good and bad, so, I repeat myself… the problem is they ended up at the top because they persevered. Tenacity creates more leaders than talent, education, money or charisma. Tenacity almost always brings along Arrogance. Most tenacious, persevering people think they are better, smarter and earned the right to be leader. It’s like a king of the hill contest. Some even subconsciously claim a divine right to the position of their success. Especially those who have a faith based background.

King Saul

There is nothing more intolerable and arrogant than a leader who feels divinely placed and is no longer capable of insight. An example of arrogance, complacency and entitlement, King Saul lost his natural humility and empathy for others. This caused him to be in opposition to God’s plan. Saul’s story gives us a sad end to a man, who in the beginning had the attributes to inspire those around him. As leaders, we should be mindful that arrogance and a lack of empathy are debilitating side effects of success. It will cause those who follow you to question your ability to reason and lead appropriately. It will undermine your ability to see yourself in a true light. Some leaders will not concede this self blindness until their leadership is traumatically removed from their dying hands. So it was with King Saul.

The Apostle Paul

Paul the Apostle was a brilliant man. He set a goal to spread the Gospel, then maimed, tortured, imprisoned and killed himself doing it. Paul was a brilliant writer and passionate about his cause. However, Paul was bullheaded, stubborn, and blind to himself. God had to strike him down, then make him physically blind to get him to see himself spiritually. Paul lacked introspection of a personal nature. He did not have patience for people who did not share his passion and he fought with everyone including the other apostles. Paul struggled to keep his missionary churches following him.  Due to his relentless pace and excessive travel, others couldn’t keep up.  On the other hand, his greatest accomplishments were as an successful evangelist to the known world and writer of over half the New Testament. He was an overachiever, and by no means a failure for His cause, which was the spread of Christianity.  However, on a personal level he struggled greatly.  Timothy and Titus were his apprentices but they never truly aspired to the accomplishments of Paul. Paul had bigger impact on Christianity through his writings to them and to the churches than he ever would in person. You can read his frustration at the beginning of every epistle as he lays out his credentials. In Christ and for the cause, he is irreplaceable in his accomplishments and his dedication to God, but his impact as a leader and on a personal level was skewed by his inability to see himself and curtail those qualities in his character that left followers and peers confused, angry and distraught. Barnabas and John (Mark) are example in Acts 15:39-41 Peter is mentioned as being in dispute with Paul in Galatians. What a powerful figure Paul made but he was truly blind to his own shortcomings. Leaders who cannot see themselves and resolve their character issues will find themselves like Paul who in prison complained often at having very few visitors of those he considered peers and fellow disciples of Christ. While Paul will never be deemed a failure in his spectacular ministry or his tenacity to spread the Gospel to actually succeed in mass converts, he struggled to personally connect, inspire and influence through relationships and in the end he was left very much alone to his letter writing. Leaders who are like Paul tend to not lead but drive his followers. In our world, leaders like Paul or Nehemiah are less and less tolerated. They tend to excel with a captive audience such as those in prison ministry.


Moses was a brilliant leader who was not arrogant but remained humble, and unlike Paul, he could see his inabilities. One significant issue was his limited ability to speak. He resolved that through delegation. He delegated that responsibility to his brother, Aaron. Aaron was not as resolute or tenacious enough to see two million slaves delivered from Egypt and then migrated across a desert but Moses was able to concede a portion of his responsibility to his brother so that he could accomplish just that. Later, after following his father=in-law’s advice, Again, Moses delegates leaders throughout the tribes of Israel to be judges. This allowed issues confronting the traveling group to be handled in a timely manner. Too many leaders fail at adequately managing situations and people because they can never learn how to delegate. I find that leaders who are controlling, leaders who are perfectionists and leaders given over to pride and vanity find themselves exhausted, overworked and resented because those who follow them are inadvertently disrespected, overlooked and are without a true “team” vision. These leaders overlook the one true important factor of team building… ownership. If a person is not respected enough to receive a “stake” in the outcome, they will not invest or take responsibility. In Braveheart, Mel Gibson’s character walks out on the field to “inspire” the warriors to give their lives for a cause. His speech could only have impact or compel a man to give everything because he made his cause their cause. Those warriors “owned” the cause and because the cause was now their cause, they were willing to give everything for it. On the opposite perspective, Bruce, who was the rightful King of Scotland, failed as a ruler because he could never inspire men to die for a cause because he could never give them true ownership of it. We inspire future leaders and followers by trusting them enough to apprentice them and allow them ownership through delegation of responsibility. Most people hate to disappoint leaders and authority figures. We are inspired by leaders who are empathic and who empathize with us. It is a shared cause that brings the masses into subjection through ownership. Leaders who have to micromanage, must be in charge of everything and are not able to trust anyone enough to delegate responsibility to them will find themselves perplexed by their followers lack of insight into their vision and cause. They will also be frustrated by their followers lack of commitment, many absences and constant tardiness. Followers with no ownership of a cause will act like they have little or no responsibility to it. When I was in my early twenties, I was blessed to have a music leader who saw my potential and delegated responsibility that I was probably unqualified for. My desire to prove myself worthy of this position, inspired me to study, practice and learn more. Within a year, I was completely qualified for the position.


Abraham is known as the father of the faithful and rightfully so. By his life’s end, he had submitted everything to God, including his aspirations and dreams. However, I am going to focus on Abraham’s fears and apathy. When Abraham is first called. God asks him to leave his country and his family, yet Abraham has his nephew, Lot, tag along. It is not until Lot and Abraham separate that God makes a covenant with Abraham. A little later, Abraham finds himself heading to Egypt where his fears make him tell a partial untruth about his relationship with Sarah ( his wife). Abraham is afraid that Pharoah will kill him to take his beautiful wife. Instead of trusting God, we find Abraham hiding from confrontation. God works it out for Abraham and he leaves Egypt wealthier than when he arrived. Abraham, then allows his wife to talk him into taking her handmaiden as a surrogate for his promised heir. This creates havoc in his household and lasting issues for his future generations. Abraham has a very connected friendship with God yet we find him repeatedly giving into fear and apathy. In addition, his lack of effective communication about many issues leaves those following him with no direction. His nephew Lot seems to disrespect Abraham’s position as Elder and Abraham’s wife is seen trying to work out God’s promises herself. Hagar, the slave, doesn’t seem at all abashed at disrespecting both Abraham and Sarah. While Abraham is consistent in his personal relationship with God, we find that managing people is not his strength. Leaders need to define their team’s vision and provide direction with clear communication. This should include a plan of action with each team member’s roles clearly defined. Personal communication with each team member should include the team members expectations, including his aspirations and ambitions and the leader should outline their expectations from the team member. Sometimes leaders must redirect a team member’s expectations to avoid issues in the future. Managing people includes defining the strengths of those that are following and appropriately assigning them to achievable tasks and goals. Discussing areas of weakness can be productive if handled delicately and may be necessary if a team member desires to complete tasks outside their skill set. Many people leave jobs, teams, churches and community programs because they have no confidence in leadership. This is due to ineffective leadership and management of people.

I will expand on this topic further. I am compelled to write because I see so many wonderful leaders fail. I myself have failed many times and each of the above stated failings were hard learned. May the many worthy causes find leaders who can overcome themselves enough that their success can be apprenticed and passed on along with the cause.

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