What is the most important responsibility of leadership? Simply put, leadership is to identify the biggest challenges to forward progress and to devise a coherent approach to overcome them. This rule includes providing vision and motivation and to act as the change agent. Sounds nice. But in today’s competitive and volatile business climate, one cannot afford poor leadership, as business is not as usual.
Let us strip away at the excuses, explanations, rationalizations, and justifications for business failure; in the majority of cases it is because of management. In an honest analysis, it is plausible to say, “poor leadership” can lead towards corporate insolvency. Leaders will accept the kudos of business success; however most will not take the blame for business distress, which goes with the territory.
I recently read an article by business adviser Mike Wyatt about common leadership reasons for business failure. As a restructuring professional, it is plainly true that the number one cause of business failure is management. And in most cases it is because the leaders are “in a state of denial.” The common leadership reasons for business failure, and the roles and responsibilities they play are as follows:
- Lack of Character: Without strong character attributes encompassing ethics, a leader cannot effectively lead without the trust, confidence, and loyalty required by employees. For most, title means little when the leader garners character flaws. And respect is earned. So a leader must remember, that “when the fish stinks at the head”, the fish is bad. With the crisis of confidence in Corporate America brought about by the boards of Enron, WAMU, etc., character plays a key role in the viability of a business failure.
- Lack of Vision: The CEO must clearly define and communicate the corporate vision. Without vision, a flawed vision, or a poorly communicated vision, executive leadership has a problem. Moreover, if the vision is not in alignment with the corporate strategies and targets, the business will shortly be in trouble.
- Poor Branding: Poor branding generally means poor leadership. Brand equity, if declining, must be blamed on the leadership. You must question whether the leadership abdicated their responsibility while an erosion of brand equity is taking place. It is a failure in the alignment of vision with strategy for allowing the deteriorating of a brand’s promise.
- Lack of Execution: It all comes down to execution; the implementation to ensure a certainty of execution is primary for executive leadership. Leadership must focus on deploying the necessary resources to ensure that the largest risks are adequately managed, and/or that the biggest opportunities are exploited to avoid failure.
- Flawed Strategy: A flawed strategy simply reveals weak leadership. While there are exceptions to every rule, companies tend to succeed by design and fail by default. Show me a company with a flawed strategy and I’ll show you an incompetent leader.
- Lack of Capital: Even well capitalized ventures fail and severely under-capitalized ventures grow into dominant brands. A lack of capital can provide a socially acceptable excuse for business failure, but it is not the reason businesses fail. Cumulating working capital and permanent working capital is ultimately the responsibility of leadership. The amount of capital required to fuel a business is based upon how the business is operated. The reality of capital constraints is a factor leadership must recognize. If leadership squander the opportunity to obtain sufficient capital, irrespective to capital formation, the business will feel the results.
- Poor Management: The choice of recruiting, mentoring, deploying, and retaining management talent is up to leadership. Thus it is leaders blame if is fails to act to correct mistakes, change direction, or effective execute of strategy. It is the job of leadership to recruit, mentor, deploy, and retain management talent.
- Lack of Sales: The lack of coherent strategy, pricing, positioning, branding, distribution, or compensation impacts revenue. A lack of sales is ultimately attributable to a lack of leadership.
- Toxic Culture: Culture is important in business, whether it is a culture of working at Google, IBM, or at the Red Cross. It is up to leadership to recognize and “cut out” the individual or individuals that poisons a culture of a business. Nothing stifles productivity and creates conflict like a toxic culture. Hiring management or employees with different cultures must be examined to determine if issues will be developed.
- No Innovation: Remember, even Kodak was innovative, but have faltered from global competition. Leaders must create a culture of innovation or they will fall on the innovation sword. Innovation must be mission critical. As an example, textile maker, Milliken & Co., leveraged innovation to effectively compete. The strong bias for innovation by great leaders constantly recreates businesses and generates new opportunities. Leaders that are slow-moving towards innovation will doomed the business.
For leaders, the bottom line is that—businesses do not fail, the CEO, the entrepreneur, the leader does. A self-realization in the leadership sphere would result in an understanding that the responsibilities in operating at the C-suite level requires match the talent with the duties that goes with the territory. Is this easy? No! If so everyone would be a CEO or entrepreneur.