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7 traps that can bring down leaders

By Adriaan Groenewald*


It is a leader's responsibility to compensate for weaknesses and lack of performance in an organisation. They fail in their role when they do not have a conscious understanding of the principles of profitable leadership. They believe that hard work, drive, and incisiveness can compensate for lack of performance, but these elements alone are not enough for a leader who wants to be profitable in all areas.


Leaders who are acting in a negative frame of mind, neglecting to evaluate and re-evaluate, or can generate integrated positive aspirations and directional clarity in others, who are unable to mobilise, optimise, economise and integrate supporting structures, and who cannot master organisational dynamics or apply compensation leadership are doomed to failure.


Negative frame of mind

Operating in a negative or reactive frame of mind is harmful, and colleagues and employees may abandon ship because loyalty and unity are seriously threatened when leaders react negatively.


A business leader in negative mode over compensates by using considerable charm, but charm is not an equivalent to maturity and positive behaviour.


Profitable leaders never justify a negative frame of mind because when leaders react while in an emotional or negative state, their reactions will consistently be out of context with a mature perspective.


Unmotivated people

Often leaders may be driven by a positive attitude, but lack the ability to generate the same attitude in others. This may be because they do not understand the elements that drive motivation and thus get impatient with those they lead. Impatience generates frustration and mistakes in others, and fosters misunderstanding and a general lack of communication.


Leaders often focus primarily on bottom-line and task-orientated performance without seriously investing in providing their staff with the attributes that generate profitability.


Leadership is essentially about motivation, direction and structure. The result of unmotivated people is failure.


Lack of directional clarity

Nothing is as frustrating as passion without direction. Motivation is synonymous with directional clarity and leaders should invest in generating such clarity. Hard work, drive, and incisiveness are poor substitutes for a lack of directional clarity in an organisation as this generates a never-ending list of ills.


Leaders who do not generate directional clarity often compensate by putting pressure on staff and blaming them for a lack of performance. This mistake is difficult to address when it goes unrecognised by the leader. Many leaders have failed because of a lack of directional clarity.


A better grasp of directional clarity can be achieved by studying strategic marketing and positioning, rather than marketing in just the promotional sense.


An ineffective supporting structure

When structure and organisation drive a company rather than serving the aspirations of the office of the leader, there is trouble. Structure is designed to serve the aspirations of the organisation, but often the structure does not serve the organisation's goals.


Effective structure must be mobilised, optimised, and integrated in line with business goals. This structure can help a leader drive directional clarity, employee motivation, and a company-wide understanding of the business goals and actions.


If a company needs to economise through cost cutting, and this process is performed out of sync with the other drives of structure, it can be a serious mistake. Without effective structure, employees could be misinformed or uninformed about cost cutting processes and dissent could affect productivity or morale.


Organisational dynamics

When the leader perceives the organisation as being complicated, mistakes are bound to happen. Obviously the modern corporation or any large organisation is sophisticated and requires intelligent leadership, but the profitable leader perceives the different divisions and roles in the organisation as simple expressions of their aspirations for that organisation.


As soon as a leader is unclear on the relationship between executive aspirations and the workings of the organisation, expensive mistakes can be made and frustration generated in the process. When the organisation becomes too complex for the leader to understand in simple terms, failure is imminent.


The cost of the leader working for the organisation instead of the organisation working for the leader is exorbitant. It is crucial that the organisation serves the aspirations of the office of the leader. If organisations are allowed to go their own way, leaders can become negative, reactive and emotional.


The need to evaluate and re-evaluate

Even great leaders neglect to evaluate and re-evaluate positive aspirations, directions and structures on a regular basis. They put dynamic plans in place and get projects moving, but then they get bored and move onto something new.


Evaluating and re-evaluating can become monotonous, but it is critical. If not done religiously, the leader cannot take ownership of and accountability for the success or failure of the organisation.


Compensation leadership

It is an expensive price to pay when the leader loses the confidence of staff because of an obsession with bottom line profits. Profits result from profitable leadership, which ensures a culture conducive to profitability, and this in turn leads to motivated and unified staff. Profitable leadership also generates innovation and personal ownership.


At the highest level, leaders often neglect to proactively get staff to buy in to the positive aspirations as well as the possible pain that might result from certain organisational plans or actions not materialising. The result is that the leader creates partial ownership, which is not enough in today's challenging leadership environment.


Mastering the art of proactively planning compensation leadership goes a long way towards making it easier to apply compensation reactively further down the line. In other words, don't just get buy-in on the positive outcome of your plans forward, but also get buy-in on the pain that will result if success does not happen, as well as the steps that will have to be implemented to rectify the situation. 


Leaders fail for many reasons, but the major reasons have to do with their inability or unwillingness to work in the context of the principles of profitable leadership.



* Adriaan Groenewald is MD of local consulting firm Moditure.


About Moditure

Leadership consulting firm Moditure specialises in developing profitable leaders and employees in commerce and civic society through the integration of three universal principles: motivation, direction and structure. This is achieved by a focus on the universal "How Formula" needed to implement these three principles.


The company has developed several models around these principles. Tested in various leadership, organisational and personal environments, these models are designed to cultivate profitable leaders, and empower leaders and staff at all levels to manage their attitudes and feelings.


Moditure MD Adriaan Groenewald has co-authored and published the "CEO Leadership Handbook", which studies prominent South African figures such as former president Nelson Mandela, Pick 'n Pay CEO Sean Summers, Wiphold CEO Louisa Mojela, and JSE president Russell Loubser.




Adriaan Groenewald, Moditure Consulting, (012) 653 3022,

Melanie Spencer, FHC Strategic Communications, (011) 608 1228,