The Six Warning Signs of Leadership FailureWhy do leaders fail? What are the reasons behind a successful CEO’s spectacular rise and equally spectacular collapse?

Leadership and change management expert Mark Sanborn offers six reasons why leaders fail, in an article for

Take a look at the warning signs he outlines and see if any resonate for you.

#1 A Shift in Focus

Leaders can lose sight of what’s important, Sanborn says.

The laser-like focus that catapulted them to the top disappears, and they become distracted by the trappings of leadership, such as wealth and notoriety.

When this happens, instead of “thinking big” as all great leaders must, “they suddenly start thinking small.”

This translates into micromanaging and becoming consumed by “the trivial and unimportant.”

What is your primary focus right now?

“If you can’t write it on the back of your business card, then it’s a sure bet that your leadership is suffering from a lack of clarity.”

#2 Poor Communication

When leaders lose their grasp on what’s important, Sanborn says, “they often hide their confusion and uncertainty in ambiguous communication.”

Alternatively, they fall into “the clairvoyance trap”—believing that the people who follow them “automatically sense their goals and know what they want without being told.”

When those followers are unable to decipher the subtext of the leader’s communications, he or she blames them for a lack of effort, “rather than their own communication negligence.”

#3 Risk Aversion

Past successes often breed a fear of failure in leaders. “Can I continue to operate at this high level of performance?” they wonder.

Paradoxically, Sanborn says, “the longer a leader is successful, the higher his or her perceived cost of failure.”

A fear of failure breeds aversion to taking risks—even reasonable ones. It’s safer for such leaders only to do what’s been done before.

“Attempts at innovation—typically a key to their initial success—diminish and eventually disappear.”

#4 Ethics Slip

“The highest principle of leadership is integrity,” Sanborn says.

When a leader’s ethics are compromised or reasoned away as being necessary for the greater good, “that is the moment when a leader steps onto the slippery slope of failure.”

Leaders whose integrity has lapsed lose the power of empathy. Instead of being “people perceivers,” they become “people pleasers.” They use popularity “to ease the guilt of lapsed integrity.”

#5 Poor Self-Management

Leadership is both invigorating and extremely demanding. “Leaders who fail to take care of their physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual needs are headed for disaster.”

#6 Lost Love

One last warning sign of a leader’s impending failure is moving away from “the dream that compelled them to accept the responsibility of leadership” in the first place. Leaders find themselves working towards objectives that have little personal meaning for them.

To avoid this trap, “leaders “must stick to what they love, what motivated them at the first, to maintain the fulfillment of leadership.”

Don't Fall into Leadership Failure

As Sanborn writes, “the warning signs in life—from stoplights to prescription labels—are there for our good.”

He encourages readers to take an honest look at themselves, and see if any of these leadership failure warning signs ring true. If so, now is the time to act.

Are you in danger of leadership failure?