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Zenger and Folkman's 10 fatal leadership flaws

Are you prepared to recognize your own weaknesses?

Have you ever worked for a leader who didn't learn from his mistakes, who made key decisions without involving his team, or who resisted new ideas?

These are all common mistakes made by ineffective leaders. They can demoralize and disengage a team, limit progress, and even derail an organization.

As a leader, it's important to be aware of common leadership mistakes, so that you can avoid them. In this article, we'll look at the 10 most common flaws, and we'll discuss what you can do to avoid each one.

About the Tool

Leadership consultants Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman used two studies to identify their 10 fatal leadership flaws.

In the first study, they collected 360-Degree Feedback on more than 450 Fortune 500 executives. They then identified the most commonly shared characteristics of 31 of those executives who were fired over the three-year period that followed.

In the second study, they analyzed 360-degree feedback data from more than 11,000 leaders, and singled out the bottom 10 percent. They compared the ineffective leaders with the fired ones, and, from this, identified the 10 most common leadership flaws.

They published their findings in a June 2009 Harvard Business Review article, "Ten Fatal Flaws That Derail Leaders."

Their 10 flaws are:

  1. Lacking energy and enthusiasm.

  2. Settling for mediocre performance.

  3. Lacking clear vision.

  4. Using poor judgment.

  5. Being unwilling to collaborate.

  6. Not "walking the talk."

  7. Resisting new ideas.

  8. Not learning from mistakes.

  9. Lacking interpersonal skills.

  10. Failing to develop others.

Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review. From "Ten Fatal Flaws That Derail Leaders" by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, June 2009. Copyright © 2009 by the Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation; all rights reserved.

Overcoming the 10 Fatal Flaws

Let's now look at each of Zenger and Folkman's 10 flaws, and discuss what you can do to overcome each one.

1. Lacking Energy and Enthusiasm

Successful leaders are full of enthusiasm, and their energy is contagious. They throw themselves into everything that they do, and this energetic approach engages the people around them.

Leaders who lack energy and enthusiasm rarely support new initiatives. This can be because they fear the additional workload, or because they simply don't have the energy to inspire their teams to change.

To overcome this fatal flaw, identify why your energy and enthusiasm levels are low. Possible causes include feeling burned out, lacking purpose in your work, being overwhelmed by your role, or being physically unfit.

Take our self-test to find out whether you're suffering from career burnout. If this is why you lack energy, recover by taking some time off.

Maybe you need to find meaning and purpose in your work again. Remember, every role exists for a reason. How do you help other people and make a difference?

Regain your enthusiasm by leading with kindness, and by making an effort to help someone every day. You can also use the 5 Whys technique to discover why your energy is so low.

2. Settling for Mediocre Performance

The best leaders understand that learning and development is a lifelong journey. They don't strive for perfection, but they do try to be the best that they can be, because their team depends on them.

Poor leaders can settle for mediocre performance from themselves and from their team if they get too comfortable in their position, or they may lack the desire and energy to keep developing their skills.

To overcome this leadership flaw, rediscover your passion for leadership, work to understand what customers want and motivate your team to deliver this. Remember to give plenty of feedback when team members aren't meeting expectations.

3. Lacking Clear Vision

Successful leaders have a distinct vision of where they want their team or organization to go. When you communicate this vision in a clear and compelling way, your team is likely to become committed to making it a reality.

Ineffective leaders believe that their job is to "steer the ship." However, someone has to be in charge of where that ship goes!

To overcome this leadership flaw, first identify what your vision is. Write a mission and vision statement for your team's next project, or for your entire organization.

Ask yourself what you ultimately want to achieve. This depends on knowing your organization's strategy – our articles on Lafley and Martin’s Five-Step Strategy Model and Practical Business Planning can help you to think this through.