Why do leaders fail?

It was a key question posed by lecturer and The New York Times bestselling author Dr. Stephen Mansfield during the opening keynote Monday afternoon at the FSI OneVoice Conference in Orlando.  

“You are all champions of freedom and the free market,” Mansfield began. “These are, without question, tough times, but tough times allow greatness to rise. It’s not widely known, but during the Great Depression 10,000 people became millionaires because of their leadership and innovation. If we turn it around and ask ourselves why leaders fail, what I call a ‘leadership crash,’ then we can better identify the pillars of greatness.”

Stephen MansfieldWhile it’s often assumed that leadership crashes, like those experienced by Bill Clinton and Jim Bakker, and more recently John Edwards and Ted Haggard, are the result of a lack of character or competence, it isn’t necessarily the case, Mansfield (left) explained.

“The signs of a leadership crash are all the same, it doesn’t matter if it’s a religious leader, a politician or an entertainer,” he added. “They can be identified through a ‘leadership crash post-mortem,’” he added. “The macro lesson is this: termites working silently do more damage than tornados, but tornados get the headlines. It is the small, silent, untended issues that do more damage.”

With that he launched into the 10 most common signs of a coming leadership crash, helpfully attaching a well-known figure (and leadership crash victim) to each point.

Brett Favre1). Being Out of Season

There is an invisible rhythm to life and leadership. To miss this rhythm is to be out of season—and vulnerable. Know when your time is up, when something has changed and there is a different feel. It is a conditional change, which means your season has changed. He cited former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre (left), an athlete he admires, as someone who didn’t know when to quit, and suffered personally and professionally as a result.

2). Surrendering to Bitterness

The soul, according to Mansfield, has a memory like an elephant. When under pressure, unresolved wounds will resurface. This leads to resentment, which in-turn leads to entitlement, which then leads to self-centeredness and ultimately self-destruction. Richard Nixon is someone who typified this behavior.

3). Reversing Gender Roles

Treading delicately on this next point due to its sensitive nature, Mansfield noted that women outscore men in every area of aptitude tests except in abstract thought and aggressiveness. Women are about context; men are about direction and “what’s next.” It becomes destructive when one gender tries to “cut across the grain,” he argued, meaning when a man is denied a vision or where he wants to take an idea, and women are forced to drive an idea forward with which they might not feel comfortable. This leads to resentment. Mansfield closed this point by quoting Goethe, “Girls we love for what they are, young men for what they promise to be.”

Tiger Woods at Frys.com Open in 2011. (Photo: AP)4). Living Isolated

Living an isolated life is driven by hurt, guilt, grief or pride. It kills great leadership …then kills the leader. He quoted Charlie Sheen as someone who leads an isolated life.

5). Losing Trusted Friends

Your fans will get you killed. Your un-invested buddies will lead you astray. Only devoted friends who do not fear you will keep you whole. Mansfield cited Tiger Woods (left), who after the death of his father and under the influence of other athlete buddies–Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan, according to an ESPN interview that Mansfield quoted–who led him astray as an example of this sign.

6). Perpetuating an Image

Meaningful branding grows from a wise blend of vision, values and reality. Vain branding should never be perpetuated. He quoted Jim Bakker as someone who struggled with vain branding to perpetuate a false image.

President Bill Clinton in 1998

7). Building a Third World

Most leaders know two worlds; home and work. When tension arises in either or both, some leaders will create a third world, one free from scrutiny and expectation. He cited Bill Clinton’s leadership crash with Monica Lewinsky as an example.

8). Refusing Confrontation

We do not see ourselves accurately except through the feedback of others. Confrontation from a “Band of Brothers,” who are not ‘yes-men’ friends but who will tell the leadedr the truth, guards the soul and elevates performance. The fact that no one confronted former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky about his alleged abuse of children at the university allowed the problem to continue, he argued.

Winston Churchill in 1953. (Photo: AP)9). Forgetting Fun

Leadership presses the leader into a “single dimension life.” Push back! He noted Winston Churchill’s late-in-life hobbies of painting, masonry and wrestling with his grandchildren as someone who successfully pushed back. “We want engineers in the world, but not a world of engineers,” Churchill famously said.

10). Serving the Schedule

A schedule should serve a purpose. When the schedule becomes the purpose, it signals that a leadership crash is nearing. This leads to resentment of the schedule’s tyranny, and to the creation of that third world previously discussed.

Read more AdvisorOne articles on FSI OneVoice 2012 at our OneVoice home page.