Why good leaders fail and how to fix it

The one principle many talented leaders overlook

There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception

Image Credit: Sean Brown/ UnSplash.com

So often we see leaders in many fields who have worked their way up with sheer grit. They get to their leadership position by the forces of their charisma, credibility and results.

Once they reach the pedestal, some of them stumble. Their leadership halo seems to diminish and the hitherto unabashed supporters start to turn the other way.

Why is that?

Among the many failures of leadership is an often overlooked little trap door.

If you are not careful with it, if you don’t maneuver it with deftness, it could be your nemesis. It’s called “managing the optics”.

Leadership exists only if followership exists. You can have the greatest vision, be a charging bull at work and plough through obstacles with brute force. But if the people you lead don’t feel compelled to follow you, you are living in la-la land.

What do followers care for? They believe what they see…and what they hear. If the two don’t align, there’s a problem. You see if leaders are not careful about managing the ‘visuals’ of what they do as they lead, they will fall.

Not everyone in a position of leadership is good with managing the visuals. When it comes to this important trait, we generally “see” 3 kinds of leaders:

  1. Leaders doing the right thing, but falsely appear not to be: Their clout and ability to command goodwill diminishes. Their ability to deliver begins to be questioned.
  2. Leaders not doing the right thing, but falsely appear to be: Their farce is exposed sooner or later, and they end up losing trust and credibility.
  3. Leaders doing the right thing, and rightly appear to be: They go from strength to strength in their leadership. They keep and grow their respectability.

If you are in a leadership role (which you are no matter what you do currently), your aim should be to be the third kind of leader – one who is adept at steering the optics of his/ her leadership function effectively.


Here are three thinking points to help you manage the optics well:

A leader should not only

  • Do the right thing, she should also be seen doing the right thing: never ignore the power of communicating your viewpoints. Others may not always agree with you, but they will respect you for taking a position and making it known.
  • Live the right values, but seen to be living the right values: don’t leave the perceptions people form about you to chance. You can and you must drive it in the right direction.
  • Be preaching, but also be seen practicing what they preach: Never be seen contradicting your own advice. Lead by example.

Those who look up to you need to see that you are fair and just, that you have integrity. That’s the bedrock of managing the optics. Here’s what it will do for you:

  • It enhances your trust quotient.
  • Your dependability quotient grows.
  • Others become more tolerant of your honest failures.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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