Leading people for a long period of time is a difficult thing because of all the variables thrown at you and all the different personalities in the mix. The longevity of leadership is compromised of many factors, so it should be no surprise that the duration of a leadership position can be fleeting. Sure, being a king or a billionaire may extend your leadership life expectancy, but I am not talking about appointed or acquired leadership. Royalty is not true leadership; it’s an appointment. Riches does not equal leadership; it fuels power. There is an enormous difference between real leadership and acquired positions of power.
Real leaders are followed due to their conviction and commitment to a cause, not because of status or title. True leaders are loved and feared. I realize that’s a Machiavellian statement, but the two are the ying and yang of pure leadership. I am certain that most would agree that love, at some level, has to play a role, but many may wince at the thought of fear being part of the equation. Fear is a complementary piece to love in regard to leadership. Some may prefer to use the adjective “respect” in its place, but it is deeper than respect. There has to be a feeling of fear in order for the followers to not take a risk and go against the leader.
One would think that if the leader is loved and good to the people who stand behind him, that would be sufficient. Unfortunately, because of the competitiveness of human nature, although the majority may fall in line, there are always the few who covet the lead position for themselves. Without fear, they will conspire to erode the reputation of the current person at the helm. I know this may sound like a page from ancient history and the days of skullduggery, but time has not weakened the concept’s validity.
So what is it that a leader should watch out for to keep the reign in tact? Here are five factors that will cause anyone to fail as a leader.
Familiarity: You have heard phase “familiarity breeds contempt”? Well, it does. The more you know someone, the more you see their imperfections. If you are with a person day in and day out, they will see who you really are. That may be perfectly fine with the majority, but we are all very different, so no matter how well you treat people, there will be some who believe you are flawed. The familiarity magnifies your weaknesses, provides traces that you are not perfect, and brings mistakes, which you will inevitably make, to the light of day. Interaction with those who follow you has to be well-thought-out and planned. There needs to be interaction and communication, but it has to be for the purpose of your goals. This may sound counter-intuitive, but there has to be separation between you and your troops. The more that each interaction is utilized for building on their fear and love for you, the longer you will remain in a leadership position.
Friendship: You cannot become friends with those you lead. That compromises your authority and opens the window for others to dislike the alliance. It also makes it very difficult to cut that person loose when it is necessary. Friendship has to be with people outside of those you lead, and cannot be part of your mission. Fairness and kindness have to be a part of who you are, but whatever good you do the relationship cannot turn into friendship, otherwise your role will be compromised. It may not seem fair, but loneliness has to be part of the equation, and camaraderie cannot be mistaken for true friendship.
Followers: You have to know each person in your ranks individually and understand their specific agendas. I realize this may sound juxtaposed to the two principles above; however, this is more about your knowledge and understanding of them rather than theirs of you. While you want them to not get too close to you, you still need to get a deep understanding of who they are and what they are capable of doing. This will allow you to put them in the right position to advance your cause as well as tip you off to who will be loyal, and who will have the make up to break up your leadership. Some may think that if the leader does all the right things, then people will follow. This is both true and naive at the same time. The leader must do all the right things, but even then, there will be some who will want to compromise his position. One faulty link in the chain can cause things to break down regardless of how strong the other links are. A leader’s longevity relies on how well she understands her group, and how she uses the information to achieve the goals at hand.
Fatigue: A leader cannot let fatigue creep in. The will to march on and fight for your group, day in and day out, is crucial to their support. If your people see you easing up and tiring on your mission, they too will ease up, and worse, will begin to lose faith in your leadership. It will soften their desire to work and be dedicated to you. It will ease both their fear and respect for you, and they will naturally seek out new leadership. Your fatigue will cause them to question why they are following you. Most people desire the comfort of having someone paving the way for them; when that is lacking, they will search for a replacement. Fatigue is the white flag to leadership, and no one wants to follow a leader who surrenders.
Fairness: It is very obvious when someone falls into the favor of a leader. That, in and of itself, is not a problem if it is earned and there is consistency with the mission and methods. However, if, over the course of time, that person or persons who are in your favor have different standards to meet, then there will be issues with others in your group. The favor cannot turn into bias over others. When justified, by all means, reward those who deliver at a higher level, but treatment has to be fair across the board, even if that means selecting others over individuals who are more in favor. As a leader, you have to be objective to specific circumstances; if one of your favored people is in the wrong over another, you must side with the right, rather than with the right person.
Many leaders have had abbreviated tenure because of the pitfalls in these five areas. No matter how great a leader you have been in the past, and no matter what wonders you have accomplished, when these five factors are not handled properly, there will be erosion to the fear and love that has afforded you a leadership role. Not paying attention and understanding the strength of those two very crucial characteristics will significantly diminish the longevity of your leadership.