How Leaders Fail . . .


If you want to know whether or not you are a leader, turn around and see if anyone is following!

The role of “leader” in a business is never easy and for those in charge of a region, division, plant or other significant business unit, the responsibilities are many and the tools for positive impact are few.

One of my roles these days is to advise business leaders on how to focus on the things that have the most positive impact on people and performance, and I also get the privilege of supporting their development and learning as a leader.  Rather than point out the obvious, I tend to look for those few behaviours that unconsciously sabotage their leadership effectiveness.  And many of these “sabotage” behaviours are totally invisible to them; they don’t realize they are behaving this way and certainly don’t understand the negative impact of such behaviour.

You can’t solve a problem you don’t know exists!

Triangle Communications:

One of the biggest leadership self-sabotage behaviours is what I have termed “triangle communications”, which is a nice way of saying, talking about other people to a third person instead of talking directly to the person.

By way of illustration, let’s say that Al has a problem that involves Bob.  Bob either did or said something that upset Al. Instead of talking directly to Bob about the issue and patching it up, Al talks to Charlie about what Bob said or did. Then somehow Charlie goes and talks to Bob about what Al said, and now everyone is upset.  Communication stops and barriers between people build up. And more often than not the actual event gets more and more distorted and negative with each retelling.

Triangle comms

So, what’s this got to do with leadership?  Lots !!

If Al is in a leadership role, his habit of triangle communications sabotages his leadership effectiveness.  Let’s do a classic Ben Franklin +/- on this behaviour.

triangle ben franklin

Lots of negatives and very few positives as a result of this behaviour. And the sad truth is, many of those in leadership roles have multiple triangle communications daily, thus limiting their leadership effectiveness.

There is only one antidote to triangle communication behaviour. Courage.  The courage to sit down directly with the other person and deal with the issue head on.  And surprise, chances are the problem is more a misconception or misinterpretation than a reality. And once faced and openly talked about, the issue subsides, trust and respect is built and your leadership capabilities strengthened.

Don’t Do Triangles!

Written and Posted by: John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,  Business Books Website

On Amazon: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

John also writes thriller novels!

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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1 Response to How Leaders Fail . . .

  1. Pingback: Leaders determine culture: The troubling case of UK policing. | Thoughts on management

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