Something isn’t working. Leadership fails.

MBA programs produce mismanagement.

Henry Mintzberg thinks so. Read his recent post – “MBAs as CEOs: Some Troubling Evidence.”

“And their MBA programs do well in training for the business functions, such as finance and marketing, if not for management. So why do they persist in promoting this education for management, which, according to mounting evidence, produces so much mismanagement?”

Startup leaders need to grow up.

Besides MBAs, startup leaders show a lack of sound values. Take Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber. He confesses, “I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up.” With cultural issues of sexual harassment and more, Travis says he needs to hire a chief operating officer (COO) to help him.

Travis will need to hire more than a COO. Two other executives – Jeff Jones and Brian McClendon – announced in the last few days that they are leaving. They are not alone; five other key individuals left as well. Here is what Jeff Jones said, “It is now clear, however, that the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride sharing business.”

Will this wake-up call ring clearly? Will actions happen in a realistic, game-changing, and positive way?

A “conscious leader” builds an unacceptable organizational culture.

At the upcoming Conscious Capitalism conference, Miki Agrawal is scheduled to speak. As of last week, she is now the former CEO of THINX after stepping down when articles appeared about the “middle-school” culture of the company. Ten of the 35 employees left the company since January. Miki wrote about what’s next and how it is time to bring in a “professional CEO and an HR manager.” If the professional CEO comes from an MBA program, it may not help.

Will Conscious Capitalism keep her as a speaker? What values will Miki champion if she speaks? We’ll see.

More failing leadership examples live in our online news stories and magazines.

Unfortunately, there are many.

It leads me to wonder what isn’t working, and why aren’t more people trying to figure out what is broken in our colleges, leadership programs, and culture?

Part of the reason may be some of the leadership communities have become too insular.

If you read through social media interactions, the same voices appear. The leadership community is talking to each other and then taking the stage to talk one-way to corporate and organization leaders. The audience applauds politely.

For the organizations paying the speakers, they may be just checking a box and feel good about bringing someone in to talk about leading change, leading with character, or some other leadership-appropriate message. Or, they may just be bringing someone in because they are “popular” in social media circles and, by association, they are part of the “in” thinking.

After the conference, training, or class, all goes back to normal. In this case, normal is bad leadership.


Common Grounder

Another key reason may be the lack of personal responsibility.

Leaders get caught up in the position and salaries and forget the responsibility they have as a leader. Short-term results trump longer term problem solving and sound growth. Quick trumps right. Fast trumps purpose. The problem is that it all catches up to the leader and the business.

Another part of the reason are the leadership books.

What they are selling is not real leadership. Over five years ago, Dave Logan, a USC faculty member, wrote about “The Lie of Most Leadership Books.” He stated, “Actual leadership doesn’t have formulas, checklists, or a step-by-step solution. It does, however, have actions that leaders take after careful consideration.” Selecting more sound books to read is critical step but not good enough by itself.

Leadership “experts” go shallow and unchallenged.

Leadership writers and speakers determine that they need to get involved in all leadership topics, no matter if they have done the research or developed challenging perspectives. Entertainment overthrows thoughtful and full analysis.

Take Simon Sinek and Millennials. He said that he kept getting questions about Millennials so he felt obliged to jump in. He did so with inadequate research. However, his video discussion received thousands and thousands of views. After all, it was Simon Sinek, so it must be valid, right?

A listener and participant responsibility exists – Think and challenge yourself! Do not accept all that is said no matter who is saying it. Think and explore.

Leadership Fails: Who Cares?

I am not sure who cares that leadership development and programs fail. Shareholders care when it impacts valuations. Customers care when it impacts the products they use. Business schools may care when a bad leader comes from their program. Whoever cares, it seems to be fleeting.

Figuring out what is causing leadership failures may be impossible. Meanwhile, a leadership crisis grows and expands.

In the short-term, the least we can do is to stop doing a few things.

  • Don’t invite leadership speakers if you are not willing to challenge conventions or adopt new habits
  • Stop reading leadership books that are not based in historical significance, scientific evidence, or other relevant research
  • Don’t hire leadership consultants without a willingness of tracking progress on the adopted recommendations
  • Stop attending leadership workshops, programs, or classes without a tangible plan of what to do with what is learned
  • Don’t hire a leadership “expert” if they are not researching and writing on the topics with depth of insight and experience
  • Don’t accept a “leadership” viewpoint without thinking it through and conducting your own research

What other elements can we stop doing in hopes of developing better leaders?


Though it may be difficult to pinpoint exactly why leadership is failing, at least we can stop doing a few things.