Five Warning Signs to Prevent Bosses Failing

Reading Samuel Bacharach’s great blog on 5 Reasons Leaders Fail got me thinking how fine the line is between success and failure as a business owner or leader.

The challenge is keeping on the right side of that line. In my experience as a Business Strategist and Executive Coach accelerating the effectiveness and profitability of business owners, here are five warning signs I’ve picked up to be aware of – and what to do if you spot any of the symptoms.

Warning: Lost in a Fog

  • You have no clear strategy.
  • You accept failure by doing what you’ve always done and keeping hoping for a different result.
  • You brush the big decisions under the carpet. I call this ‘Deck chairs on the Titanic syndrome’, i.e. keeping busy with the small decisions while avoiding the ‘elephant in the room’.

The Solution

  • Draw up a One Page Plan.
  • Identify and prioritise the key challenges.
  • List the ‘Must Do’ Actions.
  • Share with the team, ask them to tell you what challenges they are going to tackle and the actions they are going to take.
  • Write down each team member’s commitments and ask them to sign the page.

Warning: Poor Talent Management

  • You are reluctant to identify the current and rising stars.
  • You avoid people smarter than yourself.
  • You practice: ‘Mushroom Management’ – keeping your people in the dark, never encouraging and praising them and then moaning about them not being engaged.

The Solution

  • Draw up a ‘Skills and Wills’ matrix for everyone in your team and ask each of them to do the same for their teams.
  • Compile an action list for each team member, discuss your ideas with each of them and get their buy in.
  • Get out and spend time looking for fresh talent.

Warning: Speaking to the Wall

  • You have a poor “speaking to listening ratio”.
  • You deliver better answers than better questions – you don’t peel back the onion and get to the heart of an issue.
  • You fail to listen to the music and the words – missing the non-verbal messages.

The Solution

  • You have two eyes, two ears and one mouth, use them in those proportions.
  • Work with a coach or mentor to improve your listening to talking ratio as well and your non-verbal recognition skills.
  • Develop a list of open ended questions to get beyond the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers.

Warning: Not Interpreting the Financials

  • You focus on the wrong figures.
  • Your measure the wrong things.
  • Your management accounts fail to relay the big picture.

The Solution

  • Get help in understanding the figures and what they really mean.
  • Ask your accountants to attend your management meetings to explain the numbers to you and your team and how they should be used to help you make better decisions.
  • Join a peer group learning forum and learn how fellow business owners use their numbers to keep them on the right path.

Warning: Wanting to be Everyone’s Friend

  • You want to be loved and respected by your team.
  • You forget what role you have taken on.
  • You may poor decisions which cost the business money.

The Solution

  • Write down a list of what you want and what you don’t want for and from the business and keep this to hand when faced with difficult decisions.
  • Use a Pros and Cons sheet listing these elements and making and managing the decisions will become clearer.

Why do you think bosses fail? We’d also love to hear your stories about successful leaders and leadership. Share your comments below or contact me via, @RichardWhatIf on Twitter, Richard Bosworth on LinkedIn or post on

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