Failing at the top 

When we started our careers, most of us will have had aspirations about climbing a career ladder with a goal of reaching the “top”.  In developing these ambitions, few of us will have thought about who we would be as people when we got there.  Most of us hold a belief that increasing responsibilities will not change us.

In his article in Harvard Business Review from October 2003, Roderick Kramer describes his investigation in to this area and he coins the phrase “genius-to-folly syndrome” to describe those who have a steady rise based on sound capabilities but who fail at the top due to surprising stints of miscalculation and recklessness.

Kramer proposes a personal leader audit to assess whether a leader is drifting towards disaster.  His key questions are:

  1. Are you spending most of your time plugging holes and papering cracks?
  2. How do you respond to those annoying, dissenting voices in your organisation?  Their intentions might be good ones.
  3. Who can you really trust to tell you the emperor has no clothes?
  4. Do you have illusions of grandeur?  For example, are you sometimes wrong but never in doubt?
  5. Are you too greedy for your own good?
  6. Is this a good time to pause, consider doing something different, or even do nothing at all?

These questions challenge us as leaders to avoid complacency by maintaining our focus on the critical issues, listening intently to the organisation, learning continually especially from our mistakes, never becoming more important than the organisation we lead, finding time to reflect and think, and challenging the inclination to become busy fools.