Why leaders fall (when they get to the top)
We have been made to believe that leadership skill is everything, and so the moment young people begin to aspire or rise to leadership responsibility, there is a heavy emphasis on developing the right set of leadership skills. This explains why we have so many workshops, seminars, trainings and courses all focused on improving skill and capacity for leadership. What happens when young leaders acquire new skills is very natural and expected, they are entrusted with more responsibility and greater influence – after all, the reward for good work is more work, but alas these new responsibilities demand and require new competencies and skills, and so the leader is back in the training and development cycle over and over again. This becomes our journey up the leadership ladder and we are so engulfed with this busyness and pursuit that we do not quickly realize the need or create time for intentional character development.
Tom Yeakely summarizes this problem this way:
“focusing on collecting leadership skills early on frequently results in leaders who arrive at the pinnacle of influence just as they discover that their inward character is at its weakest.”
When we follow this train, we are likely to become leaders who have risen so high in influence to a point where our character cannot stand the load of our positions, and the demands of this new levels of leadership begin to expose flaws, deficiencies and character shortcomings that we were too busy to develop as we raced up the ladder in pursuit of greater influence.
For example, it is at this point that we are entrusted with such great responsibility for finances when we have not taken time to deal with little issues of financial integrity that we detected when we were still responsible for small monies, or we are now exposed to vulnerable and tempting situations with no accountability structure to check our actions because everyone around us assumes we couldn’t have made it that high if we were not supermen, and with greater levels of responsibility, the ripple effects of our shortcomings are so great, for they affect exponentially more people and resources, and this phenomenon is what is responsible for many leaders who get to the top and then suddenly there is a big scandal that seems to bring them down. They were very likely too busy chasing after skills when they should have spent more time developing character to accompany the skills. David, a great leader in the Bible had both – Integrity of heart and Skillfulness of hands. Neither of these alone can make you successful as a leader.
We all begin our journeys with character issues and deficiencies that need to be worked on. Salvation takes place in an instant – the moment we come to Jesus, we are instantly regenerated, but character formation is not an event, it is a process that takes time and intimacy. There is no instant intimacy. If many of our character flaws are exposed when we were still growing, they would be easy to manage and correct with less damage because our influence at the moment is small, but sadly, we live in a society that values doing more than being, and thus we spend more time in pursuit of skill more than we spend in moulding character and integrity, but the numbers are clear, until we change this trend, we will continue to have more leaders fall from the top.
I may not be able to change the general perception and value system of everyone, but I can change mine, and you can change yours. I would rather arrive at this hypothetical top slower but last longer there, than get there fast and crash down together with everything I have seemingly built.
Personal reflections from “Growing Kingdom Character” by Tom Yeakley (Find a copy here)
 Psalm 78:72