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Why Some Leaders Fail

leadership Aug 01, 2021

A Prerequisite for Being a Good Leader


Dennis Guzik


Aug 1·4 min read


Leading human beings can be a very rewarding experience only if it is done for the right reason.

In my almost 40 years in the Marine Corps and industry I’ve seen all kinds of leaders. Some were great, others just plain terrible. There are several reasons a person may be a poor leader, but one that stands out to me is:

The reason you want to lead.

Before we discuss that further, let’s look at one of the most important aspects of leadership, the willingness to sacrifice for the good of the mission and those you lead.

Willingness to Sacrifice — a prerequisite to good leadership

The form that this sacrifice takes includes

  • Physical sacrifice — Putting your physical well-being on the line to advance the mission or your people’s well-being. This type of risk is more common in professions such as the military, firefighting and law enforcement, but it can also be found in other industries where there is risk to physical well-being, such as construction and factory work.
  • Moral sacrifice — Putting your own career at risk to advance the mission or people’s well-being. This sort of risk exists in almost any career field or industry. Examples of this are speaking the truth to those in power if you feel your boss is making a bad decision or sticking up for your people when doing so reduces your standing with your own boss.
  • Your time — This is true for all levels of leadership and across all industries. As a leader, your mission needs your time. You cannot be a “clock watcher” when your mission requires more time than the typical day provides. Also, your people need and deserve your time. This spans from ensuring your tasks are understood and completed through taking time to speak with your people. From telling them when they are falling short to praising them when they are doing well. An especially important need for your time is to mentor your people. Take time to care for them and they will take care of you.

Where Things Go Wrong

You may want to be in a leadership position for several reasons. I believe there are only two that matter, but more on that later.

In my experience, things go wrong when someone wants to be put into a leadership position for the sole reason that it benefits them. Examples are easily found, to include:

  • The student athlete who wants to be team captain only because it will look good on college or job applications
  • The military officer who wants the trappings of command
  • The corporate person who wants it for the pay, a better office, or other perks

I’ve seen all of these. The team captain who does not put in the time preparing his team’s training, leading to less performance than was possible. The officer not willing to put his safety on the line to advance the mission or take care of their people. The program manager who enjoys the corner office but ignores the needs of her people.

None were willing to sacrifice enough to be a good leader.

And, in the end, no one wins. That “leader” ends up performing poorly and eventually gets canned. People working for that “leader” don’t contribute as much as they could to the job, or even leave the job.

Why Should You Want to be a Leader?

In my opinion, there are only two reasons.

First, is that you believe that you can make a significant contribution to the organization’s success, so are willing the make the sacrifices necessary to do so. You WANT to be the person who is responsible for everything that happens or fails to happen within the organization you lead.

The second is that you have a strong, innate desire to help those people you lead be successful. That means taking the risks and time needed to grow their professional careers. You can’t fake this.

If you have these two characteristics, then the odds are you will be a good leader (although there is a lot more to leadership, but these two are essential).

Nothing I’ve said means that being this type of leader won’t bring benefits to you, such as pay or perks. It will. it will last, and even advance, if you are leading for the right reasons.


Effective leadership requires sacrifice. If you are in it primarily for your own benefit, then the odds are you are going to be a poor leader. You should consider other paths to advance your career, such as technical expertise