4 Signs Your Leadership Isn’t Working

There are ALWAYS warning signs. It hardly ever comes as a complete surprise.


Team members begin backing away. Meetings lose energy and focus. Complaints rise. Morale falls.

Then one day it becomes painfully clear – something isn’t working.

Here are 4 warning signs that your leadership isn’t working

1. Self-preservation

Are you looking out for yourself or are you serving others? Are you following your own agenda or helping others to realize their potential and fulfill their dreams?

When self-preservation is present, leaders resort to manipulation. Sometimes the behaviors are subtle. Sometimes they’re blatant.

Either way, when leadership evolves into manipulation, relationships and organizations suffer. Because people and teams aren’t interested in following someone who is in it for themselves.

Ask yourself: Why am I doing this?

2. Unhealthy

A couple of years ago, a friend introduced me to 4 critical gauges to assess health in my life and workPhysical, Mental, Spiritual, and Emotional.

You can read more about these gauges here.

How you FEEL about how you are doing does not matter nearly as much as how you’re REALLY doing.

You CAN make the conscious decision to live healthy in these 4 critical areas of life and work, so you have more to offer than a handful of years of frenzied activity.

If we are not holistically healthy, we simply cannot live and lead effectively. We cannot respond to challenges and opportunities calmly and decisively.

Ask yourself: Am I physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally healthy?

3. Lost

There was a huge vision for growth. The organization restructured, launched a new initiative, and began gaining momentum. Then the negative feedback started – and it came from influential people. And that’s when you found out how committed the leader really was – and how committed the team really was.

YOU were doing great – then you weren’t. What happened?!

It’s not that you weren’t committed at all. You were! Maybe you just weren’t as committed as you thought you were.

What causes us to give up on our goals? Why do we so readily abandon our dreams?

Commitment doesn’t mean much anymore. But it still means something to you – you meant it and you’re going to follow through. You’re going to reach your goal!

Ask yourself: What one step can I take today to get back on track?

4. Sign language

Do your team members think you’re deaf?

Let’s face it – you aren’t really in a position to objectively answer that question. And neither am I.

Nobody – absolutely no one – is interested in me sitting across the desk from them waiting for their sentence to end so I can start talking again. They need me to listen – to actually give a rip!

Ask yourself: Does my team know that I am listening?

Questions: What other warning signs would you add to the list? Share your ideas in the comments.

Please note: We reserve the right to remove comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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  • As a school leader these certainly ring very true. I have found that leadership is about relationships first and that requires inter- and intra- personal intelligence.

    Thank you also, Michael, for restricting the list to 4 items! There is greater power in simplicity!

  • Melissa J Grom, MA

    I really like what you have written here.  As a Life and Relationship Coach, I often see people struggling with many of these signs in their businesses which can foster in their personal lives.  Thanks for your great insight!!

  • I’ll toss out Lack Of Action. There’s nothing that shows you’re not growing or moving forward than sitting still. Your leadership is probably dying not just not working.

  • What a great post. Self-preservation jumped right out because it is often the sign of a leadership problem or a sick culture.

    • Thanks Skip – I agree. I’m working on some dates later this year for us to connect.

  • Avoiding The Team
    Avoiding your team because you are facing so much difficulties leading them is a critical sign for missing leader’s soul. Before, you used to take proactive procedures, now you are trying to avoid responding & reacting.
    This is a dangerous sign, so you have to control your self to be able to lead others.

    • Another good one, Taleb. I’ve seen this happen – and I’ve been that guy.

  • Another warning sign: when you fail to see and act on areas in which you can improve and blame others (their mindsets, stubbornness, etc.) for holding back progress. While it can be true that it’s them and not you (!), as a leader it is your job to model the types of behavior that you hope to see in others. This approach might involve admitting shortcomings and taking firm steps to address problems, which may have contributed to incomplete understanding and trust along with lack of forward movement. 

    • Love the thought –  “your job to model the types of behavior that you hope to see in others”. I agree. Thanks for conencting Julie!

  • DS

    I would suggest that when a work group becomes silent – it’s a warning sign.  Love what you say about listening and people just waiting/fawning over you getting to talk again!

    I can appreciate it because I have a terrible time remembering to listen, and slowing down to actually listen.  A huge battle for me that sometimes I forget in my rush to serve, that people don’t always need advice – sometimes they just need to be heard.

    • So true – people don’t always need advice – sometimes they just need to be heard. I’ve learned to ask my wife – Is this something you want me to help with or do you just want me to listen?

      • DS

        Thanks for that bonus…I need all the help I can get in slowing down to listen.