Leadership: type I and type II failures 

Organizations can only move forward towards a set of goals and outcomes when properly lead. Good leadership not only increases the chances that we reach where we intend to go, but that we do it with less organizational friction and fewer distractions. Experience shows us that there are two broad categories of leadership failure that can hijack us along the way towards our goals.

Let’s use a simple analogy to illustrate. Imagine you are on a journey in a car heading towards your destination. There are broadly two things that can go wrong.  The first we will call Type I failures. These failures relate to an unclear destination or one that keeps changing or has not been properly understood.  So no matter how fast you drive or how well, you may end up in a very different place than you intended because you did not do the hard work of understanding the destination and socializing that within your organization.  So as you journey along it might seem that you are constantly looking at the map and talking or arguing amongst yourselves to ensure you are going to the right destination.  This lack of directional clarity creates factions and uses limited resources in a non-productive way.

A Type II failure is a very different matter.  In these instances the destination is clearly defined and well understood by all going on the journey , but the challenge is that the “driver” is not seens as instilling confidence and thus keeping the team working together because they seem incapable or distracted.  In such casss so although the destination is clear, the organization has a hard time sticking with the plan since there is a vague feeling that something is wrong and we may not make it to where we intend to go.  Leadership can fail us in a number of ways. The leader may be too weak to drive the project forward or exhibit a range of personality traits that make it hard for folks to follow them naturally with confidence and motivation. Optimally a leader drives forward while also allowing a helpful feedback loop from the am they are leading. This requires certain personality traits that are often missing from strong leaders. Weaker leaders may have some of the positive traits required to take feedback “onboard” but they may exhibit doubt or hesitancy. An analysis of leadership failures is beyond the scope of this brief essay, but nonetheless a Type II failure must be address as such, rather than revisiting goals and objectives.

Many organizations fail at reaching key goals, but a frank assessment of the reason is needed.  Type I problems require a better strategic planning and alignment process, whereas Type II issues demand a new leader or leaders be installed or their leadership gaps get addressed quickly.

In the real world, both types of leadership errors can also feed off each other and it takes wise leadership to unbundle how best to address the fix in such instances.

This seems like a very  basic insight indeed, but in my experience I have seen too many organizations fail to properly diagnose why they generally fail to reach their goals.

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