How I failed as a leader … and how you can avoid the same mistake

Once upon a time I failed as a leader…

Okay, so it happens regularly, but let’s just focus on one of them for now, okay?

Here’s a story of a leadership failure, what I learned, and how you can avoid the same mistake.


My business, TEAM Solutions, has 3 full-time employees: me, myself, and I.

When I have a surge of work or a task that’s beyond my interest or skill level, I hire other folks to help.

Awhile back, TEAM Solutions was selected for a project that included the requirement for a set of skills that I didn’t possess … so I hired some SMEs or Subject Matter Experts to help execute that portion of my project for my client. (Emphasis on my project and my client.)

I prepared an event action plan, briefed the project and the roles to be performed, issued the hired-hands a uniform with my logo on it, acquired the needed tools and equipment and proceeded with the engagement.

Sounds pretty leader-like, eh?

Well, towards the end of the engagement, I was stupefied to see that one of my SMEs was passing out their business cards and promoting themselves to my client.

  • I failed as a leader by not emphasizing that the role of an SME was to improve and promote my company (a/k/a: their employer). NOT troll for business for themselves.

By not explaining this critical success factor, we all came out looking like amateurs. And my client did not rehire me or my SME.

By not supporting the common good, we both lost.

We won’t succeed unless the company succeeds … and the company won’t succeed if we’re working against it.

My former SME did what many narrow-minded people do in this world: Selfishly pursue their own interests while undermining those trying to help them.

I was obviously disappointed with that SME, but the lesson ultimately helped me become a much more informed, proactive and communicative leader.


Ready to dismiss this as one small business owner complaining about losing some business to a hustler? Think again.

This same dynamic is increasingly on display wherever we look.

The most obvious being the vitriol being flung at our duly-appointed, private and public sector leaders who lead our organizations in ways that we may not like.

Ripped from the archives:

Not long ago, the United States had a duly-appointed president that made some decisions that some people supported … and some did not. Predictably, the support v. nonsupport groups tended to fall very closely in line with those that voted him into office v. those that did not.

In a civilized democracy, these things happen.  (Every 4 years to be exact)

Not surprisingly, the country survived. Yes, even though some did not select that particular leader or support some of their decisions.

And while some certainly disagreed … they did not actively work to see him fail.

This “us” v. “them” dynamic is also prevalent in the private sector.

The ‘aware’ among us know better than to undermine our duly-appointed leaders lest we also want to contribute to the failure of the organization as a whole.

Or as my mother opines:

“Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face”

Really now, who has time and energy for that anyway?

Now say it with me:

  • When my organization’s leaders are successful, my organization is successful.
  • When my organization is successful, I am successful.

Now when I hire SME’s, we all discuss this expectation.

And when the project ends, we’re all together to share in the collaborative success we all worked so hard for.


I share my failures so that hopefully you avoid my mistakes. For your network that will also benefit, please take a moment to share this article by choosing a sharing option, below.

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About the Author

Mike McKenna is the founder and president of TEAM Solutions. He helps public and private sector responders successfully lead themselves and others through any planned event or unplanned crisis.Please contact Mike via the Contact page or at any of the social media links with your unanswered questions and your unmet needs.

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