'Habits of Spectacularly Unsuccessful Executives' Provides Warning to Pastors

Bad habits and characteristics found in senior executives are detrimental not only to businesses but to the Church as well.

Warren Bird, former pastor and research director at Leadership Network, recently shared a piece by Forbes highlighting “The Seven Habits of Spectacularly Unsuccessful Executives” on his Twitter, commenting that the same principles readily applied to pastors as well.

The article, based on research published in a book called Why Smart Executives Fail by Sydney Finkelstein, the Steven Roth Professor of Management at Dartmouth College, looked to provide early warning signs to “unbeatable firms like Apple, Google and Amazon.”

Finding the “cautionary tales” outlined by Finkelstein applicable to the pastoral field as well, Bird shared the piece, hoping to advise Christian leaders of a few dangerous traits that could lead to failure in their ministry.

The first negative trait found in senior executives who became complete failures was that they saw themselves and their companies as dominating their environment.

“Unlike successful leaders, failed leaders who never question their dominance fail to realize they are at the mercy of changing circumstances,” Finkelstein revealed. “They vastly overestimate the extent to which they actually control events and vastly underestimate the role of chance and circumstance in their success.”

Like the first trait, the second appeared seemingly harmless. The author found it harmful when executives identified themselves so completely with the company that there was no clear boundary between their personal interests and their corporation’s interests.

“We want business leaders to be completely committed to their companies, with their interests tightly aligned with those of the company,” he penned.

“But digging deeper, you find that failed executives weren’t identifying too little with the company, but rather too much. Instead of treating companies as enterprises that they needed to nurture, failed leaders treated them as extensions of themselves. And with that, a ‘private empire’ mentality took hold.”

CEOs who possessed this outlook, oftentimes used their companies to carry out their personal ambitions, Finkelstein added. “The most slippery slope of all for these executives is their tendency to use corporate funds for personal reasons,” a negative tendency seen several times in the church as well, with pastors misappropriating funds for personal use.

The third habit followed closely behind the first two: “They think they have all the answers.”

“Leaders who have all the answers shut out other points of view. When your company or organization is run by someone like this, you’d better hope the answers he comes up with are going to be the right ones.”

These types of leaders could be quickly noticed because they had no followers.

CEOs who eliminated anyone who wasn’t completely behind them were also ones doomed to failure as well.

“The problem with this approach is that it’s both unnecessary and destructive. CEOs don’t need to have everyone unanimously endorse their vision to have it carried out successfully. In fact, by eliminating all dissenting and contrasting viewpoints, destructive CEOs cut themselves off from their best chance of seeing and correcting problems as they arise.”

“CEOs who seek to stifle dissent only drive it underground,” the author affirmed.

The fifth habit characterizing failed leaders was that they were too obsessed with the company image.

“The problem is that amid all the media frenzy and accolades, these leaders’ management efforts become shallow and ineffective. Instead of actually accomplishing things, they often settle for the appearance of accomplishing things.”

The last traits include underestimating obstacles and stubbornly relying on what worked for them in the past.

“Many CEOs on their way to becoming spectacularly unsuccessful accelerate their company’s decline by reverting to what they regard as tried-and-true methods,” Finkelstein stated.

“In their desire to make the most of what they regard as their core strengths, they cling to a static business model. They insist on providing a product to a market that no longer exists, or they fail to consider innovations in areas other than those that made the company successful in the past.”

If leaders exhibit several of the aforementioned traits, it is time to enact change, whether in the corporation or within the Church.