Why Organisations Come Crashing Down When Leaders Leave?

Is it simply a matter of succession planning gone wrong? Is this about the current leader’s failure, the incumbent’s lack of credibility or inability to transition fast enough, a weak organisational culture? Or is there more to this vexing question of why organisations, divisions, branches, political parties struggle when a leader leaves? When you think you have your successor, but doubts still exist, can you do more to ensure he/she will succeed?

I am convinced the answers to these questions will at the same time address the challenge that organisations face of turning around non-performance.

The most basic, universal expectation of every leader on this planet – from a Supervisor in a business to a CEO to a Parent to the President of a country – is to create expected movement – performance, growth, improvement… Often the leader at the very top is there because he managed to do this instinctively well throughout his career and as a result radiates a certain confidence. But, more often than not this supremely important skill hasn’t been transferred as effectively throughout organisational structures, leaving an unseen “Confidence Void” below the leader.

The question is how exactly do you create that movement?

Many leaders create movement using their personality. Some refer to it as Personality Based Leadership. He/she uses their personality to make the movement happen – good and bad; weak and strong personality traits – being organised, perceptive, supportive, warm, energetic, result oriented, creative, expressive, or manipulative, moody, intense, overanalysing, worrying, and so on.

Other leaders create the movement by making use of their character. Just being who they are engenders respect. They are grounded in their values, personal drivers, purpose. They have integrity, so followers do what they can to deliver on the leaders expectations because of a deep respect. Some call this Character Based Leadership. The leader influences movement through character.

Usually leaders create movement or have created movement in the past by “unknowingly” implementing Universal Movement Dynamics. More about this concept will be discussed later.

Yet other leaders create movement through their sheer technical knowledge in the specific field – Knowledge Based Leadership. We don’t have to expand on this one because it is a given and society seems geared for it. So my focus will be on the former two and the missing link in this debate.

In reality leaders use their personality, character and by default movement dynamics to give life to theoretical knowledge and expected movement of people/employees and their organisation, often with either personality or character being more dominant. This happens naturally, mostly without realizing it.

What happens when the leader leaves? We see the organisation wobble; movement slows down; some even say it comes crashing down. Why does this happen? Well, it’s quite logical when you look at it from a common sense point of view. The organisation (party, division, branch…) and its leaders have placed their confidence in / around the leader’s personality and / or character and his instinct for movement dynamics. When the leader leaves, the personality, character and movement instincts follow. It’s gone, so the “Confidence Void” grows bigger and becomes more apparent. The organisation starts slowing down, sometimes significantly so and before you know it a “Crises of Confidence” develops.

What keeps the organisation going for the time-being are existing structures and processes, systems, procedures – financial, HR, sales, reporting, planning and other processes and systems that are habitual and entrenched – partly a manifestation of all leaders’ knowledge and an attempt at retaining it effectively. But even these start losing life and meaning and join the go-slow of the organisation, of course resulting in huge financial and reputational losses. All this happens while the newly appointed leader finds his/her feet and builds credibility. And in today’s world it is more difficult for a leader to gain credibility, which means it takes longer than before; more time in slowdown mode.

What is missing in this picture? I will come back to the question.

Another scenario, on any level in an organisation. The leader, further down the chain of command, creates movement for a season, but quite suddenly the movement slows down and the leader faces a period of non-performance. Often there are logical and obvious reasons for this, even out of the leader’s control. But in some cases – if the leader is honest with himself – he doesn’t understand why. When movement slows down and persists, the leader loses that essential ingredient of confidence.

What has he lost confidence in – himself; his personality; his character? There is of course more that he isn’t aware of.

Even if the slowdown in movement was caused by something out of his control, if he isn’t confident about how to consciously reignite movement he will struggle to get the ship back on track, sailing at full speed. In other words, originally he caused the movement by default – even luck – through personality and/or character and even activating movement dynamics subconsciously. So now non-performance lingers; confidence wanes and a vicious downward cycle ensues. If the organisation is patient and gives him sufficient time he might turn the situation around, somehow – through the same strategies or at least due to positional power – a strategy often adopted by personality based leaders or leaders with low confidence. Only problem is organisations don’t have the luxury of time anymore.

The missing link

The missing link in the Leadership debate is the concept of Process Based Leadership. If a leader wants more sustainable leadership success, or an organisation wants less volatility in performance, especially when the leader leaves, then the emphasis should change. A leader must develop confidence not only in his personality strengths or his sound character but in leadership processes that work – those instincts that lie under the surface; for some leaders very deep down. Many of these leadership processes need to be separated from the leader and entrenched, fixed in business structures like everyday business processes. How these business and leadership processes are then managed is to a large degree influenced by the leader’s personality and character. So it always remains vital that leaders keep nurturing these two areas of their being.

If the leader and organisation can ensure that employees also develop confidence in leadership processes as they do in other organisational processes, augmented by the leader’s personality and character, then when he leaves a very important confidence remains – confidence in leadership processes that work. The organisation now ticks over more confidently, not just because of structural processes and systems but also Leadership processes.

Consciousness and Effectiveness

The absolute truth is therefore that any person in a leadership position uses all three of these pillars anyway, to a lessor or larger degree. What matters most is consciousness and effectiveness.

Consciousness: More consciously means more transferring to others. I can train and coach others to implement the processes because I consciously know what I’m doing. Conversely, I struggle to train and coach others because I’m doing it instinctively, which also means I can’t improve and fine tune my own Leadership.

Effectiveness: This plays to the fitness principle. Physical fitness needs regular and consistent exercise, almost daily. And the converse is also true. Stop exercising and you become physically unfit.

A leader can become character unfit, or unfit in his strong personality traits. He can also most certainly become leadership process unfit. This is unlike learning to ride a bicycle or writing and then you can do it forever more.

It is possible to build character based on life experiences and a strong sense of purpose, but because I don’t remind myself of this purpose on a regular basis – remain character or purpose fit – life and all its pressures will distract me. I may be a person of integrity, but if I don’t exercise this muscle – or keep this value top of mind – I may falter when tested by some very strong winds of financial pressures. This HBR article explains how good people can become unethical – https://hbr.org/2016/09/when-tough-performance-goals-lead-to-cheating and this HBR article is about the need for values to stay top of mind – https://hbr.org/2016/05/keep-a-list-of-unethical-things-youll-never-do

So the Leadership Success formula is: Sound Character + Personality Strengths + Leadership Processes = Leadership Success (SC + PS + LP = LS).

Examples of Leadership Processes

What are examples of Leadership processes? These may vary from organisation to organisation. From our point of view we share universal leadership processes that will apply everywhere and that speaks to the essence of leadership. From there an organisation may define its own culture based leadership processes. It could for example be tightly linked to the Leadership Competencies that the organisation espouses and that leaders are trained at great cost to adopt. It could also be strongly aligned with the defined values that form the bases of organisational culture.

As discussed above, you cannot divorce Leadership from movement, so we start with Movement Dynamics. Remember, a Leaders most essential job is to create movement. We have uncovered the Universal Law (process) of Movement. We help the leader bring this to his conscious level. When he understands it, gains confidence in it and consciously applies and teaches it to his followers, the foundation on which to build Culture Based Leadership Processes that work is in place.

Next, we have also uncovered the Destiny Chain Process. It’s how leaders instinctively activate or implement the Law of Movement. It’s a process that can be taught and institutionalized. When a leader and his team gain confidence in this process, even when the leader leaves the team can continue trusting the process to ensure movement.

When the Movement Dynamics processes are confidently implemented, more consistent movement must and will happen. However, resistance / opposition is the important family member inside the Family of Movement Dynamics and will often cause challenges that result in movement slowdown – movement without resistance is impossible. But when the leader and his team are confident in the process of creating movement they will always get “the show back on the road” and moving as soon as possible, with confidence.

It needs to be said that the soil in which Movement Dynamics thrive and grow sustainably is Authenticity – leaders that are self-aware (know their personality strengths and weaknesses and leverage or improve all the time), that are grounded with sound characters (they know who they really are; what their purpose, personal drivers and values are and remain true to these – authentic confidence).

A toxic leader can implement the movement dynamics for selfish reasons, through a dynamic but toxic character or personality traits. Movement will happen, but it will eventually backfire because the foundation, the soil is not ideal. Nevertheless, these individuals are dangerous because they are confident in their approach through Movement Dynamics and unfortunately change of guard eventually only happens after too much damage has been done.

In short, Leadership development must build the three pillars of personality awareness (personality based assessments), character strength (a deep and conscious process of self-discovery and congruence – we use the I-Confidence Model) and trust in universal leadership processes that work (Movement Dynamics, as a start). Again, I don’t mention knowledge because our society is absolutely geared for this. In fact, we may be placing far too much emphasis on it.

Leadership Fitness

And then the Leadership Fitness Program must kick into gear. As a society we have become very sophisticated at developing leaders, but we haven’t given nearly enough attention to leadership fitness thereafter. How does the leader partake of Leadership food / exercise on a daily basis? How does the leader keep personality strengths top of mind and sharp? How does the leader stay connected with his sense of purpose, personal drivers and the foundation blocks of his character? How does the leader remember and continue to apply leadership processes that work?

This is where our Global Leadership Platform App comes in. Leaders receive daily leadership food for thought directly to their phone, laptop or tablet. They link all actions from their Movement Dynamics Process and other communication (from top leaders) and development (training programs) directly to the Law of Movement and other business drivers inside their PLDP (Personal Leadership Development Plan). Their App reminds them as often as they request to implement all this and more.

Finally, the Sustainable Leadership Success formula is:

Sound Character + Personality Strengths + Leadership Processes X Leadership Fitness = Sustainable Success (SC + PS + LP x LF = SS).

To download the FREE Public Global Leadership Platform (GLP) App, click here:





Adriaan, as an accomplished author and leadership advisor, has been interviewing and working with top leaders for more than 15 years. He is the Co-Founder and CEO of Leadership Platform. (Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP)

Call: +27 (0)12 653 3022
Email: info@leadershipplatform.com

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Leadership Platform is a specialist leadership development consultancy, focusing on creating measurable impact to the bottom line through the enhancement of leadership understanding and engagement.


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