Recently a client – Steve – expressed great concern about complacency.  “I think it’s creeping into the organization and the family; and I’m not sure I know what to do about it.  Our numbers still look good, but we seem to have lost the ‘fire in the belly’ that drove us for so many years.”  When I asked him to be more specific, he talked about “cruise control” management; “no one is as good as we are and we’ve paid our dues attitudes”; and entitlement episodes among immediate family members.

I told Steve that complacency was not the issue, but a symptom of an outbreak of SOAKWU.  That’s a condition characterized by any individual or organization believing that he, or the team, has become the Source of All Knowledge and Wisdom in the Universe.  It stifles creativity, innovation, and urgency.  It breeds a sense of hubris and ego that leaves those infected with a sense of distrust or indifference to advice from anyone, especially those making or having less wealth or of a lower position.  

This kind of behavior can derail a leader and crash his/her succession efforts.  In Why CEOs Fail, David L. Dotlich and Peter C. Cairo describe the symptoms of what I call the SOAKWU epidemic.  Those behaviors most closely associated with this kind of leadership failure include: 

  • Arrogance – My map of reality is the only true and correct map.

  • Melodrama – Could you move the spotlight a little closer to me?

  • Volatility – Caution:  Hothead liable to explode without warning.

  • Excessive Caution – I need still more information!

  • Aloofness – Go away and stop bothering me with minutia.

  • Mischievousness – Wow!  Another rule I can break!

  • Eccentricity – I just like being different.

  • Passive Resistance – I may never tell you what I really believe.

  • Perfectionism – I get the little stuff right, so who cares about the big stuff?

  • Eagerness to Please – I want to be liked by everyone. 

That’s quite a laundry list, isn’t it?  Did you notice what’s not included?  The failures of CEOs, and other leaders by extension, usually have little to do with a lack of ability related to those things we usually talk about as “hard skills”.  

It’s the soft skills that undue effective leadership.  At one time or another, most of us are going to exhibit an uncanny ability to demonstrate one or more of these “failure behaviors” because we’re all human. 

But if any one or more of these leadership failure skills make up the primary behavior pattern of an organizational or family leader, then Succession Success™ is going to be compromised accordingly; and the results can be devastating in financial and/or personal relationships.  And it’s all because someone decided that he/she is the source of all knowledge and wisdom in the universe. 

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