Four Reasons Leaders Can’t Execute

Have you ever had a great idea, but just couldn’t get it off the ground? Some leaders know that pain all too well. Failure to execute is one of the biggest inhibitors to progress. Yes, it’s true, that sometimes leaders can’t execute on some initiatives because they don’t have the necessary people, money, or time. But the first execution barrier leaders must overcome isn’t a resource barrier…it’s themselves.

Leaders Can't Execute

There are certain leadership behaviors that create a perpetual execution gap. As a result, vision and goals fail to move forward. While I’m sure there are many reasons, let me share four.

1. Lazy Leading

Most leaders would protest to the idea that they might be lazy. After all, with so much responsibility riding on their shoulders, how could they ever be accused of lax behavior? Let me put this in perspective with a few common symptoms of lazy leading:

  • An unwillingness or aversion to working extra hours
  • A focus on perks and privileges over vision, responsibility, and accountability
  • An undisciplined schedule and calendar
  • Poor time management
  • Excessive hallway conversations
  • Lack of passion

All of these are symptoms of sloppy leadership. Behaviors like these stall the engine that drives execution. If you’ve slipped into the habit of lazy leading, do an audit of your time, identify “wasters” in your schedule, and commit yourself to key disciplines to move forward. Furthermore, capture a fresh vision for your organization that will restore your passion.

The first execution barrier leaders must overcome isn’t a resource barrier…it’s themselves. Click To Tweet

2. Never-ending Networking

Never-ending networking expresses itself with a variety of faces. Attending endless events, constant phone calls with friends and leadership acquaintances to catch up on the latest industry gossip, chasing status, a need to feel famous, excessive social media monitoring…the list itself can be endless.

Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not suggesting that networking isn’t important. The value of relationships and the connections leaders establish can be game changers. Some of the greatest doors you’ll ever walk through will be the result of healthy networking. But you must know where to draw the line.

I once knew a leader who was so proud of his network that I don’t think he actually got anything done. He moved from one role to another, and another, and another (and is still moving) because the organization loved him, but not his work. His phone was full of names and numbers, but his “done it” list was empty.

When a leader doesn’t execute because his networking is excessive, something has to change (unless of course that’s the primary function of his role). On those rare occasions when he gets both done (never-ending networking and the completion of work) one of two things has typically happened: he either doesn’t have enough work to do (so he fills his time with excessive networking), or he’s neglecting his family, health, or other essential priorities.

If you find yourself leaning toward never-ending networking, prioritize the meetings and events that will be the most productive use of your time (you might even establish a weekly networking day). Put a time limit on certain phone calls. Some leaders even remove social media apps from their phone so they’re more engaged at work and home. Again, don’t disconnect from your network, just reshape how you’re investing in your networking efforts.

3. Ideation Infatuation

This is actually quite common among leaders. Ideation infatuation occurs when a leader is constantly dreaming and brainstorming new ideas, but exhibits very little follow-through. Each new day has a new idea. Focus is quickly lost. The latest fad is the flavor of the month. Theory trumps practice. These leaders are great thinkers, but they lack the discipline to turn those great ideas into anything that matters.

Perhaps ideation infatuation is so common because dreams are free. They don’t cost a single dime until you actually decide to make them come true. Action is accompanied by the unknown. Execution requires resources. Turning dreams into reality takes blood, sweat, and tears. But consider the alternative. Nobody ever remembers dreamers; they only remember doers.

If ideation infatuation is distracting you, create a filing process to capture ideas for future review. Develop a disciplined, team-based system for setting and monitoring measurable goals. Ensure a high level of accountability is infused into your system to keep you (and your team) focused. Finally, give someone permission to help you course correct when you’re drifting into ideation infatuation.

4. Problem Paralysis

Some leaders don’t execute because they are paralyzed by the pain and problems of leading. They haven’t learned how to engage in creative problem solving. When they hit a wall, they know how to point to the problem, but they don’t know how to move forward. At that moment, they are no longer leading. It takes no leadership talent whatsoever to see a problem…but it does to lead through it.

Leaders paralyzed by problems must understand that there is no such thing as a problem-free solution. The question is, which set of problems are you willing to live with? Yes, I said, “live with.” If you have an allergy to problems, leadership is the last place you need to be. Problem-allergic leaders never move from excuses to execution. Their aversion to risk keeps the drive gear of leadership in park.

Problem paralysis also appears when leaders are afraid of conflict. They constantly sell the organization’s vision to the person who screams the loudest. Nothing gets done because there’s nothing to be done. It’s business as usual. They stop dreaming.

Somebody in our congregation recently told me how much she appreciated the can-do attitude at 7 City Church. She told me the story of a meeting she attended with several pastors who were moaning about having to cancel Sunday services because of a snowstorm. “I hope we can make it” they lamented, as faith was sucked out of the room.

If leaders don’t face problems with a can-do, faith-filled attitude, nothing will ever get done. People generally take their cues from leaders, and when the leadership is paralyzed the organization follows suit.

If problem-paralysis is keeping you from executing, give careful consideration to your fears. Seek coaching to help you address these issues and breakthrough to new levels of effectiveness. Tackle one problem at a time so you’re not overwhelmed.

Which execution pitfall is your greatest challenge?