How to Avoid a Leadership Crisis: It Starts at the Bottom

When companies struggle, it's leadership's role to step up and guide the organization through the crisis. But what happens if the ones at the top aren't equipped to do the job?

Leadership skills are not magically bestowed on C-Suite executives once the title is given. They're cultivated and learned through everyday experience. For most individuals, this process begins on the first day on the job.

Hire Personality, Not Position

When good leaders are described, it's most often done with statements such as "he's a really good listener" or "she holds people accountable." The personality traits that make up good leaders transcend position, so when you're hiring candidates, look for characteristics such as:

The Genuine Ability to Listen

Good listeners are born with an innate interest in what others say. They care enough to keep their thoughts to themselves and their mouths shut while others are speaking.

Fortitude and Perseverance

The road through a crisis takes an unwavering commitment to see things through. Good leaders don't give up—they dedicate more time and energy to finding a successful outcome.

Confidence in Decision Making

An ability to make and stick with a decision is an absolute must for good leaders. Right or wrong, they'll move the organization forward through success or 'fail fast and move on' tactics.

Other personality traits to look for include trust, integrity, and honesty. These characteristics will serve the organization well regardless of the candidate's position.

Protect Your Investment

To keep a potential leader on the path to success at the top, it pays to invest in experiences and training that will hone existing leadership skills and help develop new ones. Some ways to do this include:

Encouraging Volunteerism

Volunteering is an excellent way to broaden a leader's horizons, whether it's heading up a community fund drive for the poor or stocking shelves at a food pantry.

By exposing them to people from different backgrounds, these opportunities help them see how worlds overlap and how they can personally and professionally make a difference.

Provide Access to Mentors

The journey to becoming a good leader requires guidance along the way. Influential board members, retirees, and current leaders in your company are an excellent resource for up-and-coming leaders. Providing access to them through planned or unstructured events, such as sporting and community activities, is important.

Let Them Fail

Leaders are often called upon in response to failure, and good ones rise above it. But cultivating the skills to do so demands experience. Put future leaders in positions where failure isn't fatal but a means to learn new ways to succeed. Failure broadens perspectives, and learning to process it from many angles will serve upcoming leaders well.

Bypass Middle Mediocrity

Middle management can be a place where leadership flickers and fails. In some companies, it's a kind of purgatory where complacency and comfort stifle growth. While future C-Suite executives will pass through, don't let them get bogged down by the trappings.

Meet with them regularly to assess their willingness and readiness to move up. If it's waning, stoke the passion of pending leadership with encouragement. This could be through additional skills training or a special project they find interesting.

Doing so will help alleviate the fatigue that occurs along the road to becoming a strong leader. And breaking through the occasional lull will prove re-energizing.

Weed Out Poor Leaders and Leadership Traits

Once a candidate reaches senior leadership, there's still work to be done. Cultivating a strong team means dealing with new and existing leaders, and not all of them will be strong. Some may even fall far short of what's required.

If your leadership team includes members like this, weeding them out can go two ways. In the most optimistic scenarios, you can weed out bad habits through tactics such as coaching or skills training, as outlined in this piece on

When it works, you end up with stronger leaders who've identified and addressed their weaknesses. And retaining a good leader is far less disruptive than finding new ones. If coaching fails to achieve results, weeding out and dismissing a bad manager may be your only option.