“We really need this to work.”  If you have been in leadership for any amount of time you have probably said these same words.  No leader is perfect and there are times in every leader’s life when nothing seems to be working right.  It seems like you are failing.

One organization currently experiencing failure is the NFL’s Cleveland Browns.  The great writer Peter King recently profiled the downtrodden franchise and unstable leadership culture currently in existence.  As I read King’s article, I gleaned 12 Signs A Leader Is Failing.  

Whether you lead a church, business, non-profit or sports organization, you can learn much from the mistakes of the Browns and their owner Jimmy Haslam.

  1. A Leader Is Failing When You Have Continual Failure – This seems obvious doesn’t it?  The Browns have lost at least 11 of 16 games six seasons in a row.
  2. A Leader Is Failing When You Continually Miss Opportunity – There is a difference between sensing opportunity and seizing it.  The Browns interviewed Ken Whisenhunt, one of the hottest commodities on the coaching market, two consecutive years.  The reason he was not hired in 2013 was former CEO Joe Bannen told Whisenhunt, who had previously coached the Arizona Cardinals to a Super Bowl, he was putting together “a championship coaching staff.”  Whisenhunt responded when interviewed again in 2014, “Who are you to tell me what makes up a championship coaching staff?”
  3. A Leader Is Failing When You Continually Make Bad Hires – Bannen was subsequently fired by Haslam after just one season as CEO because of his lack of football acumen and the firing head coach Rob Chudzinski after his initial season.
  4. A Leader Is Failing When You Lack Support From Key People – In addition to a perceived lack of football knowledge and experience, Bannen had an abrasive personality which turned off many.
  5. A Leader Is Failing When You Lack Continuity – Since he purchased the team in October, 2012, Haslam has fired two head coaches, a CEO, two general managers, a team president and the team has employed 56 different assistant coaches.  The low point was Chudzinski being fired while exiting the team bus following the team’s final game this past season.
  6. A Leader Is Failing When You Have A Lack Of Execution – The Browns have also started four quarterbacks during this time.  It also appears they are going to draft another in the first round of May’s NFL Draft.
  7. A Leader Is Failing When You Have Financial Mismanagement – Haslam signed former General Manager Mike Lombardi’s replacement, Ray Farmer, to a four-year contract.  Few, if any, feel Farmer will be employed the full length of the contract necessitating a large payout.
  8. A Leader Is Failing When You Are Embarrassed Publicly – At the last minute, Banner rescinded an invitation to Grantland reporter Chuck Klosterman to the team’s draft room.  Klosterman responded by writing, “The Browns live in a state of perpetual war, endlessly convincing themselves that every scrap of information they possess is some kind of game-changing superweapon that will alter lives and transmogrify the culture. They behave like members of a corporate cult.’’
  9. A Leader Is Failing When Good People Decline The Opportunity To Join Your Team – Great leaders are not going to leave stable environments for ones which are toxic.  Attractive candidates Josh McDaniels, Adam Gase and Dan Quinn all turned down offers for head coaching interviews.
  10. A Leader Is Failing When You Ignore Advice From Leaders More Competent Than You – Despite rave reviews from Bill Belichick and Urban Meyer, Banner had no interest in former Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano.
  11. A Leader Is Failing When You Lack Momentum – This was King’s description of the Browns organization, “It’s like there’s a moat around the Browns’ training center in suburban Berea, and alligators are swimming in it. In the past six weeks, the team has fired the entire coaching staff and the two biggest football people running the show. The coach is new, the coordinators are new, the offense (with a bruised Kyle Shanahan coming off an ugly year in Washington) is new.”
  12. A Leader Is Failing When You Lack Options Currently the Browns do not have a quarterback of the future.  They do have three of the top 35 picks in the upcoming draft.  Perhaps a solution can be found there.

“We really need this to work.”  These are probably the words of new GM Farmer heading into the draft and free agency, especially if they draft Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater.  If not, they should be.  Do not be surprised if Haslam is looking for his fourth GM a year from now.

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