Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

originally written by Gary Runn

I have heard it said on several occasions that you can solve any problem if you put a good leader on it.

The idea is that good leaders will always lead in such a way that a sustainable solution will be discovered and implemented.

I disagree. 

I have seen this philosophy lived out in multiple settings. An organization will be faced with a daunting issue and will summon the best leader available. Often the valuation of that leader is past performance. In some arena this leader has proven their worth by navigating a certain level of complexity, marshaling necessary resources, and executing in such a way that people are helped, the organizational mission is advanced, and the leader shines. The assumption is made that this is a "good leader" and can lead in a similar fashion into a new reality with similar results.

The problem lies in that the next setting may be this leader's undoing.

They fail.

Now the question arises,

"Was this person really a good leader?"

There is really only one option available in response. "No, this person really isn't the leader we thought they were." Now the leader has become marginalized, often never chosen again to be tasked with something of equal value.

One significant piece of the leadership puzzle is often left unattended.


No leader is omni-competent.

And therefore no leader is fit to address and solve every organizational problem.

Context always matters.

"Context" is defined as the interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs. It is appropriateness of fit. Good leaders must be empowered to match a given context. It is widely known that Winston Churchill led best in the midst of WWII. He had been seen as a failure in previous settings. But the Battle of Britain proved to be the right context for the unique skills that Churchill possessed. It was appropriateness of fit.

Jim Collins, noted American business consultant and author, states "'Can a leader be effective in any context?' I believe the answer is no. Some remarkable individuals are able to cross over into other areas, but they are more the exception than the rule."

If you are a high level leader within an organization, and you are seeking to empower a leader to lead something weighty, you must ask "Is this the right leader for this particular context, for this set of circumstances?" If you are an emerging leader and asked to consider a new role, you must consider if this is the right context for your gifts, abilities, and aspirations.

Good leaders live out good leadership when they are able to bring all of who they are into the right context that allows them to make a difference.

If you have discounted a "good leader" as a result of failure--give them a second chance.

If you are a "good leader" who has felt marginalized because of failure, seek to lead again in your proper context.

What are your thoughts?