How Great Leaders Recover After They Stumble

Ritu Gupta Mehrish


Ritu Gupta Mehrish maintains that all leaders, at some point, feel ‘blocked.’ The premise of this book is that, although there are a plethora of titles explaining how leaders can boost their effectiveness – finding practical help for emotional challenges is far more difficult.

Yet logic states that organisations can’t survive if their leaders feel unable to perform well. So, the focus of this book is identifying what may be blocking and how to overcome them.

Accepting emotional concerns

What was the last book that dealt with issues like feeling dull, perplexed or unmotivated?  Leaders who face these challenges for a sustained period may be suffering from ‘leader’s block.’ And is like ‘writer’s block,” which is related to being creative, energized and productive.

Think about it. An uninspired leader cannot inspire others. A demotivated manager cannot motivate others.

When does the block begin?

There may not be a hard and fast rule, but the author suggests it tends to happen after more than 15 years on the job. Early on, work follows a well-structured process. If they get stuck, they can turn to their senior manager or colleagues for help. As managers rise through the organisation, they face more complexity. Instead of following set paths, they have to create their own procedures and establish goals.

Is it OK to admit to being blocked?

“Seasoned leaders do a good job of managing their emotions and are careful not to expose them very often, but as humans we all have our threshold.”

In life, it is common to fear that others will see you as weak if you confess to negative emotions, so

you try to manage everything alone. Hopefully, most recent conversations about mental health will do something to avoid the stigma.

How devastating is the block?

In times of low change, leader’s block does not significantly challenge the success of a company. But with the speed of change increasing, neither organisations nor individuals can survive in the hands of blocked leaders.

Blocked leaders can also adversely affect how their teams function. This might result in unnecessary turnover as team members switch to other parts of the organisation or, simply, leave. Blocked leaders do not engage with their people or their tasks, and that leads to worker disengagement too.

How to overcome the block

The factors that cause leader’s block can be internal or external.  A common internal trigger is role fatigue. An external trigger could come from a leader’s relationship with his or her supervisors or external influences on the company.

As you rise in an organisation, there are typically fewer new roles to take on. In the absence of a ‘promotion’, leaders need to find fresh challenges in other ways.

Diverse perspectives can be a healthy thing but these differences can impede progress and should therefore be vocalised – as opposed to simply suffering in silence.

“The corporate world teaches us to fake it very well. Even though we may be feeling bored, disengaged, lost and cynical, we have to put on a brave front with our teams and stakeholders.”

Categorising leader’s block

The author offers four broad categories:

  • ‘Systemic’ – Brought about by shifts inside the organisational environment
  • ‘Personality’ – Brought about by the personality of leaders who want more tangible rewards and greater stimulation
  • ‘Situational’ – Brought about by changes in the economy, the organisation or the external climate.
  • ‘Personal’ – Brought about due to factors related to health, family or personal circumstances.

Is it simple to self-diagnose?

While other people might recognise that a leader might be suffering from leader’s block, individuals themselves may not observe the signs. Not all blocked leaders behave alike, but their struggles often manifest in similar ways.

Paradoxically, blocked leaders often invest more energy in their work. They want to prove themselves. Unfortunately, these efforts may go to waste because blocked leaders often focus on the wrong things. They don’t take time for introspection and may fail to acknowledge their true problems or the issues that are affecting their team.

Ways to self-diagnose

The author suggests you may be suffering if you:

  • Tend to function on autopilot
  • Adopt a consistent negative point of view
  • Work hard without making good progress toward your goals
  • Micromanage
  • Lack direction
  • React to other people with irritation or anger.

There is no silver bullet

You can use a variety of strategies, depending on the context and the individual’s personality. These approaches vary from making small changes in behaviour through to taking drastic action, like changing job.

“Leadership is a journey. Every journey, whether it is via road, air or water, will have its own speed breakers, turbulence or high tides.”

Most leaders can and do overcome the block and can pick one of five broad approaches – that conveniently are represented by the acronym, BLOCK:

‘Big picture’ – Look to gain an overall perspective about where you want to go. They need to investigate what is stopping them from achieving their goals.

‘Let it pass’– This may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes blocked leaders should just wait – especially if they can’t control the situation.

‘Opinions of people’ – When feeling blocked, leaders often behave differently, though they may not be aware themselves. Accept and seek feedback.

‘Change lanes’ – If a swift intervention is required, something needs to change. Something significant – a new role, boss or even company. Acting decisively regains control.

‘Kinship’ – Leaders are not an island. Find people you feel comfortable around. This could include a mentor or coach.

Is this book for me?

On the face of it, this is a very specific book – yet has many uses for many people. If you’re a leader (and they exist at all levels of a company) and recognise these symptoms, it is well worth a read. If you are a coach or mentor (or manage someone) and see any of these signs, this is an invaluable resource. And HR professionals in general (or wellbeing specialists) could do a lot worse than read this book.