Leadership Spotlight

Are You the Single Point of Failure?

A stock image of a male business professional at work.

“We all have blind spots in our knowledge and opinions. The bad news is that they can leave us blind to our blindness, which gives us false confidence in our judgment and prevents us from rethinking.”

—Dr. Adam Grant1

As a leader, are you the single point of failure for your organization? How do you know? And, why does it matter? It matters because you may be holding your organization back by your inability to see that you can no longer adapt, allow innovation to flourish, and/or inspire and motivate the talent in your organization. Leaders who become single points of failure cause extraordinarily successful organizations to fall into an abyss of inefficiency, ineffectiveness, and poor organizational health.

As leaders begin to climb the ranks, they — like most people — can become susceptible to many forms of psychological biases and phenomena without even realizing it. As humans, it is our nature to desire a sense of belonging and acceptance. This need can lead us to subconsciously seek out those who agree with our views and decisions; affirm our opinions, values, and beliefs; or confirm and validate us. The blind spots that result can cause leaders to be a single point of failure.

These leaders may become overly driven and goal-focused, weary, mistrustful, and isolated. They may buy into an idea, policy change, or strategy and become so heavily invested that they can no longer see a way out of it when it does not work anymore. Once again, they may become a potential barrier or distraction to their own growth and that of the agency they lead. This can result in organizational burnout, but the leader cannot see it. This is yet another potential blind spot and opportunity to be the single point of failure.

Even those who are aware of the blind spots and work hard to incorporate empathy, problem-solving, and creativity into their daily routines can run the risk of compassion fatigue without realizing why they do not seem to care as much as they did before. Again, this leads them to become the single point of failure within their organization.

Imagine one leader in an agency does not recognize and appreciate the blind spots for what they are. Then, multiple other leaders follow suit. Finally, an entire organization being led by those leaders, both informal and formal, is affected. Perhaps you do not have to imagine those things. You may have experienced them yourself.

By realizing that growth matters, leaders can combat becoming a single point of failure. When growth stagnates and stalls, leaders become nothing more than cogs in a wheel, a piece of the organizational machinery that increases risk that the agency will continue chugging along and churning out the same responses to the same problems, leading to its failure.

To avoid becoming the single point of failure, leaders can pay attention to the following G.R.O.W.T.H. principles.

  • Generosity means giving of yourself. Be intentional and purposeful in your communications and interactions with others. Inclusivity breeds innovation and creative problem solving.
  • Resilience involves viewing mistakes and missteps as learning opportunities for yourself and those you lead. Seek to build a resilient organization.
  • Opportunities to grow come from all the challenges and obstacles leaders face. Encourage a mindset that recognizes failures can be an opportunity to innovate and grow.
  • Work hard, be motivated, and remain persistent. In other words, do not give up, seek to change, and move forward.
  • Think before you speak. Being the leader does not mean you should be the one speaking. Learn to listen with empathy.
  • Have an open mind. If you are a good leader, it will show in the way people approach you. Divergent opinions, thoughts, and motivation are at the heart of how growth happens in organizations.

Marian Elizabeth “Beth” Coleman, an instructor in the Leadership Education Unit at the FBI Academy, prepared this Leadership Spotlight. She can be reached at mecoleman@fbi.gov.


1 Adam Grant, Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know (New York: Viking Press, 2021).