Failing Upward

Why Leaders Fail and the 7 Prescriptions for Success uncovers faults that plague every industry.

Misty D. Miller, RCE, e-PRO, C2EX, AHWD, is executive officer of Ashland Board of REALTORS®, Ohio. You can reach her at

Why Leaders Fail and the 7 Prescriptions for Success is a book I have known about since last year’s AE Institute, where I attended co-author Mary Kelly’s session. I needed this tell-it-like-it-is, no-nonsense, former naval commander’s advice but just couldn’t find time to read the book until COVID-19 cleared my schedule.

This spring, I decided to tackle the book. And since Kelly was set to conduct a special two-hour webinar for the Ohio REALTORS® Leadership Academy (for which I serve as an advisory member), I wanted to brush up on its concepts in preparation.

It took me about four hours to finish the audio version on Audible, and from the first sentence, I wondered why I had wasted so much time not reading this book. Its insights were career-changing. I recently sat down with Kelly to ask a few questions for this review.

“Why did you take a negative approach with the book title?” I asked.

“That is a popular question,” she said.

She decided with her co-author, leadership expert Peter Stark, that the book’s title should have a “shock-and-awe” effect. They didn’t want Why Leaders Fail to be just another leadership book, but instead wanted to help drive substantive changes in leadership.

Why Leaders Fail

Over thousands of hours of research, the authors discovered a common theme among leaders in all industries and corporations—the “7 Failures” they tend to make:

  1. They lack a compelling vision and clear goals.
  2. They torpedo trust.
  3. They just don’t care.
  4. They are unfair.
  5. They don’t understand we are one team.
  6. They want to be Miss Congeniality.
  7. Their confidence becomes arrogance.

If you haven’t had one of these types of leaders as your association president, you probably will at some point, and this book will help guide you through these potential failures and turn them into successes. Although the book is geared toward corporate America, accepting the terminology as it pertains to association executives will be helpful in understanding what Kelly and Stark are discussing.

Applying the advice to CEOs is an obvious place to start, but I asked Kelly—who was a Century 21 agent for eight years—if it could also explain the failures of employees, direct reports, managers, customers, and others.

“Real estate is a microcosm of business,” she said. “If you understand and are successful in the real estate world, you can translate that into almost any other business. But the same is not true the other way.” (Google “Mary Kelly FSBO” for a YouTube video of her insights on FSBOs.)

The seven prescriptions for success are timeless; although the book was written four years ago, it addresses the challenges of the current pandemic. The part of the book that spoke the most to me was a discussion of the “J Curve” of change, which goes down before it can go back up. “Things get worse before they get better because the habenula of the brain resists change,” Kelly told me. “It’s like an operating system; you revert back to how you were first taught.”

Upon finishing the book, you can opt to take a confidential leadership self-assessment that allows you to benchmark yourself with other leaders of industry. I sent Kelly my results before the interview, and she identified a few areas for improvement the association could tackle. She suggested I ask each of the directors to take the same self-assessment and review the results to find areas where we could do better.

I recommend this book to every AE; we all need to understand our leaders—and ourselves—better to achieve success.

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