4 Signs of a Bad Leader

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We all have our own perceptions of what “effective” leadership looks like, so trying to define what is right to hundreds or thousands of people would be an effort in futility — like asking your boss for a raise after making fun of his new haircut.

March 21, 2014

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A Google search of leadership yields 159,000,000 results. Try boiling that down into a shared definition of what leadership means and your life, as you know it, will be over.

But if we flip this construct on its head, I am willing to bet that there are non-desirable leadership behaviors we could all agree on; behaviors that simply do not create value for people. Try this exercise. Make a list of eight leadership behaviors that you would not want to see, and then compare your top four to mine below:

1. Complaining

Not cool. I remember something one of my SEAL team leaders said that was so simple and impactful it has stuck with me to this day: “Complaints go up, not down.” Criticizing another leader in the company of followers does two things, neither of which is a great way to make friends:

It undermines leadership efforts. One of the many challenges an organizational leader faces is buy-in from his people. What he doesn’t need is one of his appointed deputies barking insults behind his back, because doing so only erodes the trust that was built.

It establishes your reputation as a gossip hound. Authenticity is about dealing with conflict as it happens rather than waiting for the leader to leave the room. When people know where you stand, they also know what you stand for.

2. Emotional Volatility

Not to be confused with expressing emotion. Leaders are expected to comport themselves professionally, and that means having the self- and social-awareness to know when to put up, shut up or blow up. It also requires understanding different personalities, because some people learn easier after having a heart-to-heart conversation while others need a more direct — strategically placed — kick in the buttocks. Adapting one’s style to match the setting and people takes patience and acute observation if you don’t want to be the “fun sponge.”

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3. Playing “nice”

Making friends with employees is not priority number one on a leader’s radar because decisions must be made that, well, won’t please everybody. Remember this: People need a leader, not a friend. Friends help you out with your business; leaders help you fit in according to the business. Leaders seek to understand and align your values and goals with the company’s vision and strategy.

4. Micromanaging

Starting out as an entrepreneur, you have to wear all the hats, but as your company grows, so should you. The invoicing and logistics that you once ran no longer warrant your direct involvement because you’re now focused on higher-level planning. It’s not easy removing the tactical, operational and strategic hats that an entrepreneur initially wears and then scaling back to just one. But awareness is half the battle. If you want your company to grow then you must focus on what only you can affect — and let your people do the same.

As a leader there are certain expectations that others have of you, such as acting the part and delivering a message, service or product of value.

What are your expectations? I would love to hear the list you came up with (you did it, right?) in the comments section below. This will help all readers — including myself — better understand the myriad perceptions we use to qualify leadership effectiveness.

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