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You Might Be a Bad Leader If…


NONE OF US would readily admit to being a bad leader. We see ourselves as pretty good or at least well-intentioned. But people don’t experience our intentions; they experience what we actually do.

When we struggle to get along with others or simply get things done, we would be wise to look at our assumptions and behaviors. Even just focusing on improving in one area can do wonders for your leadership and have a huge impact on those who follow you.

No matter how good we are as leaders, we all do a little harm along the way. So it’s good to look at the ways bad leadership shows up so we can minimize the bad and amplify good leadership.

You might be a bad leader if you are motivated by power and status. This motivation invariably leads to corruption and unethical behavior. It’s most often why otherwise effective leaders go bad. It opens the door for every other kind of mindset we associate with bad leaders. Our leadership must be about something bigger than us. Power is something to be shared.

You might be a bad leader if you are easily overwhelmed. It is the nature of leadership to function in uncertainty. What makes it possible is a clarity of purpose about why we are doing what we are doing. Leaders must continuously communicate that purpose to lead others an often volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world.

You might be a bad leader if you are too rigid. This is a failure to stay relevant. Staying the course is admirable, but a leader must know the times they are in. They must be effective in their current reality. Barbara Tuchman noted that a bad leader is not “deflected by the facts.”

You might be a bad leader if you lack self-control. Leaders are not a superset of human beings. Leaders have impulses, desires, and needs, just like everyone else, but when we fail to control our impulses, we most often get in our own way and derail our leadership. We lose credibility as followers expect—and rightly so—leaders to put the needs of the group above their own. Of course, there are impulses that are merely a distraction for others, and then there are impulses that destroy us and hurt those around us. We must exhibit self-control for the sake of ourselves and others. Leaders who lack self-control take themselves down.

You might be a bad leader if you think the ends justify the means. By crossing one too many lines, we put ourselves on the road to unethical and even evil behavior. This failure of leadership is based in self-interest. It’s self-serving. Leaders are rightfully judged by their results but not at any cost. This toxic mindset is most often gradual, and when tolerated in an organization it begins to infect all decisions and diminishes everyone involved.

You might be a bad leader if you lead by fear. This kind of leader exerts a high degree of control. It also leads to incompetency as the organization can never rise above the leader themselves. In the end, the whole organization is incompetent. Good leaders must know what they don’t know. As Dirty Harry said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

You might be a bad leader if you have a lack of respect for others—for just being people. A lack of respect manifests itself in being unkind, dismissive of the opinions and needs of others, controlling others, or showing partiality because of status or importance. We respect others when we are curious about them and listen to them.

You might be a bad leader if you fail to see beyond ourselves. As leaders, we are responsible not only to the people we lead but to all of those affected by our leadership. It is a failure to do the right thing—to not do right when it is in our power to do right.

You might be a bad leader if you lack the competency for our job. This doesn’t mean stupid. It’s about skills. Do we have to skills to move forward in the areas we have been tasked to lead?

You might be a bad leader if you lack emotional intelligence. Leaders must be aware and sensitive to others and importantly, how their leadership is experienced by others. This implies the need for honest and candid feedback and daily reflection. Our ego creates blind spots, so we must always keep our ego in check. This is where humility comes in. A good leader leads themselves first.

We must be able to recognize the signs of bad leadership so we can deal with it before it undermines us. These mindsets come up time and time again because they are common to humankind. We can’t change that. None of us are immune. Sticking our heads in the sand won’t help. Only by recognizing them when we see them in our own leadership we can effectively deal with them.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:32 PM
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