Leading Blog






01.15.20

The Impact of Great and Terrible Leaders

Impact of Great and Terrible Leaders

MOST PEOPLE have been around a bad leader at some point. Someone who doesn’t communicate, sets impossible expectations, or is just difficult to be around. You’ve likely experienced the draining, exhausting feelings from having to work with or for that person. Hopefully, most people have also experienced a great leader. These are the people who inspire and motivate and encourage people to do their best work towards a common goal.

If you’ve experienced a bad leader and a great leader, you know the difference between the two can be night and day. But how do we turn those feelings into real action to develop great, future-ready leaders?

What Makes a Great Leader?

As part of my new book, The Future Leader, I interviewed more than 140 CEOs around the world and asked them each to define leadership. Their definitions were all over the board and included things like leaders being able to drive business success and reach goals to human skills like connecting with people and being humble. One of the main themes was that people believe a successful leader is someone who makes money and grows a business. The financial results definitely contribute to being a successful leader, but there is so much more that goes into becoming a truly great leader.

Consider these two definitions from CEOs I interviewed.

Judy Marks is the CEO of Otis Elevator and leads a team of over 70,000 employees around the world. According to Judy, “I think it’s really the ability to drive results, and I’ll leave that word results fairly generic. My role in terms of leadership is to set the vision and to share it. To create an environment where people can resonate not only with the mission but deliver it. To eliminate obstacles so my team can succeed.”

Hans Vestberg is the CEO of Verizon Communications, an American multinational telecommunications conglomerate with over 152,000 employees around the world. Hans believes leadership is: “Ensuring that people have everything they need to achieve the missions of an organization. That’s it. All else is footnotes.”

Which one most resonates with you and why?

First and foremost, great leaders care about their people. They are willing to go the extra mile to serve and get the job done. A great leader knows that a company isn’t really successful if its numbers improve but its people aren’t happy. Leaders help shape the world and have a profound impact on their employees’ lives. If you’ve had the chance to work for a great leader, you know those lasting feelings: a great leader inspires you to be better, mentors you along the way, and gives you the tools to succeed. Great leaders help the people around them improve, even to the point that their employees are better equipped than the leader themselves. When individuals are motivated and engaged, they naturally want to work harder and better, which brings financial success.

Impact of Great Leaders

Great leaders create engaged employees who want to come to work and give their best effort. A study by Zenger Folkman found that good leaders can double company profits, simply with their ability to motivate and engage employees. Organizations with the highest-quality leaders are 13 times more likely to outperform their competitors. Another study found that how managers lead accounts for a 28% variance in employee job satisfaction. Any company would love to have an increase in employee satisfaction, and it’s as simple as putting great leaders into management positions.

Great leaders also breed other great leaders. If you work for someone you admire and who displays great leadership skills, you’re more likely to also develop those skills and abilities. A great leader is like a pebble dropped in a pond who creates ripples of other good leaders all around them for years to come.

What Makes a Bad Leader?

On the flip side, a bad leader doesn’t care about people or creating an environment where employees want to improve and do their best work. Bad leaders often make their employees feel like cogs in the machine who are just there to clock in, do their job, and then clock out. Bad leaders often only care about the numbers or advancing their own career instead of creating a team mentality and moving the company towards success.

Impact of Bad Leaders

Employees who work for bad leaders often feel like their jobs are unenjoyable and meaningless. Studies have shown that working for a toxic leader leads to lower job satisfaction, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. But that lack of satisfaction carries over into other areas of employees’ lives. A study from the University of Manchester found that employees working for bad leaders or managers were more likely to experience clinical depression and over time became overly critical of their co-workers, took credit for each other’s work, and showed aggressive behavior to other people in the company. Clearly, the attitude of a bad leader isn’t contained in a single person. A leader sets the tone for the organization, which means their bad example and energy can spread through the entire organization and poison even good employees.

Bad leaders cause employees to become disengaged in their work and are one of the biggest reasons for employees leaving their jobs. In many cases, employees don’t quit companies—they quit managers and bosses who are difficult to work for. A Gallup survey of more than 1 million employees found a staggering 75% of people who had quit their jobs had done so because of their boss and not the actual position.

Developing Great Leaders

There’s a stark contrast between good leaders and bad leaders. It’s often easy to point out bad leaders in past organizations or looking in from the outside, but it’s more difficult to make a change when you’re in the midst of working for a bad leader. Companies shouldn’t be afraid to overhaul their internal teams and processes to get rid of bad leaders.

It’s impossible to only hire superstar leaders; organizations also need to learn how to develop people internally to create great leaders. Good leaders have a strong impact on the culture and overall success of the company. Investing in future leaders can have a large return as they motivate employees and help grow the company.

Leaders have the potential to make a huge impact in their organizations. Great leaders can inspire employees, attract talent, and increase revenue, while bad leaders can create a toxic environment and drive away employees and customers. Organizations need to prepare for the future by identifying and removing bad leaders and then replacing them with strong leaders and an internal leadership development program.

What kind of a leader are you and what kinds of leaders does your organization want to create?

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Leading Forum
Jacob Morgan is one of the world's leading authorities on leadership, employee experience, and the future of work. He is a 4x best-selling author, speaker, and professionally trained futurist. He is also the founder of The Future of Work University, an online education and training platform that helps future proof individuals and organizations by teaching them the skills they need to succeed in the future of work. His new book, The Future Leader, which is based on interviews with over 140 CEOs around the world is coming out January 2020.

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