One can find countless articles, podcasts, and books on being an effective leader. And go to a corresponding conference about the concepts expressed. And then probably go to a conference about that conference.
There is a bit less out there—because leadership is supposed to be positive, I guess—about being a bad leader. I know when I am sick, however, I don’t want to hear about how a well person feels, I want to focus on and detail out my own symptoms so I can deal with them in turn. The same basic sentiment can be said of leadership, and just as a sick person can’t be healthy until he or she isn’t sick, one cannot be a good leader while exuding characteristics of a bad leader. Here are some symptoms of bad leadership:
A bad leader controls.
Wait, control is a good thing, right? Well it can be, up to a point. But the leader who is hell-bent on “getting this done the right way” and projects the feeling that only he is able to do that will not lead well. When one person has his or her finger on every important facet—whether in business or in family—no one else gets developed, no else learns to make decisions, things move very slowly (because they all have to go through one person), mistakes are feared, risks are avoided at all cost, and trust is not built. To be a good leader, one must relinquish some control and trust others to deliver results, and must tactfully develop team/family members when those results don’t line-up with the vision (and be sure to take notice when the results are there).
A bad leader plays to an audience.
A good leader is all about mission. If the mission is going forward—goals are being met, people are being served, vision is being executed—a good leader smiles, encourages, and continues coaxing her people onward. Sadly, this isn’t always how things go. Often a leader begins focusing not on the mission but on herself. She begins to wonder what the community will think if she isn’t the one to cut the ribbon? What if someone important sees the project without her as a centerpiece? What if she gives too much slack to the rope, and in doing so risks losing accolades at the end of the project?
When a leader begins to think this way, he or she is sacrificing the many for the few—in the case “the few” being himself or herself. If you are all about the approval of others, you are not about leading—you are about putting on a performance. When our actions center on limelight applause, we will lose our way, lose our people, and drift from a healthy mission-bound focus.
A bad leader needs everyone to know he is in charge.
Nothing spoils leadership like insecurity. Rather than march onward toward a goal, confident that the team is following, an insecure leader has to turn around every few steps to make sure everyone is still back there, following in-step. When a leader is passionate about a goal, and spills that passion down to his team/family, people will follow. And people tend to follow quiet, capable confidence, while insecurity breeds insecurity. As soon as a leader begins asking, “Don’t those people know I’m the leader here!” is about the time that the team begins asking, “Who is the leader here?” or “Is he capable of leading us?” Insecurity never yields trust; it brings about more insecurity, distrust, and power struggles. It is a fear-based style of leading—fear of losing power or not being needed—and a good leader doesn’t lead from weakness but from strength.
A bad leader communicates poorly.
This can be from a lack of communication: the leader is too busy or too important or too untrusting to trickle down important information. This is the one that comes to mind most readily, and it is fairly easy to fix: share information with teammates. This shows trust, gives ownership, and allows for them to find “the why” in whatever project or initiative is taking place.
More sneaky, however, is the leader who over-communicates. This leader says everything about a hundred times, sending a clear message to the team members: You are incompetent. Often, leaders over-communicate when there is a lack of trust present or when there is an insecurity of power. If the former, trust needs to be built (either it is bad leadership or there are bad team members; either way it has to be dealt with). If the latter, again, the leader has to develop character qualities that enable self-trust, confidence, and dedication to the mission/calling. Without this, there will always be an inner questioning that leads to outer turmoil.
This is just a start to diagnosing a bad leader. I worked in a place once where I had a team of around ten people, and I was in charge. I, at one time or another, suffered from all of these symptoms. I was young and I was new, so I compensated by over-communicating, wanting to “prove myself” to the audience, trying to have my hand on every detail of every project/task. It was tiring and destructive.
When I began to communicate better with my team, and let go of my own hubris and fear, things began to run with fluidity, my coworkers were more loyal and happy, and I worked less, worried less, and was genuinely happier at work.
When people have the right character—leaders and followers alike—trust can be extended freely, and things get done.