Updated: Dec 8, 2018
In twenty years of working for leaders of all capabilities, and developing my own leadership style, I've seen the good, the bad and everything in between. Early in my leadership development, I mimicked those who I viewed as getting ahead in their career. I soon learned that while those people could get themselves promoted, they often were promoted to a level of exposure that revealed their true colors. This revelation, early on, helped me begin to recognize leadership traits that can transform a team, and those that can destroy a business. Here, we'll explore the latter.
10. THE micromanager
Let's start with the most obvious one. Micromanagement, as a leadership trait, can be born from several different flaws. One is the belief that the micromanager can do the job better than their team, so they feel compelled to be involved in every last detail. Another reason for this trait is insecurity. Feeling insecure about one's own knowledge, capability or position is enough for some to become a micromanager.
There is, however, one micromanagement inducing flaw that can destroy a business faster than the rest... it is the "I haven't been very engaged in the business and what we're working on, because I've been consumed with my personal/career stuff, and now my boss is doing a review with me and talking to my team, so I better get my shit together and 'manage' my people" flaw. This flaw shares commonalities with The Absentee Leader (number eight), but manifests in micromanagement that hampers employee's drive to succeed, destroys organizational innovation, and decreases growth potential for both the employees and the company.
9. THE CREDIT TAKER
Speaking of tanking trust, this leadership trait will do that faster than all others combined. People tend to have a fairly high tolerance for B.S. from their bosses, but taking credit for someone else's work isn't just wrong, it's stealing. Stealing the labor, effort, thought, passion and creativity of others can leave people aggrieved, in a deeply personal way. I like to call these people fraudsters or con-artists. A con-artist (short for confidence artist), is skilled in the art of manipulating someone's confidence to steal or otherwise take advantage of them.
The leader that con's their clients or bosses by taking credit for the work of others eventually gets exposed for the fraud that they are. Unfortunately, it usually requires them being promoted to a fairly high position in the company for this reveal to happen. During that time, they are leaving a trail of destruction in their path. Employees ultimately lose trust not only in that leader, but also in the company that continues to promote an individual like that.
8. THE ABSENTEE LEADER
Having a boss who lets you do as you please may sound ideal, especially if you've been bullied or micromanaged by your current boss. However, research shows that being ignored by one’s boss is more alienating than being treated poorly. The impact of absentee leadership on job satisfaction outlasts the impact of most other poor leadership traits. Absentee leaders are people in leadership roles who are psychologically absent from them. They were promoted into management, and enjoy the privileges and rewards of a leadership role, but avoid meaningful involvement with their teams. Absentee leadership resembles the concept of rent-seeking in economics — taking value out of an organization without putting value in.
7. THE INTIMIDATOR
Other wise known as the bully, The Intimidator, is often a person with deep insecurities or untreated behavioral problems, that believes being a leader means being "bossy." If you want to see a rapid decrease in morale and experience a high turnover, all you have to do is hire a bully to intimidate employees. A leader who is constantly threatening to fire people over unsatisfactory work, berating them for their performance, or criticizing the personal traits of employees, creates a negative work environment.
If you're this person, stop. Seriously. You're killing your business with every threat you put out. Instead, teach employees what's expected and if it doesn't happen, help them make it happen. Hold accountability throughout the process, for yourself first, then for your people.
6. THE BLAMER
Why is it so easy to blame others? Simple. We are programmed early in life to identify the flaws and faults in others, and attribute our own flaws and faults to others. If you grew up with siblings, you know this to be all too true. If something in the house was broken or someone hit the other, and the threat of getting in trouble loomed, what was your first response? If you're like most, it was to point the finger at your sibling. For some, as we enter adulthood, we grow beyond this trait, but for a majority in our society, blame remains an easy escape. Unfortunately, this whole idea of blaming others instead of being accountable has become part of our culture. It's everywhere. It's in individuals, families, celebrities, athletes, the government, and it's very much alive in businesses.
When a leader throws his or her hands up in the air and blames someone else in the company for what's happened, they're pretty much saying: "Hey, it's not my fault! It was completely out of my control!" But the crazy thing is, these same people that continue to point the finger and make their employees feel insecure, are also usually the first to take the credit when everything works out.
The short version: Bad leaders blame, while great leaders don't.
5. THE INDECISIVE ONE
This one is less about people leadership, and more about direct impact to the bottom line. Indecisive leaders cost their company more money than decisive leaders that occasionally make bad decisions. Simply put, you have take action, then make adjustments. As a leader, you make a lot of decisions on a daily basis. It's OK if a lot of those decisions end up being the wrong decisions; all you have to do is pivot and course correct.
So, why is that so hard for so many leaders to grasp? It's because they have a fear of failure. They don't want to look stupid in front of everyone else. The irony is that a decisive leader actually looks better in the eyes of others when they can rebound after a bad decision.
4. THE ALL-TALKER
The well-intended, articulate, positive-vibe leader is an aspirational starting point for many young leaders, and I take no issue with that. It's a great launching platform to build from. The All-Talker, though, is a leader who failed to build any depth or substance to their leadership, and instead continues to rely on their smooth-talking ways, without delivering in a meaningful way.
This is often the "all talk and no action" leader, who just relies on their intelligence and wit to navigate their daily activities. It is also frequently the "I have the best intentions, but I'm so disorganized and caught up in my own mess to actually deliver on my promises" leader. While the latter is easier to have compassion for and accept, they both have the same negative impact, over time, on a team and an organization. All talk and no action diminishes both trust and results, negatively impacts morale and leads to higher turnover.
These leaders can often be the hardest to weed out, because they are likable, and generally engage their team very well; therefore their teams can produce adequately, in essence covering for the leaders negative traits.
3. THE EMO FLUNKY
Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage not only one’s own emotions but also to empathize with and manage others' emotions. Empathy is probably the most important quality a leader can have. If a leader fails at understanding their team’s problems, then he or she won’t be able to lead them.
Leaders with low emotional intelligence become their own worst enemies. When they are in a bad mood, frustrated or stressed, it creates tension in the office. While they may not become physically violent, their words and actions may destroy an otherwise safe atmosphere, undermining creativity, innovation and performance. Lack of emotional intelligence hits the bottom line annually to the tune of $400 billion in lost productivity.
2. THE SMARTY PANTS
No one likes a know-it-all. Leaders who share their success stories or brag about their accomplishments illustrate to others that they are unwilling to learn and change. Instead, a leader should always be curious and not have to feel as though he or she is the smartest person in the room.
One common thread with The Smarty Pants is the fear of feedback. Feedback is the greatest thing a leader can get. Positive feedback is great to hear, but negative feedback is gold. Great leaders need to hear and understand their team members. Addressing negative feedback is good. We need to understand how to improve. However, addressing it to find out who said what (especially when anonymous), is in no way beneficial. Installing a culture of fear within the team doesn’t help anyone. Ignoring problems doesn’t lead you anywhere but off the proverbial cliff.
1. THE ONE WAY COMMUNICATOR
Feedback is the enemy of The One Way Communicator. Poor communication skills won't get a leader very far with his or her team. If a leader can't articulate goals and objectives or ask questions, it will be challenging to know what's really going on with team members and the overall business.
Poor communication happens for two reasons: because entrepreneurs make assumptions about their team members, and because they don't want to hurt their team members' feelings. If someone assumes that one of their team members knows what they're doing, yet in reality that team member is clueless, then the boss begins to feel resentment and frustration toward that person, all because no communication was initially established between the two parties. Yet, so many leaders also fail to have tough talks with their team members. They don't have it in them to call out something a specific team member needs to do better, and they therefore miss the chance to coach that person up to a higher level.
Leaders should communicate across different mediums and environments. They should follow the 70-20-10 rule in conversations: 70 percent listening, 20 percent asking questions (along with some brand advocacy), and 10 percent tracking (summarizing and synthesizing information).