Author’s Note: A few of you asked me to repost my blog. This actually went viral last May on LinkedIn (230k views or so) and got picked up in news outlets, blogs and sites all over the world. It even landed me a writing gig with the Singapore Straits Times. I’d love your comments. The ones on LinkedIn and on my blog are pretty amazing and were fun, yet overwhelming to read. Overnight, and literally for almost 2 months, I got emails across the world with high fives! Sometimes when you put yourself out there, the world agrees!
Not all leaders are created equal. There are great ones, good ones, okay ones, and downright awful ones. It’s okay, we’ve all said it before, either aloud or in our own minds, “How exactly did he/she get that spot?”
My 17 years in Global 100 companies and non-profit service has afforded me the opportunity to experience the full spectrum from great to awful. The beauty of experiencing it earlier in my career and even now, as I’ve progressed, even gives me greater perspective on how to navigate through it. It’s not always as easy to detect if you’ve got a dud, so here are my top 5 signs and some strategies on how to cope.
1. It’s all about them and never about anyone else.
To lead, is to serve.
Service is about putting others first, connecting and determining needs and creating a safe space for people to create, debate, innovate, deliver and improve. Good leaders know business is personal. They are acutely aware of their stakeholders: customers, partners, and investors. In my line of work, this list also includes governments, NGOs, and local communities. Bad leaders put themselves at the center of everything, make every decision, dictate, and create a culture of fear. They are notorious for taking the credit for successes and assigning blame when things go south.
If you have a self-centered power-driven leader, that’ll fall fast. The title won’t mean a thing when they’ve wrecked every relationship. Have some compassion…maybe they’ll see the light? (But don’t count on it.)
2. They lack vision.
You know that awesome U2 song, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For? That’s this leader’s theme song. Often times I have seen folks get promoted because they can deliver, yet they can’t think beyond their silo. In larger companies or non profits, it’s not just about the divisional vision but how that fits into the bigger picture in an integrated, practical and meaningful way. Tunnel vision is for those who can only see within their frame of view. Yeah, this one kinda sounds like #1 a little bit. Leaders who don’t create a vision, drive performance against that vision and create long-term value will fail.
This is the classic “blind leading the blind”. If your leader has no vision…expect chaos and confusion.
3. **** or get off the pot.
Leaders get things done. They perform and measure their contributions. This is one of the signs that can send different messages, though. Bad leaders truly think activity = progress. Nope. Activity is just a bunch of moan bit**ing about being “busy”. It usually manifests into over hiring and loads of waste. This happens because there’s no vision in sight or clear lines of accountability. (Yes, these things do build on each other.) Most leaders that fall into this trap are the ones who have no vision, oversubscribe themselves and their teams, micromanage everything, lack the ability to empower people, and fall short on most if not all commitments.
4. Hello My Name is KIA. Know. It. All.
Oh my favorite kind of leader is one who knows every answer. Seriously, I can learn a lot from a KIA and so can you. Exceptional leaders possess curiosity. They know what they lack and it’s their role to shape a team that brings the knowledge, skills and experience into the room to deliver. There’s no debating a KIA, so don’t try. Smile and thank them for their great intelligence.
5. They talk the good talk, but are too good to walk the walk.
Does this one need any explaining? This is about principles and values and your actions being perfectly aligned to what comes out of your mouth. I think of all five this one irks the most. Don’t say you are something or going to do something if you don’t intend on living up to that promise. I appreciate honesty more than games.
There is good news… I promise!
Bad leaders don’t last. A few things can happen.
1. They get found out fast. If they have any potential, and most do, companies will invest in providing development and coaching. This is the best thing that could happen. It’s a win for you and the leader. Just remember, everyone’s on a journey and those that CAN be saved, are worth the effort, time and money. If your leader has a coach, consider yourself lucky!
2. Their sponsors retire or leave the company thus rendering them powerless. Usually they will follow suit.
3. They are escorted out or one day you hear about them “electing to leave”.
4. They are put in a role where they can’t harm anyone or anything. These situations used to baffle me, but it’s often this happens with some when the risk is too high to do anything else.
5. You might decide to leave. That’s perfectly within your right and an option.
Just remember though, there are plenty of duds in this world. Some people never learn, however some do learn, grow and get better. Sometimes too, the best learning is having experienced it. Some of my best assignments and growth spurts were due to how I coped with bad leadership.
Tell me, have you ever encountered these signs? Any pitfalls? How did you cope?
If you like this article, read The 7 Signs of a Bad Colleague.