I vividly recall my first week spent working with a certain supervisor on a consulting project. He was loud. He was abrasive. He was not sympathetic when he assigned huge volumes of work. He unapologetically dismissed what he viewed as lack-lustre ideas. He made it clear that if you didn’t deliver top-quality work, he would replace you without thinking twice. As you can imagine, I wasn’t very happy to be working with him.
Over the years, and many managers later, I’ve come to realize that I’m not always going to work with the best leader. But these less-than-ideal interactions sure do highlight some qualities I don’t want to adopt in my own leadership journey. Sometimes, reflecting on what not to do can provide the best leaning.
On that note, read on for my suggestions about what not to do as leaders.
Leadership: What not to do
Not challenging people
Weak leaders assign small pieces of work, which do not stretch their team. They don’t trust others’ skills and they judge others’ capabilities more on experience than potential. As a result, their teams don’t develop and tend to be uninspired.
Weak leaders don’t trust their team to do a job well. They believe the only way to have something done well is to do it themselves. They delegate only small pieces of unimportant work. They end up carrying far too much of the load themselves and end up being a tremendous bottleneck for the entire team.
Not respecting time
Terrible leaders don’t seem to respect other people’s time. They are consistently late. They don’t review work other people have prepared for them in a timely way. They expect their team to drop everything any time they call or email. They show far too many videos of their cat. As a result, their team can’t help but have unproductive days.
Tolerating unrelenting workloads
Terrible leaders do not spend time reviewing priorities with their team. They have no sympathy for long to-do lists and they expect people to manage the workload on their own. They assign more and more work, without a realistic view of what is attainable. Terrible leaders are often drowning themselves, which often explains why they don’t have the skills to help others. But the result tends to be a burned-out team that makes little meaningful progress on countless initiatives.
Telling versus Asking
Terrible leaders spend their days telling people what do to. They don’t ask for input. They don’t listen when others are speaking. They interrupt. They are dismissive. All of these habits cause team members to shut down. When leaders stop listening, employees stop talking.
Poor leaders do not have a good handle on their emotions. They channel their inner toddler and have a fit when things don’t go exactly according to plan. As a result, people around them walk on eggshells and are reluctant to take risks. After all, they don’t want to face the wrath of the boss.
Not respecting work/life balance
The worst leaders demand 24/7 responsiveness. They don’t respect the importance of having time to recharge. They view their team as expendable and are prepared to burn them out. After all, they inherently believe employees can be replaced.
Having a win-lose mentality
Terrible leaders head into every situation thinking there has to be a winner and a loser. And they are mostly focused on protecting their ego. They act defensively when anything threatens their perch and therefore lose sight of opportunities to build bigger things together.
Failing to champion career advancement
Poor leaders don’t seek opportunities to highlight team successes. They don’t provide stretch opportunities to learn. They don’t inquire about individual career goals. They don’t help strategize about the best way to get there. Rather, they pigeon-hole people and tolerate obstacles.
Refusing to tolerate mistakes
Terrible leaders have a very low tolerance for anything less than perfection. Driven by their own fear of making a mistake, terrible leaders set the tone that things better be perfect or else. When mistakes happen, they don’t own up to them. In fact, they often cover their tracks. As a result, no one on the team feels comfortable taking risks and trying new things.
Terrible leaders hoard the spotlight wherever possible. They are generally insecure and feel threatened when anyone else gets the accolades. As a result, they often present work and ideas from their team as their own. They act like a know-it-all and tend not to offer credit to other people. They even go so far as to shoot down better ideas from others. As a result, star performers become increasingly frustrated and start seeking other jobs. The people who remain are the ones who accept lack-lustre results.
Tolerating cliques and secrets
If you want to foster mistrust and paranoia in the workplace, allow for cliques and secrets. Sure, discretion is necessary for personal and sensitive information. But great leaders strive for transparency and collaboration wherever possible to foster a true team. Terrible leaders, on the other hand, often fuel the gossip embers.
Being rarely available
Terrible leaders are rarely available to support their team. They are hard to track down and don’t return calls. Team members are often left on their own with unclear direction and responsibilities. People end up wasting precious resources trying to guess or interpret what their boss wants. Progress is stalled and the team becomes increasingly frustrated.
Displaying lack of vision
Poor leaders don’t spend the time to articulate a compelling vision. As a result, their team is not inspired or passionate about their work. Tasks are not grounded in meaningful goals and people end up tackling them without enthusiasm. People need to rely on self-discipline versus inspiration to stay productive, which is a much harder state to sustain.
Failing to allow fun
Terrible leaders believe that work is just that – work. It truly imbues itself as a four-letter word. People don’t enjoy coming to work and they don’t permit themselves to pause and savour moments. There is no tolerance for banter among team members and no time for celebrations. The team turns into zombies.
Suffering poor results
The worst leaders can often be easy to spot because they often have terrible long-term results. Sure, they might get lucky one quarter here and there, but they are not consistent. And to make matters worse, they don’t accept responsibility for the lacklustre performance. They blame their team or the market or just plain bad luck. They don’t review key metrics and put plans in place to improve performance. They simply call on their team to work harder, doing more of the same things that got them into this position. And that often leads to many more of the habits listed above.
That sums up my list. What about you? What other traits make for bad leaders in your experience? Please share. After all, the more we are aware of what not to do as leaders, the more we all work to shift working conditions for the better.
As for the manager I mentioned above? Thankfully, as the weeks went on I begrudgingly started to appreciate him – even if I didn’t always like him. His in-depth critiques forced me to sharpen my thinking. The monster assignments gave me new skills. As for his abrasive style? Well I eventually understood this to be part of his sense of humour. And sometimes being about to laugh things off can be your best defense.