People leave bad leaders, not companies.
Finding and hiring great talent is tough. Keeping great talent is even more difficult. In fact, one of the top reasons why people leave positions is due to bad leaders. As great as a company or agency can be, a bad leader can cause the organization to lose great talent it should have retained.
I had the privilege of working for and learning from a few individuals who have been instrumental in my career. They were exceptional leaders that ran great organizations and taught me key values that helped me develop as a leader. On the flip side, I have also worked for several “not so good” leaders whom I’ve also learned a great deal from. Specifically, on what not to do.
Just like good leaders can elevate organizations and take them to new heights, bad leaders can sink even the best-run organization. Leadership sets the tone for performance, behaviors, and the overall culture of the organization.
If you care about the growth and future of your agency, it’s imperative to understand and identify poor leadership traits before you lose top talent and fail to achieve your goals. If you are an agency owner or in a leadership position, it’s critical to be honest with yourself if one of your managers or if you personally identify with one of the following traits before it’s too late.
1. The Headless Chicken: A leader who is always running around acting like a chicken with his/her head cut off is a huge problem. It’s one thing to be busy and working hard. It’s another to appear frantic where everything is urgent or on fire.
A good leader needs to be composed even in times of stress. Your team looks to you for guidance and support. They will quickly lose faith and belief in you as a leader if you are constantly frazzled, or place too many last minute requests that requires them to help you put our fires.
2. The Cowardly Lion: Sometimes, a leader needs to take chances and execute strategies that are out of the comfort zone of the organization. They may need to stick their neck out to push an idea through or speak up when the message may not be popular. They require managerial courage.
There’s nothing wrong with being a conservative leader. The problem is when the lack of courage is holding the agency back or allowing problems to continue.
For example, I once worked for a leader that was always in “wait and see” mode. The company faced a major problem with turnover. The leader was presented several ideas by direct reports that may have helped slow the turnover rate. Unfortunately, the answer back from the leader was, “let’s wait and see,” or “let’s talk about it next year.”
This leader did not want to elevate the ideas to executive leadership and shine a spotlight on a problem area. Unfortunately, turnover continued due to the same issues.
3. The Harvey Dent: For you non comic book geeks, Harvey Dent is a character in Batman that became a villain known as Two-Face. “Two-Face” managers may say things about employees or other leaders behind their backs. Two-Faced managers also say one thing and do another, or act differently depending on the audience.
For example, “Two-Face” may tell an employee in private he/she agrees with the employee’s opinion or concern, then later in a different meeting state the opposite opinion to support his/her own agenda.
Remember, employees speak with one another. If the “Two-Faced” manager has done it to one employee, he/she has done it with another. Once, I was speaking to another leader about my "Two Face" experience with our mutual boss. He laughed and said he wasn’t surprised and shared his personal experience.
Where do you think our trust level was with this leader?
4. The Shut You Down: These managers “shut you down” the moment you bring up comments or recommendations they believe are negative or put them in a bad light. They will either say you are wrong, or worse, they may reverse it and say you are the cause of the problem.
If you want an environment of innovation, shared vision, and collaboration, then this type of manager will destroy this goal in a second. Additionally, how do you think employees feel about working for this leader? Do they feel valued?
5. The Manage Everyone the Same: Although we were always taught as kids we should treat everyone equally, this rule simply doesn’t apply in business. It doesn’t mean you play favoritism or treat someone unfairly. It means you need to lead people based on their experience and performance accordingly.
High performing individuals don’t need to be micromanaged. New and low performing individuals can’t be left alone to “figure it out.” Even though this seems like a simple concept, it is a common error many leaders make. They over manage high performers and undermanage new/low-performing individuals, creating unhappy employees who will ultimately leave.
Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership II model is a great place to start if you need additional information or training in this area.
6. The Don’t Know the Business: Often times an agency or company will bring in new leadership that may not be familiar with the business. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it becomes a problem when this leader doesn’t take the time to learn or understands the business, or worse, makes decisions based on personal assumptions that may not apply.
Direct reports may understand the lack of knowledge when the leader is new. However, as time passes, direct reports will grow frustrated and feel unsupported if the leader hasn’t bothered to learn the business. Being “too busy” is not an excuse.
Similarly, this applies to principals or leaders that are out of touch. If the leaders have not been in the field or are not aware of changing business environments, they are just as guilty. Take the time and get reacquainted with the business.
7. The Overly Emotional: It’s one thing to be a passionate leader. It’s another to always lead with emotion. I’ve worked for leaders that wear their emotions on their sleeves. You ride the high and lows of how their day is going. They can be happy and excited one moment, and yelling at you moments later.
It doesn’t mean a leader needs to be an emotionless automaton. Similar to number one, leaders need to be composed. Even if you received the worst business news or were just screamed by a client, the emotion cannot be passed down to your employees.
8. The No Empathy: Great leaders care about employees’ interests and needs, while balancing the bottom line. They make employees feel valued by caring about their needs and goals. Great leaders may demand the best out of employees, but employees know at the end of the day, their leader has their best interests in mind.
Bad leaders do the opposite and can’t be bothered by empathy. The “do the job you were hired to do” and not care about anything else is a good recipe to create turnover and for employees to perform the minimum necessary keep their jobs.
Bad leaders also lie to themselves they have empathy. They may check in with employees to "show" interest, but deep down they have no intentions of taking actions to support the employees’ interests or needs.
9. The It’s About Me Until It’s Not: Bad leaders like to be in the spotlight. It’s about them instead of the team. Some bad leaders even take credit for accomplishments to advance their own agendas. Other bad leaders pass the buck or assign blame when things go wrong.
Great leaders shine the light on their team, not themselves. When things go wrong, they “take the bullet.” They understand a leader is ultimately accountable for the success and failure of their team or organization.
10. The No Communicator: Communication or lack of is one of the biggest indications of great and bad leadership. It encompasses several different areas and is a key reason why many teams succeed or fail. Communication involves many different facets of leadership and is why I saved this for last.
No vision: Bad leaders don’t communicate their vision. Without understanding the vision of the agency or the organization, employees don’t feel like a part of a greater vision, but rather just another cog in the machine.
Lack of direction: When a bad leader fails to provide direction or guidance, employees operate in the dark. They are not sure what’s required of them or if they are even on track. This same bad leader then wonders why their employees are terrible at doing their jobs.
Accountability (both ways): Great leaders inspect what they expect. It’s one thing to set a goal or launch an initiative. It’s another to follow through and ensure the team is executing and following through. Bad leaders don’t hold their team’s accountable and worse, don’t hold themselves accountable. This often shows through during performance evaluations, that’s if one is done at all.
Performance evaluations should never be a surprise. Yet bad leaders often don’t tell employees they are off track or not meeting expectations until a performance evaluation. Employees should never be surprised or hear for the first time they are not meeting expectations.
The leader also has to be accountable to his or her team to consistent provide feedback and appropriate coaching. This will ensure the success of the employee and agency.
Avoiding confrontation: Sometimes, a leader has to be the bearer of bad news and be the bad guy. Whether it’s letting someone go, or counseling an employee on performance or behavior, a leader must be willing confront the issue. Bad leaders avoid or delay the confrontation, which results in the problem escalating and requiring great action later on.
Lack of recognition: Employees like to be recognized for great performance. Sometimes, they just liked to be thanked and feel appreciated. Nothing kills the spirit of an employee when they don’t feel appreciated by their managers for hard work and accomplishments.
Don’t listen: Leadership isn’t just about what you say, but how you listen. Employees don’t feel valued when their leader doesn’t listen to their concerns, ideas, or just in general conversation.
By all means, this is not the entire list of bad leadership traits. These are a few of the critical ones that must be avoided by principals and leaders seeking to grow their agencies. If you have seen these traits in action of have been guilty of them yourself, take the time to examine the causes of them, and develop solutions to fix them. It’s worth the time if you are serious about growing your agency.