6 Common Blunders of Lousy Leaders

You can probably list the consequences of lousy leadership: organizational inertia, low productivity, lack of innovation, and persistent frustration. The effects of great leadership are just as obvious: outstanding performance, productive effort, fresh thinking, and high morale. Discerning effective from ineffective leadership, then, is easiest done by evaluating results over the long haul.

Very often, though, you need to know who will build the champion team and deliver results before the season is over, the project commences, the program is launched, the year-end figures are presented. You can't wait for the long haul to make a decision about who to hire or promote.

Consider, then, these six common blunders of those who aspire to greatness but remain lousy leaders.

1. Crafting a vision that is out of touch with reality.

A lousy leader develops her vision in a vacuum. While the act of being visionary does involve imagining a future that is much different than the present reality, a vision needs to intersect with what’s happening in the world, the market, the organization, and its people.

Today, being out of touch can mean:

  • Failing to embrace transparency (e.g., company-customer dialogue and employee engagement) as the norm;
  • Failing to notice changes in your target audience, which may be adopting new habits and behaviors;
  • Substituting the types of connections that people want to make with your organization for the kinds of interaction that are easiest for your staff.

An effective leader does not have to love everything that is going on in the world. But she does need to understand what current conditions and emerging trends mean for the future of her organization.

2. Respecting people only when they are needed by the leader or the organization.

A duplicitous leader shows little regard for the needs, dreams, and hopes of team members who are not in demand or actively engaged in a high-profile program. Instead, he flatters and fawns over promising recruits. He promotes the virtues of people who are immediately valuable to his current agenda.

When the program is launched or the task is completed, these once-touted team members vanish from the leader’s field of vision. He then begins nurturing relationships for the next project that he believes will further illustrate his ability to get things done.

To instill and maintain enthusiasm, the engaging leader recognizes the expertise of talented people. He gives them attention, develops their capabilities, and finds ways to keep them contributing to the organization.

3. Failing to recognize that leadership makes a difference.

A useless leader does not grasp that inspiring words, clear direction, and decisive moves on her part could enable the organization to seize a new opportunity. She does not fathom that any action or inaction on her part could remedy, prevent, worsen, or cause a problem. Silently, she wonders why team members do not act appropriately, but she never challenges them to behave differently.

To be competent, a leader needs to … lead. That means taking steps to move the organization from wherever it stands now to a better future.

4. Relying on faulty metrics or failing to track results at all.

A low-performing leader gauges effectiveness based on incomplete results or a general, subjective feel. He touts sales growth but ignores out-of-control expenses and declining margins. He revels in positive responses from a few people but labels negative comments as complaints from disgruntled outliers.

The accomplished leader decides upfront what indicators to measure, consistent with desired outcomes. He considers all aspects of financial results. He solicits feedback from all segments, not just those sympathetic to his cause. He commits to looking at complete reviews to identify successes and find improvement opportunities.

5. Dealing with issues on a superficial basis.

A shallow leader offers quick solutions. She deftly polishes a proposal, tweaks a plan, and makes minor additions or subtractions to ideas. She prides herself on responsiveness and swift action, which is certainly valuable in crises and some scenarios.

But acting superficially can mean that the tough questions never get asked. Underlying assumptions (that may be wrong or outdated) are never considered, stated, or challenged. Real problems are never solved. Situations deteriorate slowly and painfully.

An insightful leader deals with the problems at hand. But she looks for unhealthy patterns and recurring issues, asks probing questions, and fully understands the opportunities, problems, and obstacles before launching a plan.

6. Championing risk (for others) and dodging accountability.

An undeserving leader advocates positive action but refuses to be accountable for overcoming pushback, managing potential fallout, and delivering results. She appears confident but shrinks from taking steps that may be perceived as controversial. Though stress is a real byproduct of leadership in difficult times, even minor setbacks cause distress.

An effective leader is convinced of the validity of her strategies, feasibility of her plans, and attainability of her goals. She understands that difficulties are embedded in leadership challenges, and is willing to be accountable for missteps and eventual successes. She is energized by complexity, exhilarated by threats, and enthused about guiding the organization to the next level.

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