5 Lousy Leadership Lessons

I saw a senior leader recently make several bonehead moves and was reminded that we can all learn from both good and bad examples. Here are five poor leadership behaviors and approaches that I’ve seen over the years. Follow them at your own risk:

  1. Stay in control at all times. You are the leader because you know best. If there is a decision to be made, make it. If there is an important task to do, do it yourself. The more meetings you attend and the more decisions that you say need your approval, the more indispensable you become. This prevents others from developing, getting undue recognition and gunning for your job.
  2. Delegate responsibility but not authority. It’s ok to delegate – as long as people do things exactly the way you instruct them and as long as everyone knows you are in control. And as long as you still get the credit. If people call you a micro-manager, ask them if they would prefer poor quality and irresponsible leadership. (See #1.)
  3. Demand loyalty. People are either for you or against you. If people question your decisions, performance or authority, they are obviously against you. You will want to minimize their influence – either overtly or covertly. It’s simpler with people you oversee; just firmly remind them they should appreciate the opportunity to do your bidding. Once they understand that challenging you could cost them their jobs, most will respond wisely and fall in line. The rest will leave. (They were probably poor performers anyway.) Some may call this ‘managing by intimidation,’ but it’s really just ‘strong leadership.’
  4. Maintain your image at all costs. It’s important to show vulnerability occasionally so people know you’re human and approachable. Revealing ‘weaknesses’ like “I work too hard” or “I care too much about my people” should be sufficient. Never say you’re sorry. (Whatever ‘mistake’ is in question is probably someone else’s fault anyway.) And if you are hiding some personal crises and blunders – family, interpersonal or other – keep them hidden. Private missteps have no bearing on your public leadership effectiveness.
  5. You’re a boss – not a friend. It’s your job as a leader to hold people accountable, and this requires being a jerk. Direct or indirect remarks targeting others’ sub-par behavior, laced with sarcastic humor and perhaps a personal insult may be exactly what it takes to get a slacker’s attention. Public humiliation is also effective. Do you think super-CEO Steve Jobs was friends with people who worked for him? How about people who played with legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight – were they his friends? No. Did these great leaders have any friends? I don’t know. If they did, all that proves is that they, like all of us, still had room to improve.

Has anyone seen other examples of lousy leadership we should avoid imitating? Please share.

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Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults. In his work as a leadership consultant and executive coach, he helps senior executives develop leadership behaviors that get lasting results and don’t appear in the list above. You can reach him at jbaker@www.people-results.com or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr