Step Up And Get Rid of Your Leaders From Hell

March 16, 2012


Four behaviors distinguish bad leaders from average or well regarded leaders:

  1. They are bad at managing their emotional and social behavior. Compared to better managers, they don’t take feedback or adjust their behav­ior to fit their audience or situation.
  2. Bad managers lack integrity. They avoid per­sonal accountability and don’t meet their com­mitments. They are seen as dishonest in their dealings with others and their behavior is incon­sistent with organizational values.
  3. They are bad at making performance-related staffing decisions. They don’t make their stan­dards and expectations clear, and they don’t hold their staff accountable for their perfor­mance.
  4. They make minimal efforts to develop or grow their staff. They don’t discuss development needs with their staff, nor do they stretch or encourage them. Staff who work for bad lead­ers feel ignored.

Bad leaders are known to use threats, punishment and fear tactics. They are intoxicated by power and are known to create cliques (in-groups) and out-groups and they make it very plain on who is in the “in-group”.

Leaders sometimes use fear to try to get followers to toe the line or as a motivational strategy (“if production doesn’t pick up around here, people are going to lose their jobs”). Similar to threats, this strategy can often backfire. Fear can cause stress and in extremes, reductions in performance and efficiency. A common use of fear occurs when leaders create an “us versus them” mentality. We have seen this used by political leaders when they create an atmosphere of fear from threats outside of the group or nation (e.g., fear of unnamed terrorists; statements like “they are out to get us”). Fear can cause groups and organizations to “hunker down” and go into a self-protective mode which can stifle creativity and innovation.

To emphasize my point on the effects of cliques/in-groups/out-groups, I’m going to refer to one of my favorite sitcoms — “The Office”. There are two specific episodes, I would encourage you to watch: The Inner Circle (air date: 5/5/11) & The List (air date: 9/22/11). In The List, the new CEO stops by for the first time and leaves behind a mysterious list which has a line down the middle and every member of the office on one side or the other. The office members frantically try to figure out what it means. We then learn that those on one side of the list are part of the “A” team and those on the other side of the list are the “B” team. Once the purpose of the list is revealed, the office dynamics shift for the worse with one group believing they are better than the other group. While this is a sitcom with only 30 minutes to resolve the issues caused by this list – these dynamics are occurring within many of your businesses today.

There is nothing wrong with creating “A teams” of top performers or favoring your best employees; however, there is a delicate balance between creating healthy internal competition and blatantly playing favorites. Bad leaders, however, reward in-group members not because they are top performers but because they show loyalty or “kiss up” to the leader. Bad leaders cultivate their in-groups with favors and that makes it difficult for outsiders to identify bad leaders or for followers to dislodge the leader from the position of power. The in-group followers defend the leader and work to keep him or her in power. Bad leaders often exist because their followers allow them to remain.

Bad leaders are costly

In an excellent research summary, Robert & Joyce Hogan and Rob Kaiser present a compelling argument showing that at least 50% (and perhaps as many as 75%) of all managers derail or significantly underperform. If they are partly right and because bad managers harm business results – then this should be a major concern. And it turns out there is ample evidence that bad leaders are costly in terms of the bottom line, staff morale and productivity.

Bad leaders are profligate in the way they treat tal­ent. Reports of employee engagement suggest that, around the globe, workplace morale is flat-lining or declining. This is a problem because staff engage­ment shows a clear relationship with productivity, retention, extra effort and profits.

The evidence suggests that bad managers are also dangerous to health: leadership skill is tied to the psychological state of employees, ill-health (e.g. car­diovascular disease), accidents and well-being. Numerous surveys of employee engagement re­port that the most stressful aspect of work is the relationship with one’s immediate manager. One study showed that scores on a measure of trans­formational leadership are correlated with employee sick-leave. Bad leaders are also costly in two more ways: sustained perfor­mance of firms and the caliber of their management practices, including the effectiveness of people management. Moving management skill from the 25th percentile to the 75th percentile is equivalent to increasing capital 77% or increasing labor inputs by 44%. Good management impacts productivity the same as adding nearly half as many staff.

Why do we pick bad leaders? According to Jeffrey Cohn (2012), we focus on all the wrong things, like a candidate’s charm, their stellar résumé or their academic credentials. None of this has any bearing on leadership potential. And despite claims to the contrary, even a candidate’s past results have little bearing on whether the promoted individual will succeed once promoted. At best, a “track record” tells only half of the story. In a new position, the candidate will have to face new obstacles, deal with a new team, manage more people introduce new products and do it all without a clear road map.

So what qualities should you focus on before hiring a new manager or handing out the next promotion or making big promotion decision? One thing is certain: You better get it right. Nothing short of your reputation and your organization’s success, are at stake. Let’s cut to the chase. There are fifteen fundamental leadership qualities that your managers and leaders must possess to be effective. Take just one of these away and sooner or later, the manager will fail. Having studied the careers of managers and executives, it is clear to me that failure results when a leader lacks of one or more of these fifteen attributes.

These attributes surround the following: Purpose, Integrity, Balance, Motivation, Change, Adversity, Teams, Influence, Conflict, Involved, Emotional Intelligence, Decision Making, Visionary, Sponsorship and Legacy Minded. If I were to add more text to these attributes as they relate to extraordinary leadership it would be that Extraordinary Leaders:

It is instructive to view a set of poor behaviors against a model of leader development. Crowned Grace International highlights four major domains of leadership capability: leading yourself, leading teams (your relations with others), leading organization (vision and team development) and professional/technical skills. These domains form a natural developmen­tal sequence, with the later skills depending on the appropriate development of the earlier skills. They also form a hierarchy of trainability, in which the earlier abilities are harder to train and the later ones are easier to train.

Against this model, the four hallmarks of bad lead­ers emerge in the self management and relation­ship domains, which are essential precursors to the execution of effective leadership skills and are also hard to train. Bad leaders lack the underpin­nings to be effective. They are underweight in their moral development and lack the skill to develop effective relationships with their subordinates.

In addition to bringing Crowned Grace International in to support the development and growth of your leaders, there are five simple remedies for bad leadership:

  1. Establish a sound definition basis for good leadership
  2. Provide regular and consistent training in good practice
  3. Provide managers with feedback on their performance against that standard
  4. Provide supportive but firm coaching and development to ensure continuous improvement
  5. Remove managers who are unable to change

Of course knowing what to do and following through are not the same: after all, most people know that eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, exercis­ing regularly and moderating their alcohol intake are recipes for health, yet many eat badly, smoke and are slothful and indulgent.

Discipline and per­sistence are the hallmarks of effectiveness.

Business and government organizations could take a leaf from the playbooks of top sports teams. Players are constantly subjected to analysis and feedback and encouraged to become expert at observing and diagnosing their own strengths and weaknesses. In professional environments, this occurs day in and day out – and then the on-field performance is further dissected, analyzed and commented on. Players are expected to adopt and implement these insights.

Please understand that sending an individual to a course simply because it is available is not a recipe for development. The goal is to match training and experience on the basis of a sound appraisal of strengths and weaknesses as the best contributor to leadership growth. Integrating development and feedback is key to ensuring that managers understand what they need to do to improve. From an annual or semi-annual ritual even more attention should be paid to leadership improvement. Formal and informal appraisal, combined with well-designed and run 360° tools provides strategic self-insight. Adding other tools, like personality profiling or development centers, can further enhance peoples’ understanding of their strengths and weaknesses.

Finally, organizations need to close the loop between providing feedback and checking that development has occurred. Too often, providing feedback is seen as the end of the road. Ticking the box on feedback is only the beginning of the development journey. Using tools like those offered through Crowned Grace International which tie action to insight, ensures that bosses and managers work together to change bad habits and improve leadership performance.

It’s Time To Step Up & Get Rid of Your Leaders From Hell

Your staff deserves nothing less.


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