[July 29, 2015] A little over 43 years ago there was an break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C. President Nixon along with his administration were responsible but attempted to cover-up their involvement in the illegal action. As a result, two years later Nixon resigned from his office as U.S. President. Like Nixon, the bad habits of many senior leaders have led to their downfall.
We are not tolerant at all of those showing a lack of character… We have to refocus ourselves so we get to where we think is the right place.” – General Raymond Odierno
Bad habits of leaders are not a particular purview of only politicians (although they do provide much of the spectacle); senior leaders across all walks of life have been involved in scandals … to include military senior Flag officers1, CEOs of large companies2, and non-profit executives3. As General Odierno said, bad habits are ultimately a reflection on the character of that leader.
There are books and articles about a myriad of bad habits of leaders but few focus on senior leaders. There will be similarities between junior and senior leaders, of course, and that is to be expected. For example, one of the more common bad habits among all leaders is laziness. While that may seem unexpected, it was identified by the Zenger/Folkman leadership development consultancy as the most common.4 Laziness – whether intellectual lassitude or sloppy work or failure to take the initiative – can be a rather all encompassing habit.
In the list below, I’ve broken down what I consider the most dangerous of bad habits for senior leaders. I’ve personally known senior leaders who have misbehaved, often egregiously, that was a career-ending event for each of these habits listed. And, in every case, that leader had been warned and was fully aware of the penalty for allowing the bad habit to flourish.
- Believing the rules do not apply to them
- Unable to recognize need for change
- Lack of moral courage
- Over-managing or micromanaging missions
- Failure to communicate and to supervise a clear vision
Several very good friends of mine, senior military officers, have ended a promising career when they failed to do the right thing. I even thought that their misbehavior might have been a singular event; but history has shown that it is a pattern of misconduct that actually occurred, destroying what would appear to be an exceptional officer.
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