[January 09, 2014] We have all been on the receiving end of bad leadership and that in itself is not a bad thing because we can certainly learn from it (see Negative Lessons in Leadership). What is most important is to understand the underlying forces at work in bad senior leaders.
Many books and articles today address the “top traits of a bad boss” or “how to deal with an awful boss.” There is some great information here that should not be ignored and the ideas presented are practical and help us understand the “bad boss.” But they are generally focused on failing junior and middle-level leaders and managers.
Senior leaders who are bad at leading bring a significant dimension of trouble in an organization. While this may obvious on the surface of the statement, what leads to it may not seem so clear.
There are three crucial factors that are at play with understanding the success or failure of a senior leader: 1) Senior Leader Character, 2) Leadership Style, and 3) their Followers.
Senior Leader Character: Many senior leaders fail because they do not have a calling to leadership. This is a lack of passion. They also rely on their own skills to do everything and are generally blind to their inadequacies and drive. Frequently they see their position in terms of privilege and power (although they don’t admit it), and will ignore the advice of others. They are essentially unprepared for leadership and are unwilling to be held accountable for their conduct.
Leadership Style: Bad senior leaders also fail to have the proper vision or any vision at all for their organization. Vision must be methodically established and pursued on behalf of the organization … not as a response to competitors, organization problems, or personal factors. The strategic vision also helps to determine leadership style because it must be pursued vigorously. Those senior leaders who pursue a vision for the wrong reasons (e.g., personal gain) will be more inclined to value employee obedience over creativity.
Their Followers: Leadership involves the interplay between the skills of the leader, the needs of the organization, and the demands of the business environment. Employees/followers will act according to these factors by accepting or rejecting a leader and following the senior leader willfully or mechanically. People look for leadership and guidance, and when not provided will react to reject those in leadership positions.
There have been a number of 360-degree feedback surveys in Fortune 500 companies and results published. The results are helpful and are indicative of the issues discussed. Here are just a few examples of the characteristics of bad senior leaders:
- Lack of direction (improper or no vision)
- Lack of energy and enthusiasm (no passion)
- Have poor judgment (poor decision-making processes)
- Don’t collaborate (sees no need to enlist the assistance of others)
- Resist new ideas (obedience is valued over creativity and hard work)
- Lack interpersonal skills (also unwilling to improve social skills)
- Don’t develop others (interested for themselves, not others)
Recognizing that the characteristics of a bad senior leader as the product of an interplay of all three factors (Senior Leader Character, Leadership Style, and Followers), helps us understand better how to put solutions in place. Leaders must be aware of this to begin putting the organization on the right track for future survival.