I’ve written many times about what it takes to be a great and effective leader, but I’ve never really explored what it looks like when leadership is ineffective or, even worse, just plain bad. Often, it’s difficult to know exactly what’s going wrong so you can fix it; however, by taking a look at what really happens when leadership goes wrong, you can identify it when you see it and help more easily craft a solution to move forward. Here are some of the red flags you may encounter when dealing with poor and ineffective leadership.
Someone’s always playing the blame game.
- Things are going to go wrong every once in awhile; these things just tend to happen when working with humans and human error. However, the important thing to remember when there is a mishap is that it’s not about who’s at fault but rather what can be done to move forward. When you’re dealing with poor leadership, though, you’ll often see that problems are followed by a department- — or even company- — wide game of ‘who did it?’ If assigning blame is more important in the process of recovering from mistakes than the actual plan to move forward, you’re likely dealing with bad leadership.
Any change is met with resistance.
- Repeat after me: change is good; change is natural. Change is required to keep a company running smoothly and up-to-date on latest industry happenings and trends. That’s why it’s incredibly difficult to succeed if you have a leader who is reluctant to adopt new policies and changes. Say your entire company has decided to go paperless, but your department head prefers to use paper and doesn’t want to update. It’s going to throw the productivity of the company entirely out of line and waste more time than had the changes just simply been implemented.
There’s a total lack of empathy.
- You’ll hear people say that it’s important to keep a separation between your work and home life and not let personal matters seep into the workplace. However, there are obvious exceptions to this rule when it comes to matters of death, illness, or other urgent situations that arise; this is why sick time and bereavement time exist. As a leader, you definitely don’t want people to be walking all over you, but you also need to recognize that your team members are human beings with problems that will arise from time to time. Be accommodating with your team and they’ll be more likely to trust you and less likely to abuse the system. If a leader is unable to put his or herself into someone else’s shoes and see from their point of view at least a little, they’re going to fail very quickly when it comes to earning the respect of their team.
There are a lot of flip-flops.
- I’m not talking about the shoes; I’m talking about people who are indecisive and unable to make a decision and commit to it. In business, there are not the time and resources available for you to keep going back and forth when it comes to difficult decisions. Bad leaders will be unsure if they’ve made the right choice and may change course several times throughout the process, but effective leaders will make the best, educated choice that they’re able and continue forward knowing that they made they best choice they could have, and that making a choice is better than not.
Miscommunication runs rampant.
- Poor leaders will place very little value on the importance of communicating with their team. They may be the type of leader to give unclear instructions and expect you to figure out the rest. They might be the type that goes absent for long periods of time and is unavailable for guidance or assistance in tumultuous times. It’s also likely that any complaints voiced to these leaders will go in one ear and out the other, causing problems to persist and delaying solutions that will make operations run more smoothly. Someone who places very little importance on communication is someone who, instead of being the leader and the point of cohesion within the group, will serve to exacerbate confusion and frustration.
There’s a huge emphasis on hierarchy.
- Hierarchy exists for a reason, so people know who to report to and what the chain of command is. That being said, hierarchy is not something that you should use as conversational punctuation or as a reason why someone should do something; poor, ineffective leaders like to play the rank card any chance they get. They’ll consistently put their team down by flaunting their position any chance they get rather than using their knowledge and leadership experience to guide their team along the right path.
There is no sense of autonomy or trust.
- As a manager, it all falls back on you to make sure that everyone is doing their job and things are running smoothly. However, at a certain point, you need to develop enough trust with your team to believe that they’ll get their work done without hovering over their shoulders. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t check in with your team members to make sure they’re juggling their workload effectively; this just means that you can’t micromanage people and expect them to still perform well.
It can be difficult to tell if leadership is going awry if you’re constantly stuck in the middle of it. By keeping yourself alert and knowing what it looks like when things are falling apart, you can help the team better recover and address the issue before it becomes a passive problem.