Rather than look at all of the things we can do to become a more effective leader, let's invert the problem. Here are ten things to avoid.
Here's the list in order, from the most to the least fatal:
- Failure to inspire, owing to a lack of energy and enthusiasm. Again and again failed leaders were described by their colleagues as unenthusiastic and passive. This was in fact the most noticeable of all their failings.
- Acceptance of mediocre performance in place of excellent results. The poorest leaders did not set stretch goals, inadvertently encouraging mediocre performance by letting people coast along doing less work, less well than their counterparts working for better managers.
- A lack of clear vision and direction. Poor leaders have a murky view of the future, don't know precisely what direction to take, and are (not surprisingly) unwilling to communicate about the future, leaving their subordinates with no clear path forward.
- An inability to collaborate and be a team player. Poor leaders avoid their peers, act independently, and fail to develop positive relations with colleagues. The worst of them view work as a competition and their colleagues as opponents.
- Failure to walk the talk. Saying one thing and doing another is the fastest way to lose the trust of all your colleagues. The worst offenders here also pose a wider threat as dangerous role models — creating the risk that their organizations will degenerate if others behave as they do.
- Failure to improve and learn from mistakes. Arrogance and complacency combine in the poorest leaders as they rise, causing them to come to the dangerous conclusion that they've reached a stage in their careers where development is no longer required. Closely connected to this failing is an inability to learn from mistakes, leaving these unfortunates to repeat the same ones over and over.
- An inability to lead change or innovate owing to a resistance to new ideas. Whether stemming from a lack of imagination or simply too closed a mind-set, this flaw manifests itself as a failure to take suggestions from subordinates or peers.
- A failure to develop others. Leaders who were not concerned about helping their direct reports develop and were not seen as coaches or mentors were highly likely to fail. Primarily focused on themselves, they were not concerned about the longer-term success of their employees or their department.
- Inept interpersonal skills. These are the leaders who are rude, talk down, yell, and belittle either out of positive malice or out of boorish insensitivity. But even these failings often are manifested in things these poor leaders don't do. Included in this group are the people who don't listen, don't ask good questions, don't reach out to others, and don't praise or otherwise reinforce good behavior and success.
- Displays of bad judgment that leads to poor decisions. Here at the bottom are the leaders who lead the troops over the cliff by deciding to do the wrong things.