THREE WARNING SIGNS OF A BAD LEADER

There’s really no introduction needed here except to say that, if you’re serving under a bad leader, it’s something you probably feel, but can’t put words to.

I’m hoping to give you some words.

1.  BEWARE OF THE LEADER WHO NEVER APOLOGIZES

The words, “I’m sorry – will you please forgive me” were spoken to me by the owner of a Dallas-based consulting firm.  I was talking to him about something (I honestly don’t remember what), and he instantly sensed that he offended me in some way. He put his head down for a brief moment, then looked up at me and said, “Gary. I’m so sorry. Will you please forgive me?” I was blown away. He was hiring our company to work FOR HIM, and here he was apologizing for something. And make no mistake – the fact that I can’t even remember the topic is directly correlated with his immediate apology and transparency.

Poor leaders will never do that. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear the words, “That was my fault”, but no apology following. Or even worse, “Hey bro. My bad.”

I think that, underneath it all, bad leaders are scared to admit their failure because they’re afraid they’ll lose their perceived position of strength.

Bad leaders are scared to admit their failure because they’re afraid they’ll lose their perceived position of strength.

And it’s SO SO SO easy for any of us to simply quit looking into the mirror and taking an honest assessment of what’s staring back at us. This is especially true when our organizations seem to be thriving.

2.  BEWARE OF THE LEADER WHO WON’T CRAWL IN THE WEEDS WITH YOU

I said, “weeds” plural. The other may not be legal in your state.

Poor leaders sit atop their perches, much like vultures. They only swoop down into the weeds with us normal folk when there’s an issue or a problem. They send out short and curt email demands with unclear expectations and even greater unclear wording,  but refuse to descend into the weeds to help the person “on the ground” figure out how to get the task accomplished.

Mike Myatt  – Chairman of N2Growth, and Contributor to Forbes Magazine writes (read Mike’s entire article – it’s worth the read):

“Leaders not fully committed to investing in those they lead will fail. The best leaders support their team, build into their team, mentor and coach their team, and they truly care for their team.”

Think about it. How many people (like you) just wish their leaders knew something of what they actually performed on any given workday? There’s such power when a team member feels like her boss understands her, empathizes with her, and gets her. And the longer a person has worked for an organization, the greater this chasm can become. I’m not advocating for leaders to live in the weeds with his/her staff. But it’s good to crawl with them a few times every week.

3.  BEWARE OF THE LEADER WHO DEVALUES THE PROCESS

We all know that the end-product is important to the success of the organization. But I believe that the process – the journey of getting there – is equally important. People need to feel valued, heard, and seen all along the way.  They need to laugh and have fun, even when the project is impossible and laborious. But beware when a leader only values the endgame, and doesn’t seem to care how his team arrives there…

This occurs when a church produces an amazing experience every weekend (the end-product), but can’t get decisions or answers from their Direct Report all throughout the week, thereby forcing many of the staff to work on their days (and nights) off during the weekend (the process).  Whether it’s intended or not, the leader doesn’t value the process that his/her people are engaged in because, ultimately he doesn’t value the people.

When any leader consistently devalues the process, it often forces the best people to move on to other organizations. If a leader continues to lose the best people in his organization, this is the first place I’d look. And the tell-tale benchmark seems to be three years. I only have empirical evidence here because I’m always observing leaders in a variety of different settings, and I admit I have no hard data to prove the three-year thing. But If an organization loses its best people near their three year anniversary, and if it happens over and over again… well, you get the picture.

With regard to valuing the process, two simple strategies that will move leaders in the right direction are:

  1.  Start out each week by asking their staff, “Is there any decision you’re waiting for me to make so that you can hit your deadlines?” When a leader gives his team a hard deadline, then disappears during the projects’ process and is unavailable for answers, that’ll make good people go crazy right there.
  2. Say thank you for the things they get paid to do anyway.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just needed for a client or a boss to simply say, “Hey. I know it’s your job, but thanks for everything you brought into that project.”  I believe that leaders should thank their people more than they think they need to hear it.

CONCLUSION

As a leader in an organization, I pray regularly for God to help me see these three warning signs with clarity and precision as they occur in my own life. And make no mistake – I am guilty. I didn’t pick these three because I see them in everyone else, but rather because they can leak out of me when I’m tired, uncertain, in physical pain, or out of touch with our vision. Sometimes I strike out, and sometimes I hit a home run. And at the end of my days, I will have grown as a leader if the home runs outnumber the strike outs. There is no perfection here, only progress – albeit slow and painful.

God – give us all the courage to confront our weaknesses, and the strength to do something about them.

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