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8 Mistakes Bad Leaders Make

By Shawna Williams

We talk so much about qualities of good leaders and how to identify potential leaders. We thought we’d share characteristics of a bad leader—things we often see when we begin a leadership executive coaching engagement.

Following are eight mistakes bad leaders make. Bad leaders:  

1. Do not behave with integrity. Mismanaging funds, resources or even employees for personal gain not only is illegal, but is a near guarantee that the leader will destroy his or her personal brand and organization. 

2. Insulate themselves from customers. We often see leaders who don’t get involved in social media, conferences or events where they can connect directly with – and especially, listen to – their customers. They’re forfeiting opportunities to understand their targets. 

3. Fail to listen to employees—and take action where action is needed. If employees are asking for more development or better resources to do their jobs, and leaders don’t act as much as they are able to, they risk watching their strongest employees walk out the door. 

4. Fail to nurture employees and show them their worth. Bad leaders refuse to provide employees with better tools and resources as well as educational and learning opportunities. We also see them fail to make strong employees part of their succession plan or do not offer executive development programs or even outplacement programs. Leaders mistakenly don’t take care of their surviving employee population after a layoff. 

5. Do not admit downfalls or blind spots. Bad leaders don’t seek feedback on their own performance—either from employees or customers—and are reluctant to admit mistakes and change. 

6. Do not hold employees accountable. Leaders who do not push employees to get results are not doing anyone—or their organization—a favor. By the same token, leaders who permit employees to run projects according to their own agendas are assuming too much risk. 

7. Do not communicate, even when there is nothing to report, because they feel it’s better to leave employees (or even customers) in the dark. In other words, bad leaders assume that these key audiences can’t be trusted with or handle information. They assume that, even when there isn’t much to say, never sharing what is going on inside the company is the best policy. This is a fast track to creating distrust among employees. 

8. Mind the competition—too much, that is. When leaders are too focused on “keeping up with the Joneses,” and not focused enough on organizational trends, market trends and innovation, then there is a problem. In fact, it can lead to the demise of an organization.


Fortunately, we are successful at helping a bad leader avoid these pitfalls following a coaching engagement. So executive coaching programs do work and should be used by your organization if one of your leaders exhibits these qualities.

But we’re curious to know:  What additional qualities or mistakes of a bad leader would you add to this list?


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Comments  3

  • Doug Phelps 10 Apr

    Right on the mark, Shawna! I would add to the list of bad mistakes: crafting a hierarchical process that stipulates the leader make ALL the decisions for every department in the organization.
  • Larry Maglin 11 Apr

    All you listed are true, here are some more:

    -       Most leaders are very good at pointing out the negative, but not as good as pointing out the positive… makes employees feel they are being taken for granted or marginalized

    -       Some leaders don’t make sure their employees understand their jobs or are properly trained to do them. Most problems with employees are really management problems.

    -       Some leaders don’t like to confront employees and let issues build up to a breaking point. It’s much harder to fix at that point.

  • Shawna Williams 12 Apr

    Great addition Doug!



    We call this leadership tactic giving them a "voice but

    not necessary a vote in every process/decision"

    Great leaders take the time to listen to their employees and give them a voice.  Tapping into the collective intelligence of your talent is one of the best retention techniques a leader can implement!
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The vOIce

The vOIce is written by many of the managing partners of OI Partners. Topics include our ideas on how you or your organization can be effective in areas related to career development, executive development, workforce development, career transition and more.


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