Is your leadership a problem for the team? - Michelle Gibbings

In this article for, Michelle says there are many aspects of poor leadership — the trick is to recognise them in others and maybe, even in yourself.

If you were to outline the character traits of an ineffective leader what would spring to mind?

Perhaps, at the extreme end, a narcissist or a bully; on the other end, perhaps ineffective listener, bad delegator and poorly organised.

Just as effective leadership comes in many shapes and sizes, so too does bad leadership and its root causes.

An article in the Journal of Business Ethics explains how a narcissist can undertake strategies that are both focused on enhancing their self-image, and more defensive activities where they devalue others.

The researchers found that it was the latter style of narcissistic behaviour that more consistently led to abusive supervision.

Abusive supervision is behaviour that belittles, demeans or in any way makes an employee feel devalued.

It is not only toxic, it’s contagious.

Just as you can feel happier when the people around you are happy, if you are working for a bad boss their behaviour can rub off on you.

There is a causal effect whereby followers tend to emulate the behaviour they experience from their leaders.

Researchers from the Kelley School of Business suggest “the best predictor of follower aversive leadership — the use of threats and intimidation — was the aversive leadership of the designated leader”.

It’s a trickle-down effect.

When senior leaders treat their direct reports badly, this dysfunction cascades through the organisation.

Poor leadership doesn’t just lead to poor behaviour, it impacts productivity and outcomes.

The United States-based National Bureau of Economic Research conducted an investigation into the productivity impacts of bosses.

It found that replacing a boss who is in the lower 10 per cent of boss quality with one who is in the upper 10 per cent increased a team’s total output as if one additional team member had been added to a nine-person team.

If you want your team’s productivity to increase and need to get more done, you may not need to hire more people.

Instead, you may want to start looking at how you are performing and how the leaders in your team are performing.

If you want to examine the warning signs that a leader may be ineffective, here are some tips to ponder.

Stop being willing to change

It’s easy to see the traits that got you to your role as the skills and capabilities that will carry you forward.

However, in a world of constant change, success requires leaders to embrace the notion that successful change requires personal change.

Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, who studied why many crucial change efforts fail, found one of the core problems is the gap between what is required and a leader’s own level of development.

As they said: “It may be nearly impossible for us to bring about any important change in a system or organisation without changing ourselves.”

See themselves as the smartest person in the room

The downfall of many great organisations can be traced to the hubris and arrogance of their leaders.

Having a fixed mindset, the leaders close themselves off from feedback and feel they have nothing more to learn.

In contrast, effective leaders know they don’t have all the answers.

They are constantly seeking to push the boundaries, to question, inquire and learn more.

They also create a safe environment where questions are welcomed.

Surround themselves with sycophants

While this may make life easier in the short term, it doesn’t create long-term, sustainable business outcomes.

Seeking out the differences of opinion is critical because it is this diversity of thought that aids ‘out of the box’ thinking.

Impose their ideology on their followers

Ineffective leaders hold a narrow view of the world.

They see it in black and white, right and wrong and believe themselves morally superior.

Good leaders don’t impose their ideological position on those with whom they work.

They recognise that diversity of thought and inclusive culture is fundamental to creating an innovation engine to help drive the organisation forward.

Refuse to hire people smarter than them

Everyone knows the criticality of getting the right people into the right roles.

However, leaders can be uncomfortable hiring people who are smarter than them for fear it will show them up in some way.

Effective leaders know that can’t be ‘all things to all people’.

They look for team members to complement and enhance their leadership and capability.

Last to hear bad news

When only good news hits your desk, it’s time to worry.

If people hold off telling you what’s really going on it’s a sign they don’t trust how you will react to bad news.

It’s important to welcome all types of news — even news that is difficult to hear.

Not only is your reaction a test of your character, it also sets the standard for what happens in the future.

If you shoot the messenger, the next time an issue arises, you’re less likely to find people willing to alert you to it.

Play favourites with team members

People are acutely aware when leaders treat people differently.

It’s easy to do as we can more easily connect with some people than others.

However, if you allocate resources and rewards and recruit and promote in a way that is unfair it creates issues.

Effective leaders recognise that each person is unique and therefore has different needs.

They work to bring out the best in each person and do so in a way in which people feel valued and respected.

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