Ten warning signs of bad leadership in your team - Michelle Gibbings

It can be challenging as a leader to self-diagnose areas where you can do better. At times, it can be even harder to accurately assess the effectiveness (or otherwise) of the leaders in your team.

Sometimes, senior leaders miss what’s going on. Why? The leader in your team might be adept at managing up, and so you only ever hear good news. Alternatively, you may only see what you want to see, shutting your eyes to the actual state of the person’s leadership. Perhaps, you rely too heavily on them. Maybe they are the star sales performer and delivering outcomes. The reasons are many, but none of them is a valid reason for sidestepping your responsibility as a leader.

Once you start managing leaders, not only is your leadership on display – all the time – but how your team members lead their team impacts how people see your leadership.

It’s crucial to be alert to the warning signs that their leadership might be sub-optimal or even failing. Here are ten warning signs to watch out for:

  1. Inconsistent behaviour – Notice how the leader (your direct report) behaves when you and other people are around and in meetings with their peers or team. Consider if their behaviour is consistent or if it changes based on who is in the room.
  2. It’s always about them – The leader never acknowledges their team’s efforts, always talk about themselves and what they need, and makes sure they always look good. It’s about them winning and coming out on top.
  3. It’s never their fault – The leader is reluctant to admit mistakes and seeks to blame others, ensuring there is little or no scrutiny on how they need to change or improve. Similarly, their team appears to struggle to regroup and learn when things go wrong.
  4. They won’t compromise – They are unwilling or find it very hard to change their mind and seek always to get what they want, be it resources, rewards or approval of ideas. They rarely, if ever, compromise.
  5. They don’t back themselves – The leader is overly compliant and unwilling to support what they stand for, and so don’t back their team and what they need.
  6. The leader’s team is MIA – You rarely engage with their team, and when you do the employees seem ill-informed and reluctant to talk with you. They seem to lack cohesion and focus, so you get a sense there is no ‘team’. Your direct report never delegates meetings (involving you or more senior stakeholders) to their team members.
  7. Concern for their team is missing – When you ask about their team, the leader always says everything is going well. They never ask for advice or help, and if you raise issues about their team, they brush the comments aside.
  8. They play favourites – The leader always promotes one person in the team over the rest and only delegates the good work or rewards to that person.
  9. They don’t back their team – Team members rarely get promoted, a sign the leader may not be good at coaching and developing. Nor is the group diverse and inclusive, signalling the leader may only be hiring people who fit a specific mould.
  10. Team seems stuck – The work isn’t delivered to a high quality and standard. There’s lots of rework and long hours, which can be a sign of stress and poor leadership focus.

The best leaders know that the real magic happens when individuals, inspired and empowered to be their best, come together to do things they cannot do alone. It always reminds me of the quote from Mother Teresa who said: “You can do what I cannot do. I can do what you cannot do. Together, we can do great things.”

Remember, warnings signs are just that – a warning – and you need to be fair to all involved. So before you jump to conclusions, take the time to investigate further. Inquire, discuss and be curious. How you do that is the topic for next week.

Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®

Michelle Gibbings is bringing back the happy to workplace culture. The author of three books, and a global keynote speaker, she’s on a mission to help leaders, teams and organisations create successful workplaces – where people thrive and progress is accelerated. 

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