I have often wondered why poor leaders still exist in such profuse numbers. With the emphasis on performance management, leadership development, feedback, and engagement surveys, it might be expected that the world of ‘big data’ would rumble poor leadership.
Let me offer five reasons why poor leaders survive and sometimes thrive in today’s workplace:
1) They know how to hide from their bosses
Not everyone is two-faced. Some people have more than two faces – especially leaders. They know how to suck up to their bosses and hide their poor leadership behavior. While they demonstrate autocratic and bullying behavior with their teams, they might practice a sycophantic, patronizing, and duplicitous persona with their bosses. They know how to turn it on, how to hold power over their subordinates, and how to create an illusion of being a good boss.
2) They create boundaries that others don’t cross
For some reason, a leader’s team can sometimes take on the character of their flock, herd, or tribe. Others don’t cross boundaries out of misplaced respect, parochialism, or fear. They consider that another leader’s team has nothing to do with them. The leader’s leader may just have their eye on delivery and results rather than the health of the workforce – leaving it to the team leader to get the most out of their employees. This situation can give rise to the leader treating their team members inappropriately.
3) They see employees as ‘resources’
“We can always hire someone else”. Is everyone expendable? Or should leaders invest in nurturing, developing, and encouraging their employees. Of course, the term ‘human resources’ is common in today’s workplace – but leaders who focus on the word ‘resources’ rather than ‘human’ are less likely to value their employees in a way that extracts commitment and engagement.
4) No-one confronts them
Confronting a poor leader is a sure way to call out their inappropriate behavior. It can of course carry risk. Weighing the risk of provoking better leadership against retribution or resignation, is one worth considering. A leader’s leader should of course be willing to call them out on poor leadership. Employees also carry a responsibility to stand up for being treated with respect and value.
5) They aren’t developed
Surprisingly, some poor leaders just don’t know any better. They may lack emotional intelligence, management skills, or have never had great role models. In these cases, it is the responsibility of the organization to provide a development environment to build better leadership capability. And this shouldn’t wait until leaders are in their roles – develop them for the roles they will be holding in the future.
Poor leaders exist in most organizations. Of course, ‘poor’ might be relative, in that one person’s poor is another person’s atrocious. It might also be that a poor leader in one organization is an excellent leader in an even worse environment. There is however no excuse for poor leadership. The best way for leaders to know if they are poor or good is to ask their boss, team, colleagues, clients, and even friends. Why not ask someone today what sort of leader they consider you to be?