6 Big Sinkholes Of Poor Leaders

Leaders are people. And like all people we sometimes just get it wrong. Real wrong. Stinking it up bad. We have had bosses who tell us, “Look, we have real work to do, and making people feel good is not my job or your job!” “Just tell them to look at their paycheck. We don’t have time for touchy-feely and breaktime is over.” These messages have power; it’s less about the words and more about the person’s silence, actions, or lack of actions. These high-powered, ego driven title mongers are firm in their opinions and may think, “I already have the title – so don’t try and teach me!”

When we stop learning,  that’s called Alzheimer’s. ~ Jim Trunick

Here are 6 big leadership potholes and sinkholes. Avoid these techniques from know-it-all, never-say-sorry “leaders.” They are so immensely proud of their titles, that they somehow managed to pump themselves up while equally squashing other people, results, and future success.

1. They show up as Jekyll AND Hyde.
At the Friday party, employees laugh at this boss’s jokes, only to have the boss self-correct harshly these same employees in the Monday morning staff meeting. All weekend the boss may be thinking “I got too chummy with my team on Friday, I better remind ‘em who’s boss!”

These surprises are more concerning than formal performance reviews going poorly. I can deal better with the 100% tyrant, or the boss who doesn’t show up at all for the team party, instead of the Friday funny boss, who completely turns around and tricks or plays me on Monday. Authenticity is showing up with our best and true self, always. It’s leadership being consistent from both our mind and our heart. False charisma is driven by ego, which we all know is unsustainable.

2. They treat people as machines.
People are the worst machines – shutting down every night for at least 6 to 8 hours. We need constant breaks, available restrooms, abundant food, lots of training, and adequate vacations. People really are the worst machines! The industrial revolution began accounting for human beings as a “variable expense.” We are a line item. Sadly, the worst leaders can also be great managers. Managing the P&L means recognizing people as a budget factor, and great managers may say, “How do I get more work out of my tools and people – as if it is like getting a shovel to move more piles of dirt.” Ken Blanchard said, “It’s not getting work done through people, rather getting people done through work.” Better leaders ponder, “How do we get more engagement and energy into our teams and people?” That’s the real question!  

3. They approach conflict like a head-on collision.
Assumptive leaders, who believe “I am always right,” just take things for granted and jump to conclusions. Then it is either their way or the highway. They sit around not listening, rather fuming. The bad boss shares, confides, counsels, and collaborates with no one – they just know everything and push. These conflicts are face-to-face, setting up body language that says there can only be a win-lose resolution. So we lose.

  • We all think at nearly 900 words per minute, and speak or listen at about 125 words per minute.

So while they are smiling and nodding they may also be thinking “When they stop talking I am going to redirect and end this dumb conversation.” And in response, while a poor leader attacks and pushes their point, we are nodding, appearing to agree, and thinking how nice our next job will be, away from this Dilbert character.  

In direct contrast, the caring leader walks shoulder-to-shoulder with people to set up a safe environment for aligning words and thinking, avoiding a head-on collision.

4. They talk badly about Mary.
It’s highly likely that you will hear a lousy leader talking badly about your peer. Even if we agree, the boss divides and conquers when crushing our teammate. We should consider “What are they saying about me to others?” Getting real doesn’t mean spewing crud from the top of our minds because we are upset. When our opinion is the only opinion, it’s called being a tyrant. Also, with a boss like that, no one decides anything – all work slows until the boss makes a call, because being wrong seems a whole lot worse than losing time and money. That’s why such leaders have the reputation they do – bad.

5. They have mastered playing the blame game.
Let’s obsess about who’s to blame and who did the wrong thing. We have come to believe if we can identify where, why, and how we went off the rails we can predict future problems. Sounds intuitive and makes sense – right? Sadly, it’s so wrong. These leaders create an environment and culture of fault, fear, and failure.

Fault, fear, and failure are set up by how we think and act. And if we are thinking and acting on getting to the root of the problem and doing the blame game, we do so at the expense of initiative, adaptability, and curiosity. The ensuing rearview mirror effort is so costly to productivity and morale. True leaders realize the factors causing past problems aren’t identical to future problems because people and companies are changing so fast. Past problems won’t be identical in the future. Don’t ignore obvious past problems, but hyper-focusing on the past, detracts concentration and effort from how we will move forward.

6. I am the boss already – don’t try to teach me!

If we always have to be right – we have a learning handicap. ~ John Maxwell

To truly listen and grow from another’s comments, is great followership and that is the unwritten tenet of great leadership. Captain James Stagg was a great leader to Dwight Eisenhower’s great followership. The most important battle of World War II came down to weather. The D-Day Normandy launch was supposed to be on June 4th,1944 and weatherman Capt. Stagg gave advice, counsel, and suggestions not to launch on June 4th due to sunshine that would allow Germans to see and prepare for the attack. Saving tens of thousands of Allied lives, he was the final OK General Eisenhower trusted, before giving the order for the famous attack on June 6th, which boasted cloudy conditions. Captain Staggs was the real hero, and the leader in Dwight had a teachable spirit – regardless of rank – to listen, to learn, and to win.

Reverse the 6 above and we are better leaders already!


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