We hear all the time about whatshould be like.
- How they’re empathetic
- How they’re humble, yet driven
- How they’re transparent, ethical, inspiring
But what about the traits that make for poor leaders? I’ve worked for a variety of editors and— for leaders who were inspiring and for leaders who were cancerous — and in reflecting on what sort of leader I want to be, now, I draw from those negative experiences just as often as I do the positive ones.
Ultimately, I believe we have to know how not to operate in order to be the most effective versions of ourselves.
Here are the most harmful habits and traits I strive to avoid.
1. Operating with a lack of trust and transparency
Dishonesty is cancerous and difficult to cloak.
Which is to say, it poisons morale and makes your employees dislike you. And poisoned morale, of course, disrupts productivity and hinders your company’s overall capacity for operating effectively.
If you think you can keep your team inspired while being dishonest to them about what’s happening behind closed doors, think again.
All of your staff — top to bottom — can tell when you’re lying to them.
In fact, there’s rarely a reason not to be entirely transparent with your team, especially at a young, growing company. No matter the situation, your team deserves to understand what sort of logic or procedural mechanisms drive the decision-making processes at your company.
Moreover, employees simply appreciate knowing where the company stands — it inspires them. If you are honest, they will want to help shoulder more of the load.
2. Only pushing your own ideas
Great leaders seek creative solutions to thorny problems everywhere they look.
Ineffective leaders, on the other hand, approach problem-solving processes much more myopically.
They suffer from what I call “not-invented-here-syndrome.” I’ve experienced this first hand with some of the larger companies I’ve worked for. The managers refused to listen to folks, like me, who were lower on the proverbial totem pole. They didn’t realize how toxic this was for morale until they saw the comments in exit interviews.
Ultimately, managers and CEOs who don’t identify good ideas when they’re presented to them — even from the lowest employee on the team — stunt morale, potential, and, ultimately, their company’s bottom line.
3. Playing the blame game
No matter what company you’re running, if you’re the one running it, the buck has to stop with you. You’re the one in charge. Unbreakable accountability is a burden you have to bear.
As it happens, a certain unwillingness to hold yourself accountable is a surefire sign of a cowardly CEO. The worst leaders never accept responsibility for blunders, churned customers, or bad quarterly reports. Instead, they expend effort looking for others to blame.
This, simply put, is unproductive, not to mention damaging. As a practice, it disincentivizes employees from taking risks or coming up with creative solutions to problems because they fear being the subject of the boss’s scorn. In time, they leave; such work environments are inherently unsustainable.
4. Not listening to your employees
Great CEOs understand that inspiration can come from every employee on staff.
Failing to understand this — or, worse, willfully ignoring it — is an indicator of a defective leader, and certainly of a leader who will never achieve greatness. Discrediting those who work “below you” simply because they’re technically subordinates is a sign of ignorance, and makes it impossible to build a loyal, engaged, and faithful team.
As it happens, a loyal and inspired team is exactly what leaders are charged with cultivating.
5. Focusing on the now and short-changing the future
This trait, in particular, is difficult for modern CEOs to correct. In today’s corporate environment — in which positive quarterly reports that please anxious stockholders take precedence above all other goals — it can be seen as sort of anthemic.
But great CEOs prioritize and focus on projects and goals which will most benefit the company and are thus based in reality — not corporate hyperbole.
Prioritizing short-term goals risks long-term security.
This is something I’ve battled myself as the President of: I have, in the past, been blamed for changing strategic course too often based on shifting market conditions or new opportunities.
Unfortunately, making a habit of that makes it difficult to achieve long-term goals. Strategy shifts must always be coordinated and well-thought out — not to mention transparent. The folks working with you should understand the logic informing the decisions you’re making, as well as the manner in which you’ve made them.
Moreover, they have to believe that whatever decisions you’re making, you’re making for the betterment of the company. It’s hard to remain confident in a leader who makes key decisions seemingly on a whim.
In fact, that sort of behavior only triggers confusion.
The central theme to all of these corporate failings is this: they erode trust and respect among your employees, and render you less effective as a leader in the long run.
At the end of the day, your employees are your troops; they’re looking to be led. They need commanders they can depend on.
But in order to be that leader, you need to work consciously on developing the right sort of habits. Often, that starts with understanding how not to operate.