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Why are So many leaders … So bad?

This “issue” has intrigued me for a long time. I’ll bet that we’ve all had at least one … or maybe more than our share.

I’ve seen them across all sectors of the workplace – Federal government, local government, commercial/private sector, not-for-profits, and academia.

We know what they look like. We know what it feels like to work for them. We know the damage that they cause/inflict – on individuals, teams, and organizations.

So, why are they that way? Several reasons:

  • Ego (embedded in their personality)
  • Nepotism. I’ve seen this first-hand.
  • They have forgotten where they came from (their early career struggles)
  • Poor leadership is the cultural norm so they “fit in”
  • The organization tolerates, enables, and rewards that behavior
  • The team or organization is not suffering the consequences of this poor leadership
  • There are external pressures that drive speed and “task over people”
  • They don’t care

Whenever I hear about or see this issue, I ask “Where’s that person’s boss?”  Are they aware of it?  Do they see the impact? What are they doing about it?

My experience is that the higher you go in an organization, the less aware these bosses are. They are focused UP, not down. They have not provided clear expectations, feedback, or accountability to the “difficult” leader.

How do we deal with these bad leaders?  It’s not easy. It requires tact, timing, and persistence.

  • We should be documenting examples of this (and its impact) for future use
  • We can explain to them how their behavior/style affects us (use “I” and “we” language)
  • That leaders’ boss can/should take a more active role (as stated above). Find a way to make that happen.
  • The organization can provide training across the senior levels (leadership, culture, etc.)
  • The team or organization can do informal/formal 360 degree assessments

Yes, we can have Leadership Development training and approaches, but we must also address the root causes. Is it a lack of will or skill? As Bob Mager asked 40 years ago: “Could they do the task/role if their life depended on it?“  If not, they need training.  If yes, we have other “performance levers” that the organization has to (better) provide.

ACTION:  I’m always looking for the “escape routes”. What has allowed that individual to either “not know”, “not care”, or “not deliver” positive leadership? I’d be happy to discuss your toughest challenge and help you think through your best approach to handle it

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