We have spent the last 25 years identifying the traits that make leaders successful. This has led us to strongly believe that there is a significant difference between leaders and managers. Managers always have a title and a formal position on the organizational chart. Leaders may or may not have a title, but they always have a relationship with people who make a conscious decision to follow them.
In our years, we have conducted executive coaching and advisory work for leaders who were in jeopardy of losing their jobs. We typically can predict pretty quickly which will lose their jobs… it is just a matter of time and a few key factors. Based on our work with leaders, here are 12 leadership actions we have found that undermine a leader’s ability to build relationships where people are highly motivated to help the leader accomplish goals. Those are:
- Refuse to take personal accountability. Instead of being responsible and accountable to solve problems, these leaders tend to blame others for their department or office problems. It is never their fault, nor will they ever accept the responsibility.
- Incorrectly diagnosis the problem. When turnover is high in the organization, it is almost always these types of leaders at the root of it. The leader will tell you the problem is with HR and they are hiring lousy employees, not that they are chasing them away.
- Have a negative vision. A vision is a clear mental picture, described with words, of your department’s or office’s future. There are three types of visions. Positive – you believe tomorrow will be even better than it was today. Status quo – you hope that tomorrow will be like it was today because you survived today. The third vision, which most of the leaders who sabotage their team have, is a negative vision. Leaders with a negative vision believe that today was bad, and tomorrow will be even worse.
- Disrespectful communication. The fastest way to lower morale is to not listen to your team members and ignore their contributions. Disrespectful leaders sometimes communicate in a manner that uses foul language, is condescending, or implies threats.
- Withhold positive recognition. Negative leaders tend to believe that if they are not communicating with you, then you must be doing a great job. With this philosophy, they don’t have time to give you positive feedback, but always find the time to tell you what you are doing wrong. When we ask why they don’t give positive feedback, they always say, ‘They know they are doing a good job. I don’t need to tell them.’
- Resent feedback. Since sabotaging leaders tend to not take responsibility for their actions, they are likely to resent those who give them feedback meant to help them improve. I once told a leader, “You may not agree with what others are telling you on your 360 Leadership Development Assessment, but, if fourteen people are telling you that you have a tail, you might find it valuable to turn around and take a look.”
- Do not ask for help. Leaders who sabotage their teams tend to believe that the less people know about them and their department or office, the better off they are. Hence, they refuse to ask for help and don’t get others involved because others may learn too much about the root of the problems.
- Leave employees out. These leaders tend to believe that they need to set the goals, make the decisions, and tell people what needs to get done.
- Lack of team member accountability. These leaders are always quick to give you a reason why they cannot hold their team members accountable. Some of the excuses include: the employee is a top producer; the employee has been with the organization for a long-time; the employee has a strong relationship with someone in power; and last, if they deal with the performance problem, the situation may get worse or the employee will quit. When leaders do not hold employees accountable for both outstanding results and working well with others as a team, almost always, morale and productivity are guaranteed to suffer.
- Lack of trust. When a leader lacks trust in their team members’ ability to do their jobs, they will not allow team members to take responsibility and make decisions regarding their work. Rather, they find it necessary to micro-manage the work and decisions of their team members.
- Display inconsistent values. Leaders who sabotage their teams tend to want people to do what they say and not what people see the leader do. They may tell others not to gossip but then speak poorly about another team member.
- Stay. You would think that anyone who had a bad vision of the department or organization’s future would leave the company and find another job. These bad leaders do not leave. Rather, they tend to feel it is their mission in life to tell people how bad things really are, and if it were not for him/her, the organization would be even worse off. In this bad environment, all the people in the office and/or department are not happy, even the leader.
It is important to remember that even great leaders exhibit some of these demeanors once in a while. What sabotages a team is when a leader repeatedly exhibits one of these behaviors or consistently practices several of these behaviors. Most people are quick to forgive if a leader slips once in a while and demonstrates an undermining behavior. They are even quicker to forgive if the leader quickly apologizes and never practices the behavior again. Nevertheless, be sure to keep these behaviors in check to ensure an engaged, successful, and highly motivated team.