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Poor Leadership Can Sink Your Company

No matter how strong a company’s function, goals, and market, the common denominator that can sink any business is poor leadership. Ultimately, the success of a business rests upon its leader; any issues a company has can typically be traced back to ineffective leadership.

Whether the problem in your company is internal conflict, poor time and money management skills, a loss of competitive edge, or a poor business model, ineffective leaders carry the weight of responsibility for these problems. The company is only as good as its captain, and recognizing this is a huge step towards finding a solution.

But what makes a bad leader? A recent study by Strategy+Business found that “51% of employees across the full spectrum of organizational performance believe initiatives tend to succeed despite, not because of, their leaders.”

That’s a powerful statement, and a cautionary tale. Here are some characteristics and habits of ineffective leaders that you should strive to avoid:

Bad Communication

Poor communication is one of the most defining characteristics of a bad leader. The most essential communication going on in your business is between you and your employees. If you’re not communicating effectively, everything else can and will go wrong.

As John Hamm states in the Harvard Business Review, “I’ve come to the conclusion that the real job of leadership is to inspire the organization to take responsibility for creating a better future. I believe effective communication is a leader’s single most critical management tool for making this happen.”

In short: your words inspire your company’s future.

The most important thing you can do to communicate with your employees is to state your company’s short and long-term goals as clearly and as explicitly as possible.

Getting everyone on the same page is crucial to success. This may be obvious in theory, but if you surveyed everyone working for you, you’d be likely to find people or departments that are less than knowledgeable about the direction your company is going.

Strategy+Business found that “even in successful organizations… only 56% of employees believed their leaders were providing clarity of purpose and direction.”

Make sure your employees aren’t in that 44%.

When talking about expectations with your employees, avoid using lofty words that can mean multiple things. For example, demanding vague “results” can lead to employees misunderstanding your intentions. Be explicit in your word usage; define what a good quarterly profit will look like, or what direction you’d like to take the company’s networking. Otherwise, you’re muddling your expectations and creating room for error and low morale.

Another important but more subtle form of communication that you must master is your company’s culture. It’s imperative that you decide the vibe of the workplace and define what its culture will look like.

Ineffective leadership will not focus on defining company culture; rather, it will let culture be defined by the employees. As leadership expert Mike Myatt states, “Don’t allow your culture to evolve by default, create it by design.”

Creating good company culture happens by setting clear expectations for everyone under you. Hamm states, “CEOs who fail to define success and communicate their vision of it, and fail to make their expectations clear to employees, produce meaningless cultures… A healthy culture is created and maintained by focusing on the right goals and creating the experience of winning in the marketplace.” You set the tone; others follow.

Failure to Motivate

If part of a leader’s job is to set the standards, expectations, and goals for a company, the other part is to motivate employees to meet them. Experts Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman insist that “The number one most devaluing quality of ineffective leaders is their failure to motivate subordinates.”

One big aspect of motivation revolves around how your employees think you view them. If they think you see them as expendable cogs in a machine, they will be less motivated to give their best or strive to make your company succeed. But investing in your employees will let them know that everyone is on the same team.

One surefire way to fail at motivating your employees is to create an atmosphere of distrust. A lack of transparency will foster this negative atmosphere extremely quickly.

The best way to motivate your employees is by challenging them to strive for success with you, leveling with them about areas of weakness and treating them like adults in your expectations.

Another way to fail at motivating your employees is by not holding yourself to the same standard you hold them to: talking the talk, but not walking the walk. The most evident way this can happen is by taking credit, but not responsibility.

The blame game can cause even the best work environment to quickly sour. Motivation is critical.

Losing Focus and Perspective

Just like in other areas, keeping your company focused comes down to you and your personal choices. Are you a disciplined person? Do you have a daily routine? Are you as structured as you want your company to be? Time management, while practical for productivity, also determines the efficiency of your company. If you cannot manage your own time, you are relying on someone else to manage your company’s time for you, and you are being an ineffective leader.

Being intentional about how you spend your time is critical to avoiding bad leadership. Organizations are at the greatest risk when leaders lose their focus. Remember, your focus is your company’s focus.

With focus comes the need for perspective. Hyper-focused individuals have a tendency to block out information that distracts them. In order to successfully run your business, however, you must stay focused while maintaining the ability to receive feedback and constructive criticism from your management team. You must master the balance of discipline and learning, or else you will fall into the “fallacy of centrality.”

According to Harvard Business Review’s Robert I. Sutton, the fallacy of centrality is “The assumption that because one holds a central position, one automatically knows everything necessary to exercise effective leadership.”

He goes on to state that “When people – independent of personality – wield power, their ability to lord it over others causes them to (1) become more focused on their own needs and wants; (2) become less focused on others’ needs, wants, and actions; and (3) act as if written and unwritten rules that others are expected to follow don’t apply to them.”

Don’t let your responsibility to lead blind you to the goals you’ve made and the people who help you achieve them. It can be tough to be open-minded and yet resolved in your decision making, but if it were easy, everyone would start a business and be a CEO.

Poor Conflict Management

Managing conflict poorly can have disastrous results for your business, and it has a direct connection with communicating effectively and staying focused. Any time a group of people come together to achieve a common goal, differences of opinion, levels of commitment, and execution styles will inevitably cause conflict at one point or another. You absolutely must lead under the assumption that conflicts will happen in your workplace and that you are the ultimate arbitrator.

Victor Lipman acknowledges two ends of the conflict management spectrum, submitting the idea that effective leaders must find a balance in the middle of what he calls “My Way or the Highway” and “Avoidance at All Costs.” Leaders who manage conflict by laying down the law because they can, without any open-minded discussion, will surely make a wrong decision eventually.

On the other hand, leaders who ignore problems hoping they will resolve themselves only make matters worse for themselves later on, when conflict eventually erupts much more powerfully than it would have otherwise. A good leader must be firm but reflective, flexible but decisive.

Now that you have an idea of what not to do as a leader, check out The 5 Secrets of Strong Leaders That No One Ever Told You for even more great advice on being the kind of leader people want to follow.

What are some of the best and worst leadership traits that you’ve encountered in your career?

Images: Pixabay,Pixabay, Pixabay

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