Just because someone holds a leadership position doesn’t necessarily mean they should. And there are plenty of organisations out there suffering from a recognition problem. Namely, separating good leadership qualities from bad leadership qualities.
So, while you’re busy trying to figure out what good leadership is, it’s time to stop and note what leadership is not. Let’s run through the top five leadership qualities, you don’t want to have.
Undesirable Leadership Quality #1: Lack of Vision
Point blank. Leaders without vision cannot lead. The whole point of leadership is that you are leading followers somewhere. The blind leading the blind is a useless activity, at best.
Leaders who lack the quality of vision, be it poor vision, tunnel vision, vision that is “fickle”, or vision that is altogether non-existent, simply can’t lead. Or lead effectively in any case.
Leaders who lack the quality of vision tend to be incapable of rallying their followers towards a common goal. The reason being is that the purpose, or destination, of their journey, is unclear! They struggle in leading followers there. Wherever “there” is.
Why would I follow you if you don’t know where you’re going? This is a pretty logical question, right? And it’s exacerbated a hundred-fold when you’re leading a vast group of people and/or an organisation.
Another quality that comes in tandem with vision is focus. Dialling in on a focal point is how leaders align follower activities to achieve the intended outcome. Which means prioritising in service of the big picture. On the flipside, ineffective leaders get distracted and bogged down by little details. They sweat the small stuff.
Having vision can also just not be enough. You need to have a compelling vision. This is how you inspire followers. And it comes with setting goals that support and enhance team performance and values that reflect your company’s core beliefs.
Part of what makes a vision compelling is “walking your talk”. Leaders can hardly expect to inspire others to move in the direction they don’t do so themselves. A leader with the not-so-desirable quality of inconsistency can hardly be relied upon to be at the helm of strategic direction.
Undesirable Leadership Quality #2: Know-it-allism
This is an irritating quality in and of itself. And it’s a particularly concerning quality to watch out for in the realm of leadership. The best leaders have the ability to acknowledge that they don’t know everything. In which case, beware of those “leaders” who claim to be the grand possessors of all knowledge.
The logic goes that leaders who know it all can’t (or blatantly refuse to) learn more. Being perfect leaves little room for growth. And without growth at a personal and/or professional level, you simply can’t lead a growing enterprise. If a leader isn’t curious about every aspect of their organisation and looking for ways they can improve, then the horizon looks pretty bleak.
Now, those missing the hallmark quality of a great leader (the desire to discover) often manifest a few more undesirable qualities. Namely, they micromanage others to accomplish work in precisely the way that they themselves would.
As these micro-minded managers disregard alternate opinions, the decision-making process becomes very one-sided. And stagnant. It’s this incapacity to change that ultimately leads to redundancy.
As these types of leaders miss the concept of “service above the self” they also have a hard time engendering trust, confidence and loyalty from those around them.
If a leader doesn’t trust their followers to be competent, do their best and fulfil their responsibilities in a way that they define as effective, they in turn will face reciprocal distrust. And at the end of the day, if a leader receives a vote of no confidence from their followers - game over.
Undesirable Leadership Quality #3: Failure to Communicate
When it comes to effective leadership skills communication is paramount. A leader with poor communication skills will have a very, very short-run indeed in their prestigious position. Great leaders are quality communicators.
They can effectively communicate across mediums, constituencies and environments. In which case, a leader that demonstrates the less than ideal “quality” of poor communication is cause for concern.
Great leaders are active listeners, fluid thinkers, and know when to dial it up, down or turn it off completely. And one of the most important aspects of this communicative aptitude is empathy.
The best leaders invest in their followers, support their team, mentor, coach and build relationships. If leaders don’t have (or bother to cultivate) the quality of empathy, they’ll have a hard time communicating with those they lead. Because if a leader doesn’t care, odds are their followers will reciprocate the sentiment (or lack thereof).
Communicating isn’t just getting your point across to employees, it’s about opening a dialogue. Leaders with poor communication qualities often tend to have a “put-up or shut-up” approach to communication. This usually comes from being closed-off to new ideas or criticism.
They tell, without giving followers the opportunity to provide feedback and contribute to decision-making processes. By failing to create a feedback loop, leaders also fail in clarifying that their followers are heading towards the same goals.
Undesirable Leadership Quality #4: Cookie-Cutter Leadership
Leadership comes in many shapes and forms. There is no “one set way” to lead. And the best leaders know this. Truly effective leaders are fluid and flexible in their leadership styles. They adapt depending on the needs of their followers, organisation and environment.
Meanwhile, those leaders who demonstrate a “my way or the highway” approach to leadership aren’t exactly going to be high-quality leaders. Cookie-cutter anything, when it comes to working with people, creates half-baked results.
Being married to one leadership style reduces the potential for great results. The reason is that it neglects the different needs of those on the receiving end of your leadership guidance.
Leadership isn’t solely based on positional power. It isn’t a one-way street. In order to lead effectively, you need to take the time to invest in and get to know your followers. Coaching and mentoring are, arguably, the most important duties of a leader. And great leaders invest in their employees.
Which means leaders need to adjust their leadership style according to the behaviour and skill level of their followers. They must find the right actions to fit each person’s needs. Adaptability is a crucial leadership quality for employee growth; building their skills, motivation to achieve goals and unlocking inner potential.
Undesirable Leadership Quality #5: Death By Comfort Zone
Death of a leadership position, death of a company…the comfort-zone has plenty of drawbacks. Leaders who are satisfied with the status quo and prioritise survival over growth will ultimately stagnate. This makes the incapacity (or refusal) to grow a concerning “leadership quality”.
Leading requires change. And change requires bravery. Though rare, courage is a defining quality of effective leadership. It takes courage to break from the norm, challenge the status quo, stick it to “the man”, seek new opportunities, make tough decisions, and see failure as an opportunity for learning and growth.
The best leaders take (considered) risks to beat their competition and lead their followers into the future. They imagine new, more effective ways of doing things and encourage their followers to do the same.
When leaders lack the strength of conviction they tend to just take the easy route by doing things the way they’ve always been done. Nothing is gained by hanging in the comfort zone. And there’s everything to lose.
Growth is a learning process with plenty of mistakes. And leadership is no different.
So, go forth! With your newfound wisdom shed the shackles of those undesirable leadership qualities. Because bad leadership qualities are not anyone’s friend. Especially the leader. And while you're at it, perhaps discover how to distinguish a tyrant from a leader.