Good Leader or Bad Leader: Which One Are You?

Tuesday May 27, 2014

By: Sally Witzky

Working on your leadership skills is never ending. Like many of you, I’ve had plenty of bosses and team leaders over the years. The mediocre ones are typically great people and mean well but sometimes just don’t take the extra steps necessary to truly lead. The great ones who do step up are the ones you’ll remember and learn from your whole career. And the not so good ones you try to forget yet, interestingly enough, you’ll learn from them, too.

You can be inspired in some way or another by all the leaders you work with and it’s something to remember as you take on a leadership position yourself – whether your leading a global company, a local non-profit or a team project. What’s important is that you set your intention for how you’d like to be remembered as a leader because people who report to you or work on your team will remember you, whether you believe that or not.

There are plenty of terrific leadership books available to help you develop your leadership skills no matter your age, position or title because it’s never too early or too late to learn. My favorites are any leadership or team book from John Maxwell, like his classic 21 Irrefutable Laws, or Multipliers by Liz Wiseman, or Give and Take by Adam Grant. I also enjoyed Clay Christensen’s book, The Innovator’s DNA, which talks about the difference between delivery and discovery people, for which I wrote about in my last post on leading innovation. Leaders tend to have the ability to deliver with a discovery attitude. I’m sure you have other favorite authors and personal leadership mentors – it’s important to check in with them no less than every three months or so.

In the meantime, the below comparison of leadership traits may provide a guide for you on what to observe in the leaders you follow and in your own leadership style. Like you, I’ve had some absolutely wonderful leaders in my life and I’m grateful that they took the time to help me along the way. They also showed me the difference in being a mediocre leader and a great leader, which summed up to having the courage to take a stand, to speak up, to question the status quo, to initiate or take action, or simply to help someone else move forward. “How can I help you?” is a terrific servant leadership question and it’s one worth asking of people again and again.

Here are a few not-so-good leadership traits:

  • Rarely shares what they’ve learned and can even be stingy with or purposely hold back information that would be of help to individual or team success (they’ll cite all sorts of reasons why you don’t need the information)
  • Takes credit for or are highly critical of ideas and initiatives of team members yet they contribute very few of their own; may even tell people that they’re good at a lot of things when they rarely take initiative in those areas
  • Manipulates situations or relationships, often behind the scenes, in order to manage to their desired outcome instead of creating the best outcome together
  • Typically more interested in their own success than the success of others; definitely erring too much on the side of narcissism (some are so far over the top that this behavior isn’t noticeable – they’re a pro at this)
  • Demands immediate respect usually based on their title or their perceived “power” level without a desire to earn it from their team
  • Acts like they can’t figure out why people don’t trust them and they are extra sensitive when others push back even slightly
  • Won’t encourage their direct reports, or give then permission or time off, to attend seminars, meetings or conferences in which they can grow, learn and meet new people; in addition to micro-managing, this is a sure sign of a control freak
  • Shows signs of insecurity in which they tend to live in the safer moment and are afraid to make mistakes or look bad; they often go to great lengths to protect their image
  • Often will ask people to work on projects and once the individual or team moves it along will ask them to stop working on it with no discussion about why
  • Often meets individually with each team member or requests that emails or documents are sent only to them; will often withhold feedback on projects or documents or even at annual review time – this can be especially true if the work or employee is exceptionally good
  • Surrounds themselves with junior staff members or “yes” people; rarely will they hire those who are smarter or have more experience than them, or who may question the system or challenge the status quo because that would rock their boat; if they make that mistake, they’ll find a way to rid themselves of that person by transferring them to a different department, making their lives miserable so that they leave or by finding some reason to fire them

Those traits don’t feel good, do they? That’s why it’s important to set your intention of the type of leader you’d like to be and work on more positive leadership traits. Good people can get caught up in the stress of the everyday workload and forget that others are looking to them to effectively lead the team.

So let’s talk about how to do that. Here are a few great leadership traits:

  • Comfortable with setting a vision and championing a cause within the organization or department because they truly care
  • Authentic, full of goodness; one who genuinely wants to help people, the team and the company succeed; believes 100% in the company’s vision
  • Confident and competent yet humble; highly in tune with both their own strengths and weaknesses; they’re okay with being vulnerable at times
  • Sets team up for success each day by instructing, coaching and forgiving when things go wrong; has a “correct and continue” attitude
  • Willingly and openly shares knowledge and experiences for individual and team success yet continually learns themselves; they typically hire coaches and mentors to help them with their own leadership growth
  • Continual and open learner, teacher or trainer; shares, facilitates discussion and collaborates well with others to create and develop ideas and solutions
  • Pushes boundaries; they’re okay with being uncomfortable and in taking some risks, especially when striving to lead the team forward into new territory for growth and innovation
  • Lets strength of individual team members shine through, being genuinely happy with other people’s successes
  • Celebrates every win, no matter how small; often thanks and congratulates team members’ contributions
  • Understands they have to earn people’s respect and trust over time; a title or promotion alone doesn’t automatically demand it
  • Continually challenges the team to grow both professionally and personally; giving advice or allocating resources accordingly, prioritizing the growth of their people
  • Typically gives their team members more responsibility than they might think they can handle while shepherding them in the process
  • Genuinely interested in their team members’ career growth by preparing them for promotions, having them lead their own projects or showing them how to be a community leader; always looking for opportunities in which their own people can learn and grow even if outside the organization

I think you can see the difference between a good, well-respected leader and a not-so-good leader. I hope you’ll choose to continue to practice and develop your own authentic leadershipstyle in order to help other people and your organization succeed and grow exponentially. Effective leadership requires the “wax on, wax off” type of mastery; it’s definitely not learned overnight or by reading a book or two on leadership.

You can and should be highly competent at your craft whether it’s marketing, technology, higher education, science, healthcare, the ministry or any one of a number of hot professions today. But if you’re not developing your leadership skills in the process, then you’ll be left to wonder (with frustration, I might add) as to why people resist following you or why your best talent chooses to leave your team or your company and work elsewhere. If they leave, nine times out of 10 it’s because they don’t enjoy working for their direct supervisor or the company leader. It’s up to you. You can be the leader that people learn from, gravitate toward and remember positively for their entire career. Just like early childhood teachers, you just never know when you’ll be the one who will make a significant difference in someone’s life.

Sally Witzky is a fractional CMO and strategic marketing consultant, specializing in brand architecture, innovation development, business expansion and sustainability planning. She served as AMA-Richmond’s 50th Anniversary president, leading the chapter to win a coveted national AMA leadership award for communications excellence in 2013. Follow on twitter @SallyWitzky.