Leadership fault lines

Good companies tend to have good leaders, but there are also traits that many leaders share that only serve to bring a business down. By KOSMAS SMYRNIOS.

By Professor Kosmas X Smyrnios*

Faulty traits of bad leaders

Leadership resonates across organisations – shaping corporate culture and ultimately influencing firm performance. While much has been written about positive leadership qualities, what are those characteristics that undermine business success?


1. Expecting employees to be clones

Entrepreneurs are gazelle-like: passionate about their business, customers, and staff; audacious, fiercely competitive, thriving on challenges, as they strive to build wealth, brand, and market share. Concurrently, they expect their employees to be star performers. Obviously, like them! 

Problems emerge when entrepreneurs place very high expectations on their staff to provide perfect service or even to put themselves on the line. Leaders become disappointed when employees do not demonstrate the same level of commitment, enthusiasm and performance as they have themselves. Failure, and for that matter simple difference, is regarded as unacceptable, leading to a breakdown in relationships and communication.

2. Micro-managing people

Good interpersonal skills are necessary to bring out the best in people. But certain attitudes can get in the way. Micro-managing rather than leading people is a major fault. Entrepreneurs can fall into the trap of getting their hands too dirty, trying to fix everything and overseeing almost all areas of responsibility, rather that delegating responsibilities. As a consequence, leader effectiveness and delivering on a strategy is compromised.

3. Personal gremlins

Everyone has his or her own personal gremlins. Entrepreneurs single out psychological issues to do with self-esteem, anxiety and depression. A number of personality characteristics, including stubbornness, and being impatient and egotistical – assets in some circumstances but liabilities in others – further complicate the picture.

4. Autocratic, emotionally-laden decision making

Allowing emotions to creep into decision-making processes can be problematic. Emotion signals that it is the heart that rules rather than what is best. Moreover, because entrepreneurs want to make practically all the decisions – a form of autocracy – consulting with others is regarded as a bug bear.

5. Festering over-exuberance

Entrepreneurs can be over-the-top: extremely passionate about their business, staff, and customers. Identifying themselves as highly committed to almost everything they do, working too hard, over confident, and taking on too much. As a result entrepreneurs fail to treat themselves kindly and compassionately.

6. Not firing fast enough

Entrepreneurs identify with being compassionate, and can be too soft, particularly when it comes to dealing with under-performing staff. They have difficulties firing quickly. Compounding this problem is a false belief that they can make everyone in the business a strong contributor even when the personal fit is poor or staff are not up to it. Empowering people beyond their capabilities is another fault.

7. Limited communication skills

Leadership involves communicating a vision and strategy to staff. Ineffective communication and poor listening skills hinder this process. Entrepreneurs devote little time for small talk, along with those behaviours necessary for building and sometime sustaining interrelationships with employees.

8. Not paying enough attention to detail

Related to the problems associated with micro-managing and over-extending oneself is the tendency to push too hard in one area to the detriment of another. As a result, entrepreneurs fail to follow-up on important decisions and fail to develop coherent organisational strategies that take key elements into account.

9. Poor time management

Getting caught up in day-to-day firefighting, rather than delegating, prevents prioritising, and negates spending valuable time with staff in order to build relationships and pass on knowledge through mentoring and coaching.

10. Not recruiting the best

CEOs emphasise qualities of culture fit, versatility, an ability to hit the ground running, a desire to learn and to think, enthusiasm, drive, and problem-solving skills. These desired employee characteristics reflect those of the CEO and can get in the way of recruiting the best people with the necessary technical capabilities.



*Professor Kosmas X Smyrnios is director of research in the School of Management, RMIT University.



Related articles in the Leadership section of SmartCompany’s Growth Resources

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