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Top 5 Signs of Poor Leadership

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Priya was a top performer all through her career. She was first to come to work and last to leave. Clients loved her. Her peers looked up to her and her boss always gave her a lot of recognition for doing a good job. Everything looked great except when she took over the leadership role. Within six months from taking over a new role, she became very unpopular not just among her reporting team members, but also among her peers. Employees did not want to work under her leadership. In a few cases, her team had missed deadlines and had upset clients as well. So what do you think was happening?

I have seen this in a lot of cases. It’s a typical case of a great performer who is very good at his/her job but struggles when promoted to a leadership role. Why does this happen? The answer is simple. When the focus moves from ‘I’ to ‘we’, a different set of competencies are required and only job-specific know-how is not enough. Add to that someone who is self-centered, believes that he/she alone can change the world without anyone’s support, or who is unwilling to take others’ viewpoints into consideration; you sure have all the ingredients of a bad leadership.

The business leaders of today have a daunting task of keeping an eye on disruptive competition and market volatilities. This also demands constant need to manage change. Those in leadership roles can take the business to newer heights only by leveraging the collective power of their team members.

There are many aspects to take care of when building the right leadership, which we explain and handhold the organisations in our leadership development programs – Matchstick Leadership® and FutureReady Leadership©. But how do we at least ensure that we don’t promote bad leadership in our organisation that will require much effort to undo down the road. Watch out for these early signs in your potential leaders:

1. Lack of empathy
Wikipedia defines Empathy as the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within in their frame of reference. Poor leaders come across as insensitive to others and are perceived as quite transactional in their interactions with others. Instead of understanding the emotion and giving it the right attention and direction, under poor leadership relationships are damaged and sometimes, beyond repair. Don’t believe me? Consider pulling up an employee who may have resumed work after a bereavement leave and you’ll see what I mean. There is always a better way to discuss nonperformance or mis-match of expectations. Under good leadership, emotions are given importance and are channelized to create a connect with the organisation. Poor leadership is often unable to make this connect.

2. Walk the talk
Often I have come across disconnect between what the business leader says and how it is heard by the last person on the floor. It could be due to communication gap or lack of walking the talk. Leaders are also humans and they can make mistakes in their communication. However, auto correction happens based on what the leader does. People emulate what the leader does. A leader might make all the right noises but if he/she is seen not walking the talk, words will have no effect on the people. Not walking the talk is a sure sign of bad leadership.

3. Over commit or under deliver
There is a famous quote by Richard Branson, which reads- “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”. While good leaders are able to crack the toughest problem by their sheer conviction and great planning and organising skills, under poor leadership, the teams end up biting off far more then they can chew. The obvious result being that under such leadership, deadlines are missed, mistakes are repeated and customers (both internal and external) get frustrated. Under bad leadership, employees often struggle to say no and are unable to live up to commitments they make. There has to be a balance – you can’t just not give commitments, and at the same time make good of the commitments you give.

4. It’s never their fault!
If you have people in leadership roles who say, ‘It was him not me’, it is the biggest sign of poor leadership. Poor leaders have this false sense of greatness about themselves. They always wear a crown and sometimes ones who do not recognise it even get reprimanded. Being bossy is poor leadership. Good leaders own up not just for their own mistakes but also of mistakes of others. They display leadership skills beyond their designations and demands of their roles. Employees follow a natural leader not because they are in-charge but because they see themselves contributing to a bigger purpose.

5. Organisational Culture
Bad organisational culture thrives under bad leadership. Some obvious signs include- difficulty in hiring, distrust among employees, bad employer image, high absenteeism, poor adherence to systems and processes, unwillingness to take on additional work or even too much focus on incentives. The one thing about organisational cultures is that it evolves itself, if it is not designed. Under bad leadership organisational culture takes the entire organisation down with itself. Under such a scenario, it is best to take a pause and re-design your organisational culture before it’s too late.

Yellow Spark’s proprietary tool – The Culture Triangle© can help you understand not just about your existing culture but also help you define an organisational culture you want to build. Read more about it here: How to Attract the Right Talent into Your Organisation

No technology can replace the intuitive gut of a leader. So if you feel that something is going amiss in your company, it probably is. Don’t wait for some very obvious signs to show up. It’s best to investigate and steer the organisation before it’s too late. Remember that your best performer can sometimes show poor leadership qualities. Hence before you sign off that promotion order or sign the offer letter of that candidate for a leadership role, be sure that the person has a ‘we’ approach instead of an ‘I’ mindset.


To hone leadership skills in your organisation – both for existing leadership and also for the high-potential employees who are expected to take up leadership roles in near future, write to us on contact@yellowspark.in

Author Profile: Aparna Joshi Khandwala is a passionate HR professional. She co-founded Yellow Spark to work with like-minded people who believe in the power of leadership, which is the only business differentiator in today’s time.