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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

10 Terrible Traits of Lousy Leaders

There is a short, three letter hop from leading to misleading. Having a position of leadership is a very important calling in life. You have a lot of responsibility. It is hard to be a leader but the truth is,as flawed humans, most of us who lead in anything have a very short step to being a misleader. Here's how.

  1. You become a misleader when you mistake popularity for an inability to make mistakes.
    No leader is always right. Yesterday someone pointed out to a critic of mine on Twitter that I was better because I had more followers and he had 6. No! Never do this. Everyone is important as a human being. Listen but then make up your own mind but never let the number of followers someone has make up your mind for you.
  2. You become a misleader when your become mislead by your own audience.
    Pride will kill you faster than a poison blowgun dart in a rainforest. If you look at many of the great falls of history, they came quickly to those who had believed the flattery that the audience gave because of the position of power. Sometimes your audience doesn't know the answers, that is why they look to you. You can learn a lot from your followers and well you should, but when your followers begin praising you, be wary. There is a fine line from genuine praise to flattery and our very human nature causes us to ignore this mild transgression: we crave praise. Flattery believed becomes a person deceived.
  3. You become a misleader when you think you can make everyone feel good about change.
    There is a great chapter in 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done about how if you know you're going to jump into a river, it is worse to hang on the rope swing than it is to just jump. There's something to be said for listening, doing your best and taking the plunge. But also realize that there are some people who are going to hang onto that rope until they are pushed or pulled off of it. Some people don't want change and if you wait until everyone feels good about change, you'll wait too long.

  4. You become a misleader when you mistake meetings for action.
    Too many organizations are dying because of toxic meeting syndrome. Why does a meeting need to take an hour? It is because people aren't doing their homework, aren't reading their emails, aren't taking care of business. Why are they not doing these things? They are always in meetings.
  5. You become a misleader when you pretend to have something you do not have.
    Imagine a beautifully wrapped present under your Christmas tree. Open it and nothing is there but air. I've been to rah-rah sessions that were nothing but air - no content. No "present" (and in fact, often corporate management wasn't even present.) Don't pretend something is what it isn't. Rah Rah Rah - I'm cutting your pay - this is a good thing. Rah Rah. I say Bah. Be real. Acknowledge tough things because you can't put a positive spin on everything. A pig in a dress isn't a princess.
  6. You become a misleader when you "call out" someone publicly for something that you refuse to deal with in private.
    This is abuse of power and cowardice. The teacher who publicly "calls out" a child without "naming names" is a coward. Everyone knows. The principal who publicly "calls out" a teacher or group of teachers without "naming names" is a coward. Cowards are afraid of dealing with issues in the right way: privately and directly. They use their position of authority to deliver a backhanded slap that erodes the respect of all who hear and the person's own self-respect. If you don't have the gutts to deal with a problem face to face then to resort to just "calling out" in public will only make you look even more impotent. We cannot hear your caustic, phony words admist the cacophony of your of your impotent actions. Deal with it or sit down. If only one person is the offender, deal with that one and let the rest in the room not feel false guilt for something they haven't done.
  7. You become a misleader when you have no self discipline.
    You lead by example. If you can't get to work on time or would rather be sitting in your den thinking about when the others get off that you're already home, you don't belong in leadership. If you wanted an easy life, you shouldn't have been a leader. Have the self discipline to do what is important.

  8. You become a misleader when you use your platform for a personal agenda.
    These people shout "you're just a stepping stone, not my home." Full of promise, it is hard to follow them because they are on their way up and out. They'll do just enough to be able to claim something grand and they are off to greener pastures, over the hill or on the Hill. We have hard problems to solve and need some consistent leaders who will stay the course in tough jobs for a period of time.
  9. You become a misleader when you care more about words than actions.
    Words are important. They can hurt. But I'd rather use the wrong word in a sentence that describes what I should do than to do the wrong thing when I take action. Good leaders look at meaning and "cut to the chase." Poor leaders consider themselves Semantic Saviors - who have shown up in the nick of time to keep us from using the wrong word that might send us on a path of death and destruction. Words are important but actions are often more important.

    Let me add one caveat to this. When you're in a meeting and others raise ideas or concerns and you always "yell them down" or criticize, then your words are incredibly important and may just be cutting off the lines of communication. But notice that these words are accompanied by the actions of raising your voice and being angry. This point is talking about those who spend hours finding the right word for trivial conversations. Unless you're an advertiser or writing that once in a lifetime slogan or mission, if you're in leadership, focus on what you do.
  10. You become a misleader if you need popularity to lead.
    Human judgement is harsh and it is meted out to those in authority with extra measure. Someone is not going to like you. Get over it. Try to be at peace with everyone if it is in your power, but if it is not, be as kind as you can, and move on. Popularity is a fickle thing and rarely belongs to revolutionaries until after the war has been won. There are times in the lives of those, even those in office due to popular vote, that doing the right thing doesn't mean doing the popular thing. Thank goodness Winston Churchill didn't need everyone's approval to lead, his country needed someone to yank them up out of the ashes and encourage them to fight for existence. Some of our schools need this too.
This is a hard time of year to be a leader in education. Whether you are in the classroom or the boardroom, everyone is tired and it is easy for tempers to flare. Just like my other post 10 Ways to be a Terrible Teacher, it is so easy to criticize and many of these things we may all be guilty of doing. There are certainly more on the list and I challenge you to consider and share the things that leaders should be careful of doing. 

I have to note that these 10 are a compilation of things I've observed in a long period of time. I have great leaders at my school. You've told me your stories and I get them over email. I have incredible leaders at my school as proven by the results we get in the classroom and on the athletic field. 

Sometimes the dysfunction starts way above the leader's head. If you're in an organization (like a board of directors or school board) that works with leaders to LET THEM LEAD but hold them accountable. A board that micromanages is creating an unhealthy organization stymied by the whims of a diverse group of people who may or may not be an expert in the type of organization they are intended to advise. Boards should set policy and leave day to day operations to those in charge. 

If you're fortunate enough to have a great leader at the helm or in the classroom, appreciate them and treat them well, leadership seems to be a scarce resource these days.

Be a great leader. Serve. Have vision. Lead on.

Photo credit: Bigstock
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