If you’re asking the question “Am I a bad leader?” you’re likely one of the better ones. Just the fact that you’re willing to reflect and entertain the idea you might be wrong on occasion or still have things to learn is a good sign. Often those people who aren’t asking the question, are the ones who get bad reviews from their employees.
As a leader – with or without positional power – you have to primary tasks: get the job done (yourself and through others) and build a culture of cooperation between all humans in your workplace.
If you strive to get better at these two, you’re on a good way.
Here are some pointers you may want to look at when you have the feeling you’re a bad leader.
Lack of direction
You could also call it lack of vision, strategy, goals. By vision I don’t necessarily mean a strategy paper or financial targets. Doubling your revenue in the next two years is an objective, not a vision.
Giving your team direction, a vision, is creating a shared understanding of the future. And that future should be a place where people want to go. Something that’s at least intriguing, if you can’t make it inspiring.
Having this shared understanding of the direction will help inform decisions about which projects to start, what strategies to pursue and what priorities to set day in and they out. If you don’t have this sense of direction yet – or equally bad you know it but haven’t told your team – this is something you may want to work on.
You don’t communicate well
A mild form of bad communication skills is that you can’t transfer to others what’s in your mind. Even after lengthy monologues, they’re not clearer as what they should do next. If you feel continuously disappointed that people don’t deliver what you asked of them, check if you’re actually making it clear. Lack of clarity in the communication disrupts your day-to-day.
Others might be clear, but completely uninspiring. This is problematic when you have a big vision with even bigger obstacles in the way to get there. Having a basic understanding of how to adapt your communication to your audience is important. The facts-and-figures style you use with senior management will sound very dull and empty to your employees.
In a more severe form, bad communication skills actually destroy relationships. Either in one blow by yelling at people and putting them down. Maybe even in front of others. Or it’s death by a thousand paper cuts: you’re not listening, you’re interrupting, you’re talking down on others.
Chaos is taking over
The very basic management skills of being able to plan and organise the work, execute with precision and observing the effects are important. If you have hundreds of unread emails in your inbox, need to work weekends to keep up and think “that’s just the way it is”, I suggest you think again. Yes, there are times of higher workload. And yes, there are organisations that don’t care much whether they burn people along the way. But becoming complicit in this madness is a choice.
One of the few things I remember from my thermodynamics class at university is this: entropy (i.e. the disorder of any system) increases without any effort and if left unchecked, any system will strive to maximise entropy, disorder, chaos. In short you have a ghastly mess.
This is not only affecting you. It’ll seep into your team and soon you won’t have a handle on any of your projects anymore. I suggest you put some guiding systems and routines in place to help prevent that from happening. Plan the work, then work the plan.
You say one thing and then do another
Humans learn by imitation. And when they do, they copy everything precisely as they see it. Which means when you start coming late to meetings, so will your team. When you strike a harsh tone despite preaching respect, your employees will ignore your words and just imitate your conversation style. If you observe behaviours in your team that go against the values you hold, take a look in the mirror: Do you see the same? Get intentional with self-reflection, seeking feedback and deliberately showing the behaviours you want to see from others.
Another aspect of this is making empty promises. It can’t be avoided sometimes to set a goal, work towards it and have the plug pulled by someone with higher power. But if you promise to forward some information or keep people updated and then consistently fail to deliver, you lose credibility and hurt people in the process.
Yes, it does matter if you’re a bad leader.
And I’m not talking about your ego that stings when someone tells you they think you’ve got a lot to improve on.
Failing to build leadership skills results in hurting people. It also has negative effects on your organisation: less motivation, lower performance and productivity, higher turnover, bad customer service. If you create these things on scale you’re company will struggle economically and eventually ceases to exist. Let alone all the dread and heartbreak along the way.