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Op/Ed

4 signs you (or your boss) may be an ineffective leader

Leadership is hard as is, there’s no need to make it harder on yourself. Avoid these bad-leader habits and you’ll be golden.

Woman and man meeting discussing their role asleader.

Being a leader can be tough

Whether you are heading a soccer team, a choir, or a team of young realtors, being a leader is tough. Even the best leaders have character flaws. Under pressure, these peccadilloes are often exacerbated. If you find yourself in a position of influence, your flaws may magnify into strategic disasters.

To prevent such scenarios, it is critical that we dissect our own behavior, not only for the sake of our professional careers, but also for our own conscience and sense of self-worth.

Tips for Success

Use the following 4 red-flag-raising behaviors as a blueprint, making sure you refrain from (or rectify) these mistakes as you evolve into a better leader.

1. Wavering on tough calls

Bad leadership 101 is an indecisive leader. A pitiful half-panicked state of ‘I cannot make up my mind’ hesitation. Nothing frustrates a team more.

More poignantly, nothing destroys an employee’s respect in a leader quicker.

Decisions, especially the big ones, need a steadying, confident hand. Buying yourself time, by demanding more research from the team, or hiding behind the excuse of another round of “brainstorming” shall only delay the inevitable. Rise to the occasion; do not be dragged to it by your circumstances. Dignify a problem with a decision!

2. Inefficient communication

This problem is more nuanced than simply bad communication. It may mean three things: under-communication, obfuscation, or over-communication. Try to avoid each like the black plague.

Nothing makes a project stall quicker than an unclear path forward. Make time to explain things to the team, clearly and precisely. Lay down a path. After all, that is your job! No one can be a “leader whisperer” or thought interpreter.

A team should not have to second-guess the direction of an assignment.

Obfuscation stems from the leader’s own lack of direction. Do not call a meeting where there is nothing definitive to announce. What is the operational plan? How should it be implemented? Do not assume that a plan shall present itself during a meeting.

Then there’s the sin of over-explaining.

This is a behavior where the leader drones on and on, wasting vital time, in order to elicit tacit or verbal endorsement of his/her idea. This is the control-freak micro-manager. Efficient communication does not mean more time in the conference room. Efficient communication is more productive in less time.

3. Abusing power privileges

Leaders enjoy considerable leeway to enforce their decisions. However, it is easy to forget that this “power” exists not for the leader to bask in its glory, but to deploy as necessary for the team to operate more efficiently. The possibilities in which a leader can abuse power are countless, and varies wildly, but here are some of the usual suspects:

Humiliating an employee publicly: constructive criticism is an art, delivered with compassion. It requires restraint and strength. Weak leaders have “outbursts”, aspire to be feared by others, and work hard on creating an air of intimidation and un-approachability.

Breaking your own word: Leaders may also make casual promises to a client during a meeting, without owning up to the promise. The leader may then avoid the agreed-upon request entirely, or worse, hand it off to subordinates to deal with. Empty promises make for empty leaders.

Rewarding loyalty: Leaders often play favoritism by distributing assignments and workloads unevenly.

Feigning neutrality: This may seem contradictory to the previous point, but it is not. A leader should take clear sides on arguments (not people) put forward. Not committing to opposing views leaves everyone directionless and confused. There are good ideas, less good ideas, great ideas, and terrible ideas. Which one do you like? Whose is it? Point it out. Give direction and move forward.

Insubordination: Weak leaders often bad-mouth their bosses, behind their back, in order to win cookie points with the team. It shows a lack of dependability, trust, and character.

4. Evading feedback at all costs

If your team cannot express grievances, complaints, and concerns freely, your leadership is off the mark. The most likely cause: YOUR unwillingness to take responsibility for failure. Shifting blame to others for what has gone wrong, attributing harsh decisions (like letting someone go) to “the company” and not yourself, bemoaning lack of resources as an unfortunate scenario where your hands are tied— these are all ways to clamp down on criticism. Seeking revenge on, or appeasing your critics is worse.

If you do not like employees to ask you questions, you should reevaluate your own position immediately. Feedback is essential to growth. To dismiss them as “whining” is going to kill your effectiveness as a true leader. In times of true crisis, you will find it impossible to rally the troops to your cause.

Leader to the core

Keeping these common leadership flaws in mind shall help you become “self-aware,” your best guard against becoming a horrible boss. In the process, it will take you much further—it will inspire you to inspire others, the very essence of great leadership.

Barnil is a Staff Writer at The Real Daily. With a Master's Degree in International Relations, Barnil is a Research Assistant at UT, Austin. When he hikes, he falls. When he swims, he sinks. When he drives, others honk. But when he writes, people read.

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