Bad Habits Good Leaders Should Avoid

The Pitfalls of Poor Leadership


A lot is written about leadership these days, probably because our complex world requires skilled and strong leaders to find solutions that make a positive difference to the human condition.  Unfortunately, the flip side of good leadership is poor leadership, and recognizing some of the fundamental differences is essential if organizations and the people in them are to thrive and grow.

We all know good and poor leadership when we see it and when we feel it — yes, feel it.  I have written often about the importance of leadership and its power and ability to touch people; how leaders impact others can be emotional and personal.  People who practice good leadership skills have the intelligence and ability to influence positive change and to empower and inspire others to be their best.  People who practice poor leadership skills have the ability to squander talent, to paralyze productivity and to thwart the aspirations and goals of an organization and its members.

The definitions of good and poor leadership reflect a myriad of characteristics that can be subjective, simply because each of us may define leadership differently.  But one quote about leadership stands out for me and argues that “how a leader makes people feel has more impact than what a leader says,” demonstrating that people may remember feelings more than they remember words.  While words can be powerful, feelings are visceral, are deeply embedded and have staying power.  We may carry feelings around with us for a long time that can be triggered again and again by people or circumstances.

I believe that developing sensitivity and awareness about how words and behaviour impact others is critical to either making a success or suffering a failure at leading and working with others, acknowledging that leaders are also role models.  I have found that building self-awareness and practicing good leadership skills are strongly connected and together, help leaders to avoid the pitfalls of poor leadership; good leadership is a lifelong journey that requires listening, learning, sharing and patience.

The following are examples of what I have learned about poor leadership, habits and patterns that can put a leader on a collision course with failure:

  1. Taking credit for others’ ideas and contributions — leaders who work with talented people consistently fail to recognize and acknowledge others’ strengths and contributions and take credit for the innovation and ideas of others.
  2. Using a position of power to control and intimidate others — leaders who use their position of power and authority through a “command and control” approach that is top down, fear-based and oppressive.
  3. Blaming others when things go wrong — when mistakes are made that have negative consequences, leaders who point fingers and find others to blame marginalize an organization and its members and diminish the principles of responsibility and accountability.
  4. Feeling threatened by others who show potential — leaders who attempt to keep others in their place or limit their opportunities to shine because they are threatened by others’ possible potential for success are short-sighted.
  5. Reflecting arrogance and hubris that reinforces a need to impress — leaders who express a lack of humility or modesty hide deep insecurities, with a need to impress that often serves to distance and alienate others.
  6. Clinging to traditional methods and old ideas — leaders who avoid new ideas and choose tradition over innovation, risk irrelevance and lack of resilience, both for themselves, the organization and its members.
  7. Avoiding learning new skills and practices — leaders who seem unwilling to take risks to learn new skills and stretch themselves to achieve new goals, are stale and unable to embrace and adapt to change, for themselves and for their organization.
  8. Failing to keep promises — leaders who make promises but do not follow through risk personal credibility, trust and the goodwill of others.
  9. Acting alone — leaders who do not consult, collaborate or solicit input from others fail to make enlightened and well informed decisions.
  10. Failing to effectively manage issues — leaders who dismiss the need to effectively and timely address, manage and resolve issues, ignore at their peril, the need for due diligence and place themselves, their organization and its members at risk.

Good leadership is not rocket science and when learned and practiced with care, commitment and honesty, a good leader becomes a great leader, one who reaps and shares the benefits and rewards with their organization and its members.  The hallmark of great leadership is the creation of more great leaders.