People in organizations look to their leaders for cues on how to behave. Appropriate and poor behavior is noticed, observed, and emulated. And, how leaders (and their people) behave creates the organization’s culture.
Other than the very obvious things that a leader shouldn’t do, such as lie, cheat, and steal, there are other things that can destroy or severely limit a leader’s career.
The very worst things to do as a leader are:
1. Be condescending. Being condescending shows that you think you’re better than others. This may come from an entitlement mentality, a superiority complex, or simply just being patronizing. No one likes the feeling that they are beneath others and that the leader has no respect for him/her. Condescension creates a divide between leaders and their teams that cannot be easily bridged or mended.
Treating people with respect and courtesy, as well as believing that everyone has something to offer will help build strong, mutually beneficial relationships.
2. Undermine your people. This is where leaders don’t support their people. We’ve seen this in the political arena where the vice-presidential candidate says one thing and the presidential candidate says something totally opposite, implying that the VP candidate either really has nothing to say or got it wrong. In organizations, leaders do that, too. When they fail to support their people it causes an erosion of trust and respect. Employees will, overtly or covertly, stop supporting their leader when they are undermined, or ‘thrown under the bus’, too many times.
Strong leaders support their people and when they can’t, they tell their people why. This can be positioned as a learning experience and also a way to strengthen the team.
3. Think you know everything. Leaders who think they know everything are short sighted and egotistical. It is impossible for anyone to know everything about everything.
Being open to ‘not knowing’ and expressing curiosity about others’ views results in different insights and perspectives. It is not a weakness to admit that you don’t know everything, but a strength.
Others like to know that they have something to offer. After all, you’ve hired people into your organization because of their unique experience and knowledge.
4. Believe that you have no weaknesses. I once conducted a training needs analysis with a global financial telecommunications firm and interviewed the top 20 executives about their training needs. The prevailing feedback was that they were in their positions by virtue of their knowledge and experience and that they had no need (or desire) for training. In essence, they had no weaknesses and nothing to learn. Having this view severely limits the ability to grow and develop, both professionally, but also as a company.
Being a role model and setting an example for people within the organization includes acknowledging weaknesses or areas for improvement. The truth is, regardless of experience level, we all have something that can be worked on. It shows that you are human and vulnerable which are both important to building trust.
5. Surround yourself with ‘Yes’ people. Successful leaders surround themselves with people who have differing viewpoints, perspectives, and experiences. These people have the courage to say ‘no, that’s not a good idea’ or ‘perhaps we should think of another alternative’.
Leaders who only want to have acquiescence, rather than challenge, often marginalize or demote those who are not always in agreement. They also fail to grow and lead effectively. Surrounding yourself with ‘yes’ people leads to a continuance of the status-quo, which inevitably leads to organizational stagnation and decline.
6. Refuse to listen. It is one thing to be surrounded by ‘yes’ people, it is another to refuse to listen to anyone. Although, both may end up with the same result. Many organizations have gone under because executive leaders were not open to listening to others. Often times, people were telling the leader what they needed to know, but those assertions ‘poo-pooed’ rather than taken seriously.
Listening to diverse viewpoints, no matter how negative or critical, can be informative to understanding what is going on in the organization. Listening does not mean accepting everything that is said. Instead, it’s an exercise in assessing what is relevant and adjusting where necessary.
7. Isolate yourself. It is often said that ‘it is lonely at the top’. With respect to the CEO and President roles, there are no individuals who are their direct peers. There is risk in confiding with direct reports, so senior leaders often feel forced to isolate themselves from what is going on in the organization. Often, they rely on what their direct reports are telling them, which may be filtered or otherwise distorted.
Strong leaders spend time in their organizations. They meet with people in informal settings, attend meetings they may not be expected to attend, and ‘lead by walking around.’ They do not isolate themselves in an ivory tower overlooking their king or queen dom.
8. Act in your own self-interest. Leaders are meant to act in the best interests of the company. There are times, however, when an individual allows him or her self-interest to supersede the company’s interest. This may be a minor or major transgression, but it usually noticed by people in the organization.
When employees see leaders acting in their own self-interest, the belief is that it is okay for employees to do so as well. What applies for the leaders, applies equally for employees.
Consistent, deliberate action in the organization’s best interest models behavior to employees. But don’t say one thing and do the other, leading us to #9.
9. Say one thing and do another. We’ve all seen it – someone says one thing, but then does another. This happens in personal life, as well as in professional life. Sometimes we are aware of why the change has happened; others not. When the change in direction is unexpected, it destroys trust and often results in feelings of betrayal.
Having integrity and doing what you say you will do is key to the success of any relationship. Committing to what you promise to do and staying the course builds trust and respect, and models how others should behave in their own relationships.
10. Say “do what I say” but not do it yourself. Leaders are role models for their employees. Saying one thing, but not supporting it or not doing it sends the wrong message. How people see and hear this is “it’s okay for you to have to do this, but I’m above all that.” This creates a double standard in organizations – one set of rules applies to leaders; another to employees.
“Walking the talk” and being seen as applying the ‘rules’ to everyone, regardless of position and level, is important to achieving and sustaining a team culture.
Trust in leadership is critical in any organization. When leaders exhibit the behaviors noted above, trust falters. The three elements of trust are benevolence or caring, ability or competence, and integrity. When one or more is missing, trust is affected.
The Edelman organization annually conducts a global trust study. This year the organization has developed a presentation titled Trust and the CEO: A Global Perspective. I encourage you to review the presentation to learn more about trust and CEOs.
What do you think are the absolute worst leadership behaviors?