Weekly Wrap: Some Bad Qualities That Good Leaders Need to Avoid

Photo by istockphoto.com
Photo by istockphoto.com

I can’t tell you how many articles, blog posts, and books I get that are based on the premise of telling people how to do something right.

You know what I’m talking about — it’s the stuff you see with titles like “10 Ways to Build a Better Workforce,” or “3 Tips for How to Engage Your Employees.”

There’s nothing wrong with content like that, and we publish a lot of those articles at TLNT, but posts like that seem to focus on how to do something right. What I rarely see is something just as important: how to avoid doing something wrong.

And, that’s why this article from the Harvard Business Review‘s HBR Blog Network jumped out at me, because it simply asked, Which Behaviors Must Leaders Avoid

3 “must” avoid leadership qualities

OK, I’m hooked because that’s a great topic. Authors Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins (is having three names a new trend?) make their point clear from the start:

If you want to empower, engage, or motivate others, don’t just focus on increasing your positive behaviors. Pay attention to what you need to stop doing as well. Why? Because people remember the bad more than the good.”

Yes, people do focus and remember the bad far more than the good, and the authors manage to reduce these negative managerial tendencies into three basic things that a leader “must” avoid:

  • Judgmental, non-verbal body language. From the authors — “Do you make comments to others in a way that sounds evaluative, harsh, or condescending? Often, this is not our intention but an in-the-moment reaction. Other non-verbal offenders include scowling, furrowed brows, quizzical looks (as if to say, ‘are you stupid?’), rigidity, and sarcasm. While seemingly small, each of these subtle darts creates a considerable amount of relationship damage.”
  • Interrupting and interrogatingFrom the authors — “It’s almost impossible for people to feel safe if the boss takes up most of the airtime, cuts people off, or interrogates half-baked ideas. Yes, employees have a responsibility to communicate with clarity, but if you expect every idea to be buttoned up, fully thought out, or structured before someone speaks, your colleagues will assume that you’re not willing to invest the time to be a thought partner.”
  • Being inconsistent. From the authors — “Peers and staff often comment on how discouraging it is to see a colleague act in two very different ways — absolutely charming with the executive team and external clients while being disrespectful to those they work with every day. This inconsistency makes these behaviors even more memorable and egregious.”

2 more qualities you need to sidestep

What made these “must” avoid leadership qualities resonate so strongly with me is that I have seen them all on display in many of the the people I have worked for over the years — sometimes all at the same time, in the same person.

In fact, there was one manager I had who not only displayed all three of these negative tendencies, but he had two others that would be worth adding to the list — Over-the-top arrogance and Listening too closely to others with an agenda.

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This guy I worked for wasn’t always arrogant, but over the course of a few years, he became convinced that he had perfect insight into everything we were doing and that he had all the answers. Of course, this made it extremely difficult to get in a word edgewise when it conflicted with his view of the world, and over time, most people who dealt with him simply stopped trying.

On top of that, he somehow got hooked on listening to another manager with very limited and narrow experience who was constantly trying to advance his own agenda, usually at the expense of everyone else. This individual was not only a toxic presence in the organization, but he was hands-down the worst manager in the building, and the absolute last guy you would want to have the top leader’s ear.

Addition through subtraction

As you might imagine, things didn’t end well for my former leader, and that’s probably because he was completely unable to avoid these five “must” avoid qualities that ultimately led to his demise. And, it leads to a lesson worth remembering: sometimes, it’s not about the things you do, but rather, about the things you manage to avoid doing.

Yes, addition through subtraction is a principle that works in leadership as well as it works in other fields of human endeavor. Or as HBR blog authors Su and Wilkins put it:

Negative behaviors ultimately diminish the legacy we leave. Consider what behaviors you might need to stop doing so that you can have a positive, lasting impact.”

Are smartphones killing three-day weekends?

Of course, there’s a lot more than negative leadership qualities in the news this week. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • Should HR be as rigorous as medicine? There was an interesting debate this week over at Business Insider, and it revolves around this comment taken from a recent article in Personnel Today (gotta love that retro, old school title!) —  “[HR] is a highly skilled job that requires the same level of training and dedication as the most qualified and experienced brain surgeons. … If HR is to achieve the requisite level of professionalism, it has to become as scientific as it can be, and that requires methods based on the best evidence available.” Jane Watson of Talent Vanguard takes that position apart, and it is a fascinated discussion that digs into what HR is and what it could/should ultimately be.
  • Making a case for the semi-annual performance review. I’m not big on performance reviews, mainly because I believe the process as it currently exists in most organizations — a yearly review that fails to really cover what an individual accomplished over the past year — is completely broken. This recent article at Forbes.com makes the case for a semi-annual review, and while that might be slightly better than once a year, I don’t think it ultimately solves the problem. Take a read and see what you think.
  • Stress leave becoming an issue in Colorado. According to the Denver Post, “The Mountain States Employers Council, which advises many of Colorado’s largest employers, is devoting more training resources on handling the nuances of mental-health conditions, including stress-related disorders, in the workplace, said David Dixon, a staff attorney with the council in Fort Collins. Employers report a rising number of employees seeking time off for stress-related conditions through the FMLA, which allows up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.”
  • Did the smartphone kill the three-day weekend? This NBC News story posted on CNBC.com claims that, “Our ability to unplug and relax is under assault. A three-day weekend? We can barely get through three waking hours without working, new research shows. The average smartphone user checks his or her device 150 times per day, or about once every six minutes. Meanwhile, government data from 2011 says 35 percent of us work on weekends, and those who do average five hours of labor, often without compensation — or even a thank you. The other 65 percent were probably too busy to answer surveyors’ questions. There’s plenty of debate among economists and psychologists whether the economy is to blame, or we do this to ourselves. There’s little arguing that the concept of a Sabbath is in serious danger.”

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


1 Comment on “Weekly Wrap: Some Bad Qualities That Good Leaders Need to Avoid

  1. Bam! – couldn’t agree more John. Excellent reminder for all at the end of a long short week. Thanks

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