The thing about leadership is that just about everyone thinks they’re a leader, but very few really are. In most cases, those who share this false belief are harmless, but there is a group that I refer to as leadership imposters, who if left on their own, are in fact very dangerous. Most people call these imposters, “bad bosses”.
These bad bosses not only pose a danger to the company they work for, but also for the people they work with, because when they flame out, and they will, there’s a good chance there going to take a few good people down with them. Unfortunately, it’s been my experience that the ones who most often get hurt are those employees who don’t have the experience to fully appreciate or understand their bosses’ shortcomings, and as a result, often don’t realize that they are exposed, and therefore need to protect themselves.
Given this, the purpose of this article is two-fold. First, grasping the nuances of effective leadership isn’t easy, so sometimes it helps to look at it from the other side, and see what really bad leadership looks like. In fact, as I state in my Authentic Leadership Workbook, there is a new kind of leadership style unlike anything most of us have ever experienced, that is taking over the business world. As you will read, bad bosses employ the exact opposite of this style.
The second reason I wrote this article is to help people recognize these imposters so they’ll be better prepared to protect and distance themselves from them, hopefully saving their career in the process.
It should also be noted that in many cases senior management is well aware that they have a bad boss on their hands and have taken steps to limit how much damage they can inflict on the organization and the people they work with. In situations like this its not uncommon to have high-performers; people with real potential work with these bad bosses. This can be a way to both reduce the damage they can do and also test the high-performer. How they handle the situation can have a real impact on their career.
The following are the five common traits or habits that give these imposters away and what you can learn from these people to boost your career.
They always lead from the front.
True leaders know that there are times when they need to be out front, but most of the time, the best and most effective place to lead is from the back.
The thing about imposters is that they are constantly living with the fear of being exposed, and for that reason are very insecure. This insecurity and their ego simply won’t allow for others take the lead, whether it’s in meetings, presentations, or celebrations, so they always have to be out front- doing all the talking. One of my favourite giveaways is their need to always be sitting at the head of the table in meetings, no matter how informal or casual they are, believing this gives them more status and authority.
True leaders on the other hand can inspire and lead from anywhere, including the back of a room or the middle of a meeting table. In fact a true leader can lead even when their not in the room.
When times get tough they can’t make decisions.
It’s easy to make decisions when things are going well and you have all the information you need. The true test of a leader is the ability to make the tough decisions when all the information isn’t available, and when there’s something on the line. In fact, inspired leaders know that sometimes it more important to just make a decision than to worry about whether it’s right or wrong.
Poor leaders tend to spend a lot of time planning and preparing, but when it comes time to execute, they’re very hesitant to pull the trigger. This reluctance to make tough decisions stems from their lack of confidence and the fear that if they do make a bad decision, they’ll be exposed. A true leader will often rely on what they call a “gut feeling”. A poor leader can’t and won’t trust their gut, often leading to procrastination and frustration.
They will throw people under the bus, to save themselves.
When things go wrong, rather than accepting responsibility they will blame the situation on things like the economy, a lack of resources, other people, or the old reliable – circumstances they couldn’t control. You do not want to be in their line of sight when they’re looking for someone to blame.
On the other hand a true leader will never play the role of a victim. A true leader will step up and accept responsibility and will take the blame deflecting it from others.
They always take the credit when things go well.
If a leader is truly leading from the back, then that’s also where they stand when credit is being handed out.
They are terrible communicators.
True leaders are great communicators, whether it’s to large groups or in one-on-one conversations, because they know how to connect with people. What makes them great communicators is that they’re first and foremost great listeners. They listen with empathy, meaning they listen not to hear you, but to understand you. As they listen they’re also paying attention to the emotions behind your words. They very seldom talk about themselves but rather always turn the conversation back to the other person.
Bad leaders are the exact opposite to the above. They don’t listen and they’re always talking about themselves. Rather than really listening, when you talk to them you can see that they’re thinking about what they’re going to say next, and not you. It’s not unusual to finish a conversation with them and wonder what they were really trying to say, whereas a true leader is always clear and concise – you know where you stand with them at all times.
In summary, the traits of a poor and ineffective leader are pretty clear and evident. In contrast to true leaders whose focus is on motivating people, the overall success of their team, and the future of their organization, poor leaders are all about personal gain and self-preservation. By comparing the two styles, hopefully the road to becoming a more effective leader is now much clearer.
It should also be noted that the secret to getting along with these bad bosses and protecting your career is to never challenge them, but rather to feed their ego once and a while, and most importantly, never criticise them behind their back. Always take the high road. Chances are key people across your organization are aware of the difficult position you’re in. The way you handle it can significantly add to your reputation and future.
Having said this, you should take action to protect yourself. To both protect and distance yourself from these bad bosses you should nurture relationships across your company by getting involved in committees and task forces and seeking advice from people you trust. In other words, don’t isolate yourself.