How you could be displaying a fatal leadership flaw without realising it

Leadership Flaw

Years ago, the organisation I worked for appointed a senior leader with a challenging and destructive personality.

When he started an internal communication informed us of his illustrious career and what a difference he would make. Not long afterward he brought in a small team of acolytes who sang his praises and justified why it was okay to value his end results over the means to achieve them.

However, cracks soon started to appear in the façade of his competence. He would literally yell down the corridor at people if he didn’t get exactly what he wanted. Everyone knew when he was unhappy about something and would avoid approaching him without checking if it was a ‘good time’.

When his own critical project deliverables were off track, he would attack a peer’s performance during a meeting to deflect attention from himself.

As you can imagine it wasn’t a pleasant work environment nor did it make for good cross-team collaboration.

Good people started to leave, and people in other areas who’d been burned evaded requests to collaborate. His peers took other steps to protect themselves because they couldn’t trust him not to turn on them if he thought his self image was at risk.

He was a bad boss. However, you may be surprised to discover his flaws are not the most fatal leadership flaws.

Leadership development and organisational behaviour experts, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman know something about fatal leadership flaws. Their Harvard Business Review article Are you Sure You’re Not a Bad Boss reported an analysis of the behaviour of 30,000 managers through the eyes of approx. 300,000 peers, direct reports and bosses on 360 degree evaluations.

The three flaws identified as the most fatal for a leader were:

1. Failing to inspire your team due to a lack of leadership enthusiasm and passivity.
2. Letting people coast and accepting mediocre performance in place of excellent results.
3. Lacking clear vision and direction.

You may be surprised yelling and verbally attacking your direct reports and colleagues are not in the top three, although that’s not recommended either.

At this time of year, when we have lots of competing priorities we can move into survival mode, forget to inspire our team, get into the habit of fixing the mediocre ourselves and focus on what’s due this quarter instead of enabling people to move purposefully further ahead.

Being short on time and energy may also expose the rest of Zenger and Folkman’s ten fatal leadership flaws, from most to least fatal:

4. Inability, rather than failure, to collaborate and be a team player.
5. Saying one thing and doing something different.
6. Not learning from mistakes to improve.
7. Letting resistance to new ideas lead to an inability to lead change or innovate.
8. Not developing others, including a failure to make time for it.
9. Inadequate interpersonal skills.
10.Deciding to do the wrong things because of poor judgement.

Some things on this second list are clearly about capability. However, the earlier top three has more to do with how we choose to behave and prioritise our time rather than an innate inability to lead.

If that got your attention and you’re worried whether any of those flaws will be fatal for you, it’s time to reconnect with your strengths. That’s because experimenting with how you use your strengths is more productive than dwelling on your flaws unless they are genuine capability gaps.

If you’ve fallen into some poor habits, focusing on your strengths to turn around a flaw can be like using your best tools to do a job. Your strengths are what you are already good at. Whereas focusing on a current weakness is like using a tool that doesn’t fit right. It can be slow, frustrating, and make you feel worse.

As Tom Rath, the author of Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams and Why People Follow said, “If you focus on people’s weaknesses, they lose confidence.” At a very basic level, it is hard for us to build self-confidence when we are focused on our weaknesses instead of our strengths.”

So, what strengths do you have that you can use to inspire your team, set standards, hold people to account and communicate a clear vision and direction?

If you need help, I’m an accredited Strengths Profile practitioner and would love to chat about how we can get you quickly focused on the best tools to do the job.

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