Over the years, I’ve encountered some terrible leaders – many times in situations where their employees and coworkers actually thought they were a genius. Maybe you’ve experienced that as well. I started thinking I was an idiot, and it bothered me for a long time, until I realized that there are some key situations and cultures to watch for in organizations that can actually hide bad leadership. Here’s the six most damaging:
1) Money – This is the big culprit because any organization with enough money can often overcome bad leadership. Mistakes can be fixed and bad decisions rectified if you have deep enough pockets. Very often, generations of bad leaders can coast off the success of the founder.
2) Resources – I knew a producer that worked for a large media organization. He didn’t have to be a great leader because he had multiple assistants, a talented staff, and remarkable studios and equipment. Just like the case with money, great resources can mask bad leadership. Once the producer launched out on his own, he failed immediately, because there was no one else to blame for his incompetence.
3) Bubble Cultures – Churches are particularly vulnerable to this one. In a bubble culture, the organization has limited interaction with the outside world, and therefore no comparisons for performance. For instance, in a church, the donations come in from the congregation, the staff ministers to the congregation, all in a cycle, with little interaction from outside sources. This is why the occasional external consultant can be so important – to give you a better perspective on how the rest of the world works.
4) Hyper-Loyalty – In these cultures, loyalty is so highly prized that it covers a multitude of leadership sins. I’ve seen numerous bad leaders cover their ineptitude by stressing the importance of loyalty over competence. They teach that loyalty is more important than excellence and they use that idea to distract the team from their own inability to perform. In its extreme form, look in the dictionary under “cult.”
5) Nepotism – Great leaders hold their relatives accountable just like everyone else. Bad leaders birth a culture of nepotism which creates safety nets for family members. For instance, if the leader is the founder’s son or daughter, there are a million ways the founder can cover for them. It happens up and down the food chain as family members use their own authority to cover the leadership mistakes of their incompetent relatives.
6) The Political Animal – This leader is the master politician, and knows how to create alliances and support. He or she understands the art of the schmooz and can easily distract superiors from mistakes. Many other co-workers careers have been destroyed by a political animal protecting his turf. Be care of this one – he or she can be the most dangerous of all.
Bad leadership isn’t always obvious, and as damaging as it can be, it can last for generations. Keep your eye out, because while it may be invisible to those around you, it is rotten to the core. Have you recognized any of these symptoms of bad leadership? Have I left any out?