27 September 2023

The leading obvious: How poor leaders are always found out

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John Eades* says bad leaders can hide their inadequacies for a while, but eventually the truth will out.

I am constantly looking at the world through the lens of leadership.

It’s hard not to compare nearly every successful business or team to the leaders behind them.

However, for the last couple years I have been thinking a lot more about the other side of the coin.

What’s the cost of being a bad leader?

While most of the really bad examples of leadership I have studied always tie back directly to some financial and health-related issues, there are some less obvious reasons.

Unhappiness in Life:

I was on a coaching call with someone recently who had been tagged as a ‘rising star’ in his company.

He was telling me about his experience at his former company and it’s something I will never forget.

“Most days I would pull into the office and see my boss’ car and I would sit and wait for 10 minutes because I dreaded spending any more time than I had to work with him.”

At the end of the day, we spend more time with the people at work than we do with our own families.

It’s almost tragic to know one of the main costs of poor leadership is unhappy, unfulfilled and uninspired people at work.

Talented People Not Reaching Their Full Potential:

There is nothing worse than seeing someone with a lot of potential not fully realise it.

At the end of the day, someone reaching their full potential has a lot to do with putting in the work and effort when most people stop or quit.

There is also a major component of having someone else to help on that journey.

As the pioneer in leadership studies, Warren Bennis, famously said: “Great things are accomplished by talented people who believe they will accomplish them.”

One of the main jobs of any leader is to see the potential in their people then encourage and coach them to realise it.

A Bad Culture:

Culture is simply the shared values and beliefs that guide thinking and behaviour.

The culture of a team or organisation is being shaped every single day whether leaders know it or not.

Lousy leaders create and maintain bad cultures.

These bad cultures create bad habits and bad habits eventually lead to bad results.

In my organisation’s research of more than 300 company cultures, five distinct levels emerged: Toxic, Deficient, Common, Advanced, Elite.

Exceptional performance and elite culture go hand in hand.

The Truth Eventually Emerges:

Whether lousy leaders like it or not, their bad leadership eventually emerges from the shadows.

The signs will be there before they are found out; such as high turnover or poor employee engagement.

People will only be fooled for so long.

At some moment there will a tipping point and there will be nothing to stop the bleeding.

Think of it like a marriage. If one of the partners isn’t in it for the right reasons, over time the marriage will eventually break down.

The same goes for toxic leadership; eventually people catch on and when they do it all goes downhill.

Poor Health or Even Death:

Have you ever noticed how lousy leaders are always stressed and worrying about things that only concern themselves?

Researcher at the American Institute of Stress, Ron Stout says managers and executives are “52 per cent more likely to die earlier”.

I believe an argument could be made that lousy leadership not only has a negative health effect on the leader, but also on the team members they lead.

There is nothing healthy about being micromanaged and having every decision made for you.

So the next time you start thinking about whether you should care about being a great leader or not, think through what the true cost of toxic leadership is and you should have your answer.

*John Eades is the Chief Executive of LearnLoft and author of F.M.L. Standing Out and Being a Leader. He is also the host of the Follow My Lead Podcast and can be followed on instagram @johngeades.

This article first appeared on John’s LearnLoft blog.

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