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Four Leadership Traits to Avoid

The other day a colleague passed along an article on leadership written by Michael Hyatt. The piece was titled ďThe Five Characteristics of Weak LeadersĒ and focused on the leadership of General George B. McClellan, the first general-in-chief of the Union Army.

It detailed the weaknesses McClellan exhibited as a leader and how they ultimately led to his dismissal. The piece got me thinking about how much of what Iíve learned about good management came from the mistakes made by leaders. In other words, sometimes itís easier to learn what not to do than what to do.

Iíve had the opportunity to work for some very good leaders, but no one is perfect. Every leader has his or her strengths and weaknesses. Itís always great to emulate what you admire most about a great leader, but itís also important to avoid the less admirable traits or behaviors of even the most successful leaders.

In his article, Hyatt points out that McClellan was hesitant in taking action, complained about the lack of resources, refused to take responsibility, abused his leadership position, and engaged in acts of subordination. Based on the examples Hyatt uses to demonstrate each of McClellanís shortcomings, you can see why the Union Army performed so poorly under his leadership and why he ultimately lost his job.

What characteristics or traits have you seen from leaders that reflected poorly on them or weakened their ability to lead? Here are a few Iíve experienced during my career:

Lack of honesty. Iíve seen leaders unwilling or unable to be honest on a consistent basis, and it always leads to their downfall. It may be that they donít have an answer so they make up one or feel that others arenít capable of dealing with the truth. Whatever the reasons, they donít always tell the truth, and it comes back to haunt them. People always find out the truth and when they do the leader is revealed as dishonest.

Inconsistency. If youíre a leader, you need to lead not some of the time, but all of the time. No doubt itís a big responsibility, but it comes with the territory. Too many times Iíve seen leaders crack under the pressure of the job. Theyíre great at leading in great times, but when the going gets tough they disappear as a leader. A leader who canít lead in difficult times really isnít a leader. People need to know they can count on their leader in good times and bad.

Insecurity. Thereís nothing worse than an insecure leaderóthat person who is consistently looking over his shoulder. He never feels like heís up to the job and, as a result, heís not. The insecure leader is never confident in the support he has from above or from his own people. This insecurity can be displayed in a number of ways. The leader may be indecisive, worrying that every action might lead to his dismissal. It may display itself as paranoia, concerned that someone is always out to replace him. However the insecurity displays itself, it makes the leader ineffective.

The dictator. Iíve also seen leaders who are capable in so many ways, but theyíre more dictator than leader. They trust, but only a little. When decisions need to be made, the leader pretends to include everyone and accept the teamís inputóas long as itís in agreement with what he wants and how he wants it done. But if colleagues present ideas inconsistent with the leaderís ideas, he crushes it immediately. Heís smarter, heís stronger, heís better than anyone and everyone on the team, and heís going to let them know. Theyíre going to do it his way and thatís it, no questions asked.

Think back to all the leaders youíve been associated with throughout your career. Iím sure you can think of a lot of great qualities they have displayed. Now think about their weaknesses and shortcomings. You should spend as much time trying to avoid those behaviors as you do trying to emulate their strengths. And think about your own leadership abilities. What could you do better or differently? Where do you fall short as a leader? Now go to work correcting those and youíll be a better leader.

Dan Oswald is president of M. Lee Smith Publishers LLC, which produces HR Hero and the Employment Law Post. Reprinted with permission.


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