Leaders: Good, Bad & the Ugly

What makes a good or bad leader? Leadership isn’t about being good or bad. At least effective leadership isn’t. Afterall, a bad leader isn’t really a leader at all. They’re just a boss, dictating the rules of engagement. In the long run, that could get ugly. For example, low motivation and respect, which leads to higher attrition. The result, more recruitment and training. Instead, a leader works collaboratively and understands there’s no “I” in team. More than that, leadership sets you apart from blame cultures and commands.

Leaders are role models, someone to look up to. Effective leadership involves setting a clear vision and expectations. This is what facilitates a common purpose, but more than that. It inspires people to bring the best of themselves to work every day. Effective leaders appreciate difference and they develop and leverage the unique strengths of each person in their team.

Being good or bad are concepts, based on opinion and feelings. They’re both open to interpretation and individual to people and situations. Certainly, we have different styles, skills and personality traits. Broadly speaking, it’s possible to group common styles and traits. For example, democratic leaders make decisions based on the input of each team member. In contrast, autocratic leaders make decisions without seeking input. Learn more about the different leadership styles in Leading with Style: The Comprehensive Guide to Leadership Styles by Jonathan Sandling.

leaders versus bosses

What Makes You a Leader?

As a leader, you need to be able to identify with your team. They’re human, not just resources and so lead by example. It’s also important to create a safe environment. When things go wrong, don’t create a blame culture. Instead, develop your people through coaching so they can learn from mistakes. Equally, when things go well, give credit. By doing so, you increase motivation and create a more agile business.

A bad leader isn’t a leader. They’re just a boss. For example, someone who micromanages, criticises, is bossy or rude. Would that motivate and encourage you? Most importantly, managing by fear or bullying are not signs of leadership. Remember, people don’t leave companies, they leave bosses.

The Leadership Choice

In everyday life, we make choices and being a leader is no different. Simon Sinek, Management theorist believes “leadership is a choice, not a rank”. In Ted Talk: Why good leaders make you feel safe, Simon goes on to compare leaders with parenting. Afterall, parents and leaders want the same thing. For example, to nurture, develop and protect.

Leadership is a choice, but effective leadership embodies a win:win, proactive and collaborative approach. Most importantly, based on flexibility and change. To achieve true change, Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People believes there needs to be a fundamental shift in our attitudes and behaviours.

To change a situation, you also need to be open to change yourself. For example, imagine you have a client project that needs to be completed to a tight deadline. If you think the outcome isn’t doable, you might feel stressed, anxious or worried. However, if you change the way you think, you can change your perception of the ‘problem’. For example, make use of other resources or adjust the deadline, particularly if the goal posts have changed. Perceptions are key to changing attitudes and behaviours. As a leader, you’re responsible for setting the standards that others follow.

Leadership & Mindset

Your mindset affects your leadership choices. For example, imagine you’re having a bad day or not feeling your usual tip top self. Would you be quieter and more withdrawn than usual or more likely to snap at someone? Our mood and thus, mindset can dramatically affect our attitudes, behaviours and perceptions. Therefore, it’s important to be self-aware and understand what makes you tick.

Mindset is what defines who we are and what we do. Most importantly, it’s what drives your personal motivation. For example, your ambition, commitment and openness to improve. In the modern business world, you have constant pressures to keep up, let alone stay ahead. For instance, digital transformation, globalisation and organisational transformation. With this, leaders need to constantly adapt, which isn’t easy.

Leadership is about empowering and motivating your team. There may be times when you think you know best. However, when you empower your team, they become accountable and responsible for giving their best. Most importantly, it builds trust and cooperation. That doesn’t mean they will always get it right or do it exactly the way you would. Besides that, mistakes provide valuable lessons and opportunities for growth. Continuous learning and improvement is also an essential part of leadership.

Perception & Judgement

Myers Briggs is a well-known personality indicator questionnaire, which looks at the differences in how individuals use perception and judgement. For beginners, 16 Personalities is a good personality test introduction. Most importantly, it’s a free tool and only takes a few minutes to complete.

Generally speaking, you know if you lean towards an introvert/extrovert, social/solitary, visual/verbal/aural, logical etc. As a business owner, you’re a role model and you have a leadership responsibility. You’re showing your team and others, how you and your business operates. Most importantly, remember that your team and other people may see you differently. For example, you might not be aware of certain behaviours, the tone you use etc. Therefore, knowing your personality type can be a useful tool. Most importantly, you can use this information to facilitate change.

Leadership isn’t just about personality types though. It’s important to get the environment right too. Therefore, it’s important to create trust and cooperation inside your organisation. For example, by empowering others and collaborating and seeking feedback before making decisions. Then, employees start to feel a sense belonging, which is an intrinsic motivational need. See Maslow’s A Theory of Human Motivation. Remember, trust and a sense of belonging are feelings. They’re not tangible instructions because you can’t tell someone to trust you. It’s based on an individual’s opinions, which is generated and supported by attitudes, behaviours and perceptions.

The Impact of Technology and Process

The digital transformation has revolutionised the way we do business and how we communicate. A decade ago, the likes of Instagram, FaceTime and SnapChat didn’t exist. Social media tools now suit different demographics. For instance, Facebook has a more universal appeal, although predominantly used by the over 35’s. In contrast, Instagram has an actively young and loyal user base. Twitter on the other hand, has become more of a news source.

As a leader, you need to be able to communicate effectively. This means utilising the right tools and technology for your business. You need to be able to connect with virtual teams, whether they’re your own internal resources, partner organisations, suppliers and/or customers. It’s about adaptability and flexibility in order to keep up with change.

Technology has helped businesses automate and streamline processes. However, a good leadership mindset thinks outside of the box. For example, it’s important to remain flexible so you can help make your business efficient. Business processes are important, but equally they need to make sense. Consistency is one thing, but if your team create workarounds to get things done, you might need to look at business process improvements.

Further Support & Reading

Contact Maximum Solutions Consulting Ltd for business coaching and advice services in and around London.

If you’d like to find out more about your strengths, the Clifton StrengthsFinder is a very good tool. To get you started, you can also do the Strength Wheel Exercise.

In addition, the below reading is offered as a suggestion to support this blog post: