Great leadership isn't just about what you are doing right, it's about what you aren't doing wrong
Leadership experts Zenger Folkman analyzed data from 52,000 leaders and pinpointed 'fatal flaws'
Managers with even one of the identified bad habits had slim chance of making it to the top
Worst habit: Failing to motivate subordinates and inspire them to high levels of performance
Editor’s Note: John H. “Jack” Zenger is the co-founder and CEO of Zenger Folkman. He is a world expert in the field of leadership development, and is a highly respected and sought after speaker, consultant and executive coach. Joe Folkman is co-founder and president of Zenger Folkman. He is a respected authority on assessment and change, an acclaimed keynote speaker, and best-selling author.
In 1989 Steven R Covey wrote a business and self-help book titled, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” It became a chartbuster that influenced millions to believe that those seven habits would make them better leaders. In fact, these would make them highly effective leaders.
However, great leadership isn’t only about what you are doing right. It is also about what you’re not doing wrong. Just as there are habits that make leaders effective, there are habits that cripple them.
From the first day we published our research on strengths-based leadership, we have also stressed the importance of fixing the terrible habits we refer to as “fatal flaws.”
We found that when a manager possessed just one of these fatal flaws they had an extremely slim chance of making it into the top tier of leadership in their organization. Possessing two or more virtually guaranteed that they would not be in the top echelon of leaders.
We analyzed data from more than 52,000 leaders to determine which habits frequently received low scores. We sought to understand those behaviors that best differentiated between the worst leaders (e.g. the bottom 10%) versus all other leaders.
In other words, we identified the habits that were millstones around the leader’s neck and were most likely to cause them to sink to the bottom of the heap. Then we identified the items that had the most significant negative impact on employee engagement and led to failure in their current job. What emerged were 20 items that clustered in seven very bad habits.
Here’s the list in order, from the least to the most fatal:
Failure to Coach and Develop Others
Ineffective leaders get into the habit of focusing only on getting their jobs done. They fail to show concern for the development of a group of people who can get the job done in an ever more competitive world, and who will take over when they are no longer around.
Bad Role Model
Less effective leaders get in the habit of saying one thing and doing another. They firmly believe that it is appropriate to have one set of rules that apply to themselves and a different set of rules that apply to team members. After all, they are the boss. But this has a greater consequence than they think. Subordinates keep score of the number of times the leader says one thing and then does another.
Lack of Strategic Perspective
Ineffective leaders develop the habit of only looking down – they fail to look up or out. They are less comfortable considering the bigger picture or peering over a three-to-five year horizon. Having become comfortable in this small arena, it is hard to break away from their myopic view. This shortsightedness causes team members to focus only on the task at hand rather than the vision and mission of the organization.
Prefer Working Independently Instead of Collaborating
Ineffective leaders get into the habit of working independently. It requires less effort than collaborating with their peers. They so much enjoy having their own turf and building a silo in which to live that they fail to see the most important work occurs horizontally in an organization.
Resist Goals and Improvement
The twin demons of ineffective leaders are arrogance and complacency. These leaders develop a terrible habit of avoiding any personal development. They believe they must be wonderful or they wouldn’t have been promoted into a position of leadership. Worse yet, they conclude that they have reached their “peak” and self-development or stretch goals aren’t necessary, or that they are beneath them.
These leaders were not skilled at communicating insights and understanding of the issues or problems. Additionally, they struggled to provide others with any sense of direction or purpose. They either didn’t take the time or couldn’t communicate how their work contributed to the broader business objectives. When they do communicate it is a one-way channel with a loud speaker, but no listening device.
Failure to Inspire and Motivate Others
The number one most devaluing quality of ineffective leaders is their failure to motivate subordinates. Most leaders now how to push to get results, but fewer understand how to pull. Leaders with this bad habit of only pushing and not pulling, were described as autocratic and micro-managing. Others were described as unenthusiastic and passive. Energizing people and inspiring them to high levels of performance is the most challenging struggle for these ineffective leaders.
These sound like obvious flaws that any leader would try to fix. Would it surprise you to know that the ineffective leaders we studied were frequently oblivious to their own bad habits? They consistently rated themselves more positively in these areas than others did, and usually by a wide margin. They were suffering from self-awareness deprivation.
Maybe it is time to take a moment and analyze if you possess any of these fatal flaws or ask for candid feedback on your performance in these specific areas. There are many glowing habits that make a career successful, but beware of the ones that can make you fail.