7 Telltale Signs of a Weak Leader
We're searching for top company cultures to be featured on our annual list. Think your company has what it takes? Apply Now »
Most people associate a weak leader with being docile, deferential, timid or meek. While that may have some merit, weak leaders can also be bombastic, egocentric, domineering, dictatorial and imperious. Even if you are successful at adding to the bottom line, bringing in new clients or developing new products and services, if people are not seeking you out or jockeying to be on your team, you are a weak leader.
Here are seven behaviors that beset a weak leader:
1. Your team routinely suffers from burnout.
Being driven and ambitious are important traits for successful leaders. However, if you are excessively working your people or churning through staff, than you are not effectively using your resources. You may take pride in your productivity by doing more with less, but today’s success may undermine long-term organizational health.
Crisis management can become a way of life that reduces morale and drives away or diminishes the effectiveness of dedicated people. With any business, there are times when you have to burn the midnight oil but it should also be accompanied with time for your team to recharge and refuel.
2. You avoid making the tough call.
A decision needs to be made and you are dancing around the situation. This can stem from the need to be 100 percent certain or not having confidence in your abilities. So you keep sending people off to find more facts in order to get as close to 100 percent as possible. Routinely you wait until the last possible moment so if the decision turns out to be off the mark you can say “we” ran out of time or “we” did not have all the information. In the meantime, you hold up the process and have people spinning their wheels searching for certainty (that more often than not does not’t exist) while other work is not getting done.
3. You do not provide adequate direction.
You are in a rush to get a project or assignment underway but you have not thought through what you want. You gather your team together for a quick kick-off meeting and start thinking out loud. Your meandering unfocused thought process leads to divergent tangents that are contradictory and leave people confused. At the end of the meeting, you still have not clearly communicated concrete goals and objectives and many murky areas are left open to interpretation. Ultimately, you’re leaving it up to the team to figure out and take the “I’ll know it when I see it approach”. As the team leaves the meeting they quietly whisper, “Here we go again”. Knowing the assignment will be a chaotic mess.
4. You belittle your team members in a public setting.
Dressing down someone on your team in a meeting or public setting is a fast track to a bad reputation as a leader. You may think that what someone did or said was stupid. Making a point of it in a meeting only demonstrates that you are unstable and a loose cannon.
Weak leaders will habitually demean others as a way of making themselves look or feel better. If someone is deserving of constructive criticism, do it in private. Creating a spectacle in a meeting in which you make everyone uncomfortable does not put you in power position. Quite the contrary, good people will not tolerate such actions and you will be left with a feeble team that will deliver mediocre results because they are afraid of you.
5. You make commitments but do not follow through.
You routinely swoop into an important client meeting, and to assert your position, you seize the moment with grand gestures and assurances that you will personally see certain actions through. This makes you look good for the moment but once you have received your glory with the client there is no follow through on your promise(s). You move on to the next big thing and the rest of the team is left to pick up the slack and figure out how to address what the client thinks is a done deal. Over time, this is will diminish your credibility and people will view you as all talk and no action.
6. You ask multiple people to work on the same request independently.
This may seem like a good idea since you will have more to choose from and a greater probability it will get done to your satisfaction. However, when people find out, they will feel angry and frustrated because you have pulled multiple people away from their regular assignment to work on your special project. This is especially damaging if you do not use someone’s work. It will signal that you do not trust either of them enough to do the job. Or it will mean you take a scattershot approach to managing the business hoping that something will stick. In either case, it will begin to erode your leadership position.
7. You don’t provide honest feedback.
In order not to hurt someone’s feelings, or to keep them happy, you do not provide truthful actionable feedback. This can be about their performance, likelihood of being promoted or whether you see them as a long-term player on your team or with the company. By skirting the issue you create unrealistic expectations for the person on your team and confusion when implied promises are not kept. Left unchecked, people will place little credence in what you say assuming everything that comes out of your mouth is a half-truth. Providing tough, yet fair, feedback is a hallmark on a strong leader. In the long run, people will appreciate your candor.
Being a strong leader requires equal amounts of self-awareness, self-management and humility.