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4 Signs You Have Room to Improve As a Leader

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The majority of leadership articles tend to focus on the positive traits and attributes that contribute to highly-effective leaders.


That's great and all, but what about those ineffective leaders who don't realize they're lousy at leading.

If you've spent any appreciable amount of time in a business setting you've seen or worked for one of these uninformed individuals.

Are you one of them? And how would you know?

The truth is that very few executives have the moral courage or fortitude to speak the truth to the top boss when that individual is a lousy leader. It's the classic story of the Emperor's New Clothes -- the clueless leader doesn't realize their supreme levels of lousiness.

To help, here's a quick check list of signs that your leadership approach is unimpressive.

1. You have only one leadership gear.

The demands on leaders are daunting. They need to make the toughest decisions, solve the thorniest problems, deal with the crankiest customers and manage the messiest issues.

This variety of demands requires a fluency and fluidity of various leadership style applications.

A management consultancy firm, The Hay Group, has identified six distinct leadership styles: directive, visionary, affiliative, participative, pacesetting and coaching. The best leaders, whatever their dominant leadership preference from that list, can readily flex their management style across this leadership spectrum depending on a variety of situational dynamics.

Lousy leaders tend to use only one of these styles all the time. These types of leaders are "hammers" who believe that every problem is a nail -- that's a sign of a lousy leader.

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2. You tend to motivate by fear.

There are a variety of ways to motivate employees. Good leaders motivate their teams in many ways -- inspiring them to a noble purpose; building an esprit de corps; striking a competitive spark; mapping a path to a better tomorrow; appealing to a powerful emotional response -- just to name a few.

The worst leaders motivate by fear. This type of leadership style is embodied in quote by Chazz Palminteri's character "Sonny" in the 1993 movie A Bronx Tale when he tells his young protégé, "'s nice to be both [loved and feared], but if I had my choice - I would rather be feared. Fear lasts longer than love."

If you're nodding your head to that quote and aspire to the Tony Soprano style of leadership, you've probably identified a developmental gap in your leadership style.

Related: Lessons for the New CEO From 5 Great Leaders of History

3. You push others to the rear.

One of the best business books ever written is Good to Great, by Jim Collins, who introduced the concept of Level 5 Leadership. It is a paradoxical blending of professional drive and humility. He states that these pinnacle leaders demonstrate humility, will, ferocious resolve and a willingness to accept blame for negative issues and give credit to others for positive outcomes.

Lackluster leaders tend to seek success and the spotlight at the expense of others -- ultimately to their own individual detriment.

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4. You won't listen to what you don't want to hear.

The quickest path to failure is to not listen.

Lazy leaders have this skill nailed and they're destined to fail as a result. Any executive who doesn't seek out and hear input from their key stakeholders, such as employees, customers, relevant third parties or a board of directors, won't last.

Those stakeholders hold golden insights toward your organization's future -- ignore them at your own risk.

Nobody wants to work for a lousy leader, but leaders don't want to admit when they're lousy.

Awareness is the key to change and without that key bad leaders will remain locked in their confining pattern of lousy behaviors.

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