The Number One Failing of Really Useless Leaders

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Now I’;m sure you’;ve read Stephen Covey’;s excellent book ‘;The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’;. But if you have not, you should. It’;s an inspiring summary of the seven simple but motivational things you need to do to be an inspirational leader. And it can help you to build an inspirational leadership style.

But what about those people at the other end of the scale – those people who are not at all effective? Can we learn anything from them?

I believe we can, and this has led me to formulate ‘;The Seven Failings of Really Useless Leaders’;.

You will not do yourself any harm if you study the inspirational leaders – such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa. Do not get me wrong – these folks ARE inspiring. But copying other people blindly just does not work.

And the truth is we can learn far more, and far more quickly, from assessing the damage done by poor or appalling leaders. You see, we learn more more from our mistakes than the things we do well.

I’;m lucky. In my job as a business school professor I get to work with the best of the best. But I also hear about, and see, many things that do not work so well in firms: things that destroy value.

Now do not misunderstand me – I can not reveal the specific inside information from my coaching, teaching and consulting work – that would be unethical. But I can summarize for you the key things that seem to occur time and time again – things people do that have a direct impact on the bottom line. I CAN tell you about those.

To some people, the Seven Failings of Really Useless Leaders may be blindly obvious. But, believe me, my research shows me that there are THOUSANDS of managers every day who continue to DEMOTIVATE their teams and subordinates, destroying bottom-line value. They are uninspiring, to say the least.

So what are these poor leaders doing wrong? I believe their number one failing is: Really Useless Leaders kill enthusiasm.

I have discovered that uninspiring managers actively shut down the enthusiasm of their staff. Most people are naturally enthusiastic about their jobs: after all, it’;s what their training and experience have prepared them for. But we kill that natural enthusiasm by interfering far too much in the nitty-gritty of their day-to-day workload. ‘;Do not do it like that,’; I hear people say. ‘;Do it like this.’;

Why do we do this? The best leaders find the best people, train the heck out of them and let them get on with their jobs. Uninspiring managers hire good people and then tell them exactly how to do their job.

So why do we interfere too much? I believe what we’;re most worried about is only a question of style, how we think the work should get done. But, frankly, as long as the objectives are met – and met well – then who cares how?

Of course, in some roles – in the service industries – the style, the ‘;how’; of the task, is all that matters. But that does not mean that every little task needs to be micro-managed by us as leaders of the business.

Frankly, we have gotten to stop micro-management in its tracks if we want to boost the performance of our people. You buy 51% of your people’;s effort through their pay packet. But if you want that other 49% of effort, you’;re going to have to earn it.

Motivation and truly effective delegation are the answers. You’;ve got to know your people and you’;ve got to know how to motivate people. Let’;s take these one point at a time:

1. Know your people. One great idea is to issue a short questionnaire to your new recruitments – ask them these simple questions: how do you like to be managed? And how can I get the best from you? You give it to them during induction or the early days of their work with you and they complete it. You can then discuss the issues that raise and talk about your leadership style.

Why not use this with all your team? Issue the survey to your immediate direct reports and get them all to complete it.

The upshot is you’;ve got to know how your people are motivated – ‘;what do you need from me to get the best out of you?’; You’;ll probably be surprised by the answers you get.

2. Excite your people. If Really Useless Leaders kill enthusiasm, inspirational leaders must excite and enthuse their people. We know that enthusiastic workers, happy workers, are productive workers.

You must build a workplace where the climate is one where people are willing and able to invest their best effort. You have to set the scene, you have to lead the way. Because leadership is exciting other people to higher levels of performance.

If it’;s your job to deliver performance through others, then it’;s your job to create the enthusiasm. The key point to ask yourself is: do people know me as someone who can create enthusiasm in the workplace?