After multiple instances of hearing me perpetually crib about my work, a friend of mine recently asked me, ‘What is it that really irks you so much?’ This simple question really drove home a point, and forced me to ponder on specifics which made waking up for office everyday such an incredible ordeal.
The answer to this onerous question hit me like a ton of bricks shortly afterwards- Bad Leadership.
I know, you might think that the above is the most common reason for dissatisfaction at work. I won’t contest otherwise, it is. However, being such a crucial, yet intrinsic part of our work-life, quite often we may not fathom the huge impact it creates on us, on a daily basis. It is a fact that most workplaces are only as capable as their leader. However, not everyone has the good fortune to work with a leader who is inspiring, capable and motivating.
Since there isn’t any ‘A dummy’s guide to good leadership’ available in the numerous aisles dedicated to corporate life in bookshops, I shall share with you my two cents on the few traits you will recognise in bad leaders. Of course, this is not a laundry list, (if you maintain one, do share), it is just an amalgamation of the various behaviours displayed by a ‘leader’ which in my opinion lead to toxicity at the workplace:
Lack of Adaptability: All those at a leadership position possess a particular leadership style. Most of them fall in the quadrant ‘Dominance’ of Marston’s four-quadrant model. Yet, the true sign of greatness is when the leader can recognise that their team almost always comprises of members whose strengths can be ‘Influence’, ‘Conscientiousness’ or ‘Steadiness’, and consequentially they are motivated by different factors. A fatal flaw is when the leader is incapable of recognising these minute traits and are not fluid in their approach. Instead, they will try to justify their behaviour by claiming that they have had this particular leadership style for x years, hence they can’t expected to change, or worse yet, they exhibit a ‘my-way-or-the-highway’ attitude.
Lack of Leadership: This is the most common form of incompetence displayed by leaders. Employees require leaders who provide substantive advice, and not platitudes. They crave the feeling of being relevant. You may find leaders who have been promoted into management, and enjoy the privileges and rewards of a leadership role, but avoid meaningful involvement with their teams. This may sound ideal, but leads to a deadly feeling of role ambiguity. You may be receiving a lot of feedback, but none of them are really impactful to your work or your professional growth. Hence, job satisfaction dwindles, work stress increases and self-esteem can take a blow.
Lack of Clarity: Sure, all ideas aren’t fully developed in their nascent stages and can undergo multiple iterations until fruition. It often occurs that the leader’s boss has communicated an idea or a deliverable to them. This half-baked idea is then percolated to the leader’s team who are simply expected to ‘get it done’. Lack of clarity invariably leads to lack in communication. The team members are petrified to ask their boss of what actually needs to be done (why team members need to be petrified to better perform their job also needs to be pondered on). What actually happens is this- From the outset, the leader in question does not have a clear idea of what his/her boss wants. However, this cannot be under any circumstance, be made known (What will the big boss think? That I couldn’t teleport into his brain and figure out exactly what he was thinking? Blasphemous to say the least). This same attitude is now displayed towards their team members. They in turn, are now expected to completely understand the expectations laid on the table, with double the pressure because its not just your boss, but your super boss’ deliverables which are at stake here. I'm sure you can see how vicious this cycle can get, with dire consequences for the team members.
Lack of Transparency: Humans have an uncanny ability to sniff out mistruths. If leaders are withholding information, or even misrepresenting the truth, employees will find out. This shatters trust, and without trust, people quickly become disenchanted and respect dwindles. This also has another facet to it. If you’re a leader, employees will not treat you like another employee. You’re one of the most senior people in your company, hence employees will not be as willing to voice their honest opinions and feedback to your ideas. If you don’t ask for completely honest feedback, chances are you almost always will never receive it. Thus, it is so important to really listen to those who speak up, and not penalise them for not resounding with your idea. As a good leader, the conversation must be approached with inquiry, rather than simply advocating your own opinion and pointing out how employees are wrong.
Lack of Trust: Even as a leader, you can’t be expected to be a subject matter expert in every part of the job. Hence, you hire different people who are specialists in multiple domains and who bring diversity of thought to the business. So, leave your team members to their job, and trust that they shall bring their best to the table. Challenge them when necessary and take frequent updates. But do not second-guess their integrity, or worse, make your apprehension public. No one likes being micro-managed, but it's even worse if a leader fundamentally lacks faith in an employee’s opinions and expertise. It is demoralising and stunts the professional growth of the individual. Don’t get me wrong. Constructive feedback is highly solicited and welcome. But, critiquing every idea or every step of the job done by the employee, just to display your deep knowledge of the field, or your inherent lack of faith is frustrating and patronising. ‘Pushing back’ is an oft-used term by leaders to show that they are mentally engaging with your idea and encouraging you to think deeply on the subject. But now, this term has been used and abused. All forms of unwarranted criticism is veiled within is phrase.
Least said, being a leader isn’t easy. It requires a well rounded skill-set that is difficult to come by. Understandably, there are other attitudinal incongruencies which differentiate a bad leader from an ideal one, let’s deliberate on the above to at least start recognising a toxic leader.
As future leaders, let’s refuse to internalise such behaviours and give the upcoming workforce a better time in the corporate world than we have received. Let’s make a conscious change together.