Assigned to report to Liz, I silently groaned. She had a reputation for being a heartless workaholic. All the people above her loved her, and the word on the street was that those who worked for her hated every moment. At least we worked in consulting which meant I’d have a new assignment soon enough.
Looking back, I can better understand the arrogance and the feeling she was “playing manager” because she was. She probably had five years in the workforce, and I was mere months into my new shiny career as a change management consultant. As much as I was learning on the job, she was too.
At our company, they diligently taught us the skills we needed to be successful but spent little to no time on how to manage people. Either you intuitively picked it up along the way, had a mentor or role model who was a skilled leader, or you were out of luck.
Months before I had the pleasure of working for Liz, another consultant who reported to her had an unexpected death in her family. Liz gave her a long weekend off but didn’t understand why she wasn’t back the next week. As the story passed around the office, Liz’s reputation among the next generation of consultants set in stone. She was a cold person (we didn’t say it that nicely) who thought that the only things in life that mattered happened at the office.
Liz and I worked together for nearly six months, and over that time I learned what not to do as a leader but also saw that for all of her faults, she had strengths but no mentor to help her build on them.
I’ll always appreciate that Liz was the first person to hand me a copy of HR Magazine and suggest that it aligned with many of my interests. She also encouraged me to become a member of the Association for Talent Development. Most importantly, she was passionate, never said a bad word about anyone behind their back, and did good work.
Still, for all of those lovely qualities, she had some shockingly bad leadership habits. I understood how she earned her reputation.
5 Bad Leadership Habits that Hurt Your Team’s Success
1. Are You Done?
Liz and I shared a small office. She’d often assign me a task and then check in countless times to see if I was done, hours, if not minutes later. The pressure felt immense. Some small tasks could be turned around quickly, but others took research, creativity, and stretching my know-how. I felt slow and inadequate although it was far from the truth.
Instead of pestering someone asking if they’re done, communicate a deadline and give them a reasonable amount of time to get it done. Also be clear that if they need support, you’re there to help – all they need to do is ask.
2. Not Sharing the Full Story
After a senior team meeting, Liz would often come back with a to-do list that we needed to split up to complete. The challenge was that I ended up doing work in a vacuum – for example, compiling spreadsheets without a clear understanding of how they’d be used. My exposure was limited and as a result, so were my deliverables and professional growth.
Context matters, and so does an understanding of the overall program. When people know where they fit and how the work they’re creating will be used to forward the vision, they get invested. In addition, people are able to suggest new solutions and approaches based on their expanded understanding.
3. Vacation a Dirty Word?
Liz never took vacation during an assignment, only between assignments. I also tried to do that, but the end of consulting projects were sometimes hard to predict, especially when the goal was follow-on work. When Liz was informed that the people who reported to her were taking a vacation, it was usually met with, “Oh, really?” and a humble brag about how little of her PTO time she used throughout the year.
Encourage your team members to take vacation! Everyone, including you, needs to relax and recharge to be and do their best work. If the work will fall apart because someone is out of the office, there’s a problem that goes deeper than vacation time away.
4. Do It Like This
Instead of assigning me tasks and outlining what we needed to deliver, Liz was a fan of the details. Thinking was optional on my part, and if I didn’t follow her directions to a T, I was at risk for an earful and hours of revision.
The people on your team were hired for a reason – let them do their job. People want to think and be challenged. You can certainly give them ideas on how to be successful and outline your expectations but leave room for creative thinking. Nobody wants to work somewhere that they need toothpicks to keep their eyes open because they’re so bored.
5. I’ll Know It When I See It
When Liz did let go and give me a vague idea of what she wanted, I quickly learned that it was an indication that she didn’t think it through – yet. The problem was, by the time I handed her my draft, she already had her red pen in hand. We went through countless revision cycles as we chased her muddy vision.
Have a vision before you dole out tasks. When there’s no vision, it’s the equivalent of asking people to feel around in a dark room wearing a blindfold. A shared vision saves time, increases focus and enables solutions to move forward. Drop wishy-washy, have a vision, and share it.
Working for Liz wasn’t the worst ever despite her bad leadership habits. Luckily, she rolled off the project before I did and I had an opportunity to grow and shine working for other people on the same engagement.
There are many leaders out there at the top of the food chain with bad leadership habits. The challenge is that they’re likely blind to their deficits and some don’t care all that much because heck, they’ve gotten promoted time and time again. They must be doing something right.
In truth, they probably are doing a lot right but bad leadership habits ultimately erode employee engagement, innovation and create an org culture where people come second. Think about it… people have choices and don’t have to stick around where the culture stinks.
What bad leadership habits would you add to this list?