The 11 worst habits of less good leaders

Dave Allen comments on the bad leadership habits he's observed over the years

A great response to the 10 good habits of leaders. What seems to have really resonated with folks is that these observations are real work life experiences and not an academic study. Also no surprise I got lots of questions around what are the worst habits I have come across. So here are my 11 worst habits of less good leaders ( I tried to get to 10).

If you are moving into your first leadership role, it’s worth spending some time thinking whether you display any of these as you start out on the difficult task of leading people.

Right then. The less good leaders...

1. Care too much about what people think of them

Craving being liked, as opposed to being respected, is a huge potential flaw in any leader. Bad leaders seek continual reassurance and love to have their ego massaged. This makes them an easy target for the clever executive who knows how to use this weakness to get what they want. And caring too much about what people think of you can fundamentally inhibit your ability to take potentially unpopular decisions Tweet this.

2. Are climbers

The 'media-luvvie' CEO is a new type of leader that I have seen emerge over the last 20 years. It is a by-product of our TV and social-media dominated world. No doubt being a CEO, especially of a major corporation or a hot startup, can open doors to all sorts of networking opportunities. But far too many leaders fall foul of spending too much time building their personal network when they should be building the business Tweet this. And beware: a visible media profile won’t protect you from difficult questions if the organization runs into trouble.

3. Blame others for their errors

This is the single biggest failing of a poor leader – they are always on the lookout for scapegoats Tweet this. If the numbers are bad it is not their fault, it will be someone else’s responsibility, and they won’t hesitate in telling everyone that. They find it almost impossible to admit they are accountable for any form of failure. They build structures that allow them to easily apportion blame to an individual, and are very quick and happy to move people out and replace them with the next scapegoat.

4. Have a purpose, ambition and strategy for themselves

This is almost a cardinal sin. Bad leaders are those who appear to be more interested in their personal ambition rather than that of their organization Tweet this. These guys surround themselves with people who could help them be better leaders – but then make these advisors work on personal, ego-driven projects that are career enhancing rather than business improving. They see their current job as a stepping stone, and are hell bent on maximizing their potential as an individual. Which inevitably leads to the following:

5.  Have ‘2-year CVs’.

Bad leaders are masters at timing when to move on. They have what I call ‘the 2-year CV’ – displaying many roles which each have lasted no more than 2-3 years. And each time they do move, they seem to be able to move up the ladder to a bigger job, without fail.

6. Are very good at managing up

A bad leader knows which side their bread is buttered. So they are great with the investors, the shareholders and the board, being able to tell a great success story – one that often freely takes other peoples ideas which became their own. And yet while they know how to keep the right people happy, they seem unable to put the same effort into keeping their employees, or people less powerful than them on side.

7. Give you their opinion – a lot

Bad leaders are somehow magically able to become immediate experts on just about everything Tweet this. They have an opinion on pretty much all topics, one they declare to be more correct than any expert view, and they then proceed share their insight with everyone, repeatedly. You might feel that their opinion is correct, so convincing is their delivery. But beware – and so should their organisation, as decisions are often taken with an unshakeable belief in their certainty.

8. Hide behind jargon

This is a classic giveaway of someone who is not yet ready to lead, and displays their insecurity by resorting to using opaque terminology that many people in their audience are unlikely to know or understand. They like to express their power by suggesting that only they can translate the ‘difficult’ language they use – without realizing that it actually puts people off.

9. Don't know what they don't know – or won't admit it

These are people who hate to be challenged ‘in the room’ and will actively remove people from their team who have the temerity to do that. They find it impossible to admit what they don't know, fearing a supposed loss of face or status. This makes them very dangerous because you – and the organization –could be fooled that you are in the hands of someone with a lot of expertise.

10. Often don't do what they say they will do

This is the really infuriating trait, and very frustrating when you encounter it. The unreliable leader. The leader who thinks they are so important they can turn up whenever they like. It is so annoying because they don’t understand that leadership is about commanding mutual respect, and status is only temporary. Bluntly – I won’t walk over hot coals for someone who I can’t trust on such a basic requirement.

11. Deliver erratic performance and poor numbers over the long term

This is the ultimate test, and the arena in which most bad leaders finally get found out. Whilst they come over as confident and clear, their numbers will always give them away. Fundamentally, bad leaders don't deliver consistent performance.

All of the above is based on personal observations formed over 30 years of working with many contrasting leadership styles in organizations of different types and sizes.

Please don’t think that I’m in anyway implying that it’s easy to be or become a good leader. As someone who has led businesses for a large part of my career, I know how difficult it can be to inspire people and take difficult decisions, and then to do so day after day after day.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t incumbent on those of us who do lead, or aspire to, to try to be better Tweet this. Our purpose as leaders fundamentally is about the desire to get better at leading.

Armed with the 10 good habit and the 11 less good you should be able to develop your leadership skills. I wish every reader every success as they strive to be a good leader.

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