April 2013

Stop Enabling Bad Leadership!

Are you enabling bad behavior?  Bad leadership behavior may get all the attention, but how much do we contribute as followers of those leaders?

I’m working with two leaders who are each exhibiting typical bad leadership behaviors that include emotional outbursts; a strong need to control and to keep everyone aware of how ‘smart’ they are.  And… they are both technically brilliant, with years of successful personal performance.

Their teams are responding as you would expect. Most are afraid to speak up, following blindly without questioning and becoming less and less engaged in the actual work. So what needs to happen here? Is the responsibility to change completely on the shoulders of the leader or are followers at least partially to blame if they enable these bad leadership behaviors to continue?  Barbara Kellerman, author of Bad Leadership, what it is, how it happens, why it matters, argues that leadership does not exist in a vacuum.  She says there are important aspects that include follower behaviors that enable bad leadership.  

While I’m not excusing bad leadership behaviors, my focus in this newsletter is to explore the concept of how, as followers, we may unconsciously enable the very behaviors we deplore.

My experience...

Many years ago, I personally experienced working for a leader who was both very intelligent and successful, and also very controlling with an ability to create daily moments of unnecessary drama coupled with an excessive need to be ‘right’.  As I look back on that situation I can see that our entire leadership team continued to enable her ‘less than effective’ leadership behavior in many ways. Because we all wanted to avoid this leader’s emotional ‘punishment’, we also avoided the kinds of personal behaviors that may have given this leader an opportunity to recognize her impact and make some changes. As many wise leadership coaches have pointed out, how we choose to respond to this type of leadership behavior can make a big difference, especially to ourselves.

I happily had the opportunity to experience this leader very differently before she left the company, because I consciously chose my approach and my response to her.  During an emotional drama-filled situation, instead of agreeing and colluding with her, I chose to respectfully challenge her position, and through my new-found confidence, I watched her behavior change in response to me. She calmed down and we actually had a constructive conversation about the situation that was troubling her. It was an eye-opener for me that through all those years I could have approached her very differently and perhaps may have been able to help her see the behaviors that disallowed her to be as effective as she could have been. At the very least, it would have helped my own stress levels and confidence in a big way.

At least half of my clients are those leaders whose bosses contact me to see if my coaching can somehow ‘fix’ this leader. Even the bosses of these leaders have a hard time confronting the leader bad behavior. In addition to determining if the leader is willing to become more self-aware,  I also insist on engaging the direct reports, since they have a major role and part in the process.  My role as a coach is to help that leader become crystal clear about their behavioral impact. But the reality is that the team must do the same, and they need to be willing to respond in new ways.  

Do you work for a leader with bad behaviors?

If you do and want to stay in your company, you have a couple of choices. You can either stay quiet, follow blindly, and hope for the best; or, you can take some steps to respond positively, with self-confidence and some new perspective to help you and the leader work better together.

Try these ideas:

  • De-personalize the relationship – don’t take this leaders’s behavior personally.  Remember that it’s hardly ever about you -  so check your perspective before you act on how you feel about it
  • Change your point of view –  check your own response first – are you looking at the overall big picture or only your perspective?
  • Understand the leader’s goals, pressures and objectives -  don’t fly blind when offering up your view points
  • Ask  your leader questions  – from a curiosity position and listen to the answers with the goal of learning something new that will allow you to understand and offer better solutions 
  • Recognize what’s present (what’s working) when you reach breakthroughs with your leader - how are you communicating and listening?

Sometimes just changing your point of view, and detaching emotionally from the situation can provide new clarity and understanding.

 "Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it." -Charles Swindol

 Struggling with leadership effectiveness or business change?
If you’re looking to enhance your leadership effectiveness and would like some help to get the results you’re looking to achieve, I’d love to talk with you. I help leaders to successfully navigate the challenges of making change to achieve the results they want. Visit my website www.terrihughes.com for details, free resources and to schedule a complimentary consultation to move you forward!



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