5 Things to Learn From Bad Leaders

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I saw one of those motivational parody posters once that said, “Mistakes: It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others.”

I feel that the same can be said of the nightmare managers and bad bosses we have all had in our careers.

One thing that leaders can do to avoid running a company into the ground is let people tell them the truth.

Here are 5 things you can learn from bad leaders.

1. Bad leaders don’t listen

No one sets out to be a bad leader. Even incompetent or emotionally-injured people generally want to do a good job.

And perhaps more often than not, people don’t realize that they aren’t good leaders. Speaking truth to power is difficult and uncomfortable and possibly risky, so people don’t generally tell their managers how they really feel.

If the manager has created an environment where bad news doesn’t get shared, then no one is going to share the news that the leader is bad.

I once asked a CEO boss of mine what was the one thing that leaders could do to avoid running a company into the ground (a time-worn description we have all heard to describe the work of a value-destroying CEO), and he said, “Let people tell you the truth.”

This means creating the right environment of humility and openness, and getting the right people.

2. Bad leaders make bad hires

Bad leaders often hire people who are like them — people who think like them, have similar temperaments, experiences, or even the same alma mater.

Sometimes that works out great because of the comradery and teamwork that develops. But more often, the corner office becomes an echo chamber where new ideas, fresh approaches and alternative views can’t be voiced.

3. Bad leaders don’t fire fast enough

Driven by ego (or naïve optimism that things will miraculously get better for no rational reason), bad leaders don’t like to admit they have made bad hires, and they are more likely to hold onto a poor performer until a lot of damage has been done — not only the opportunity cost to the business or the direct impact of mistakes, but also damage to the credibility of the leader.

4. Bad leaders do the wrong things well

Sometimes leaders can get so fixated on the process, continuous improvement and infrastructure required to scale the business that they forget the value of the business as perceived by their customers. This can lead to the automation of processes that make the company worse.

I have been part of improvement initiatives that assumed the way we were doing something was right and we just had to speed it up or make it less labor intensive, only to find out that it was a waste of time and resources. So we just found a better and faster way of wasting money.

Leaders should know which products make them money, which customers have the best overall lifetime value, and what campaigns or initiatives have delivered the most tangible results in recent times.

5. Bad leaders do the right things poorly

Finally, leaders who rose through the ranks on their technical merits or intellectual prowess might find themselves ill-equipped for the soft-skills part of their job. In his book Emotional Intelligence, author Daniel Goleman outlines why being able to identify and empathize with others is a better predictor of success than IQ.

Bad leaders don’t have the necessary skills to deal positively with conflict, defuse tense situations, provide clear direction in the face of uncertainty, and truly lead.

The good news about these characteristics is that they aren’t set in stone. Being a bad leader isn’t fixed in the stars or determined like a person’s height or eye color. These are things that can be developed and with mentoring, thoughtful consideration and work. If you want to be a good leader, strive for it.

This article was originally posted on The Business Journals.