Throughout this series, we have explored a wide range of skills that are integral to performing well at the executive level. Think of these as positive lessons. There is much to be learned, however, by watching weak (to downright awful) executives at work. Think of these as the executive you never want to be. Look around; they’re out there.
Although it might be surprising, negative lessons have a way of resonating and reminding over the long term, perhaps serving as a guide to keep high potential executive candidates from wandering too far off the path. Since careers are long and the executive journey often includes many challenges, regular reminders and “check ins” are a good thing. Think of it as taking the time to gauge we’re you’re at and adjusting, as required.
One of the benefits of not being at the top of an organization is having a ringside seat to watch those who are. Make this time worth your effort, by learning from both good and bad leaders. Here’s a rundown of what you can learn from the “anti-bench strength” bunch.
Where it Goes Wrong (and Wrong, and Wrong)
Although there are lots of negative “leadership” examples, there are some fundamental types that you never want to emulate. See how many you can recognize from your career travels thus far.
- Not sharing the wealth: From taking credit for the ideas of others to making sure that team members never see the limelight for a job well done, these people seem to hold the view that anything (and everything) good that happens in an organization is because of them. Team members might let this behavior go by a time or two, but after that, it too often becomes apparent t hat this type of person is no better than a thief!
- Not having your back: This person gives the reassured impression that they’re “right behind you” and “on your side”, only to mysteriously evaporate at the first sign of trouble. Loyal to no one but themselves and always looking for opportunities, they’re like that person at a cocktail party who’s scanning the room while they’re supposed to be talking to you! Bottom line, this person can turn on a dime and cannot be counted on for support.
- Not minding their own business: Simply put, this person meddles in the work of others to no end. Instead of providing executive support, guidance, and direction when needed, they barge in where they aren’t needed; a disruptive force that, in time, runs the very real risk of creating a dependency between the organization and themselves, making the decision making ability of anyone else obsolete.
- Not resolving problems: When difficulties arise in an organization, the staff group counts on management to resolve the issue; good leaders understand this. Executives who kick the can down the road or listen to valid staff member concerns, but fail to take action can quickly lose the confidence of others. Staff members eventually come to recognize that the leader “won’t do anything about it”, resulting in disappointment, a lack of respect, and, often, departure.
- Not the learning type: If smart executives understand that knowledge is power and continuous learning at all levels is an investment, weak executives live with their head in the sand. Put off by smart and keen staff members, this person would rather limit their knowledge, claiming that they “know enough” or that their business “isn’t that complicated”. Organizations led by this type of person tend to become isolated, antiquated, and stuck in routines. Over time, they often lose their market position, due to leadership that resists what’s needed in order to keep up with those who know better.
- Not a nice person: Although it’s true that people can work together without really liking each other, on some level, the most basic of respect and decency are required to develop a relationship that can generate success. Leaders who are rude, insensitive, or just plain unpleasant to be around are ultimately unable to generate loyalty, no matter how well they do their job in technical terms (and competency is no excuse for bad behavior). Over time, staff members move on and word gets around that this is a person best left on their own, as it should be!
Although many executives who exhibit these behaviors thankfully don’t last long, enough time often passes for damage to be done; to companies, people, and sometimes, even more. Using interactions with weak leaders to your benefit is extremely worthwhile, as each lesson is a valuable one.
You have the opportunity to chart the career path you’d like to travel. Take the time to think about the type of leader you truly want to be, in terms of how you approach and conduct your role. Technical ability aside (knowing how to do the job is a given), when you think of a leader, who do you see?
The reality is, successful executives know that they are always on the path of their journey and never quite at their destination. There is much to learn, practice, and do, so take each step out to the very edge of your ability.