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Shoddy Leadership – Part 2: The Three Worst Leadership Styles

peak performance-dougby Doug Wilson, Columunist & Featured Contributor

Editor’s Note: See Part 1 of Doug’s Series on Shoddy Leadership HERE

[su_dropcap style=”flat”]I[/su_dropcap]F LEADERSHIP WERE a corporation, it would rival cable companies and airlines in customer dissatisfaction. Leadership is in disrepute but, to be fair, leadership is a difficult profession and evaluating leadership is not easy. First, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If one person does not like a leader’s action, that leader is horrible; if another person likes the leader’s action, the leader is fantastic. Second the timeframe over which a leader is evaluated is important. Leaders may be evaluated on a decision by decision, action by action basis (not the focus of this article). Under this scrutiny every leader will be, at times, deficient. The second timeframe evaluates leadership performance over the long haul. In this case leadership may vacillate over time but will generally (not always) revolve around a consistent style.

Causes of Shoddy Leadership

Leadership is also difficult because its foundation has three critical dimensions. How well these dimensions are collectively performed determines if leadership is excellent or shoddy.

The first dimension is ethics (character issue). Leaders who practice their trade unethically will produce shoddy results no matter their competence or style. Cover-up actions will be taken to mask unethical or corrupt behavior. While most leaders do not have an issue with ethics, we have seen recent examples (Veterans Administration, IRS and GM) where unethical behavior was the root cause of shoddy leadership. Since this is a character issue, leadership development will produce little or no results for unethical leaders who are interested in getting his or her way, ethics or values be damned.

The second dimension is competence (capability issue). Leaders who are incompetent may be promoted into leadership positions by virtue of longevity or favoritism. The leader may also be incompetent because they have never learned how to lead. While this leader may possess book knowledge, they are inept at applying leadership concepts to achieve desired results. This problem is growing in magnitude as a generation of leaders recites leadership buzz words and the latest “fad” but is incapable of applying concepts to other than routine situations. This situation will continue to frustrate staff because leadership believes that excellent leadership techniques have been used when the result is exactly the opposite.

The third dimension is the leader’s belief about people and productivity (philosophy issue). In part 1, Douglas McGregor challenged leaders, “Do people and productivity mix?” This question forms the basis of a leader’s philosophy which ultimately determines leadership style. There are three possible answers to McGregor’s question. The first response is that people and productivity do not mix and therefore, the leader must choose which area will be the focus. This belief leads to three shoddy leadership styles.

3 Shoddy Leadership Styles Resulting from a Belief That People and Productivity Do Not Mix.

Leadership Style 1: People and Productivity Do Not Mix: I Choose Productivity

This leader wants to maximize results and, therefore believes that it is his or her responsibility to insure that work is performed to their level of expectation. As a result, the leader must oversee every detail. People are simply a tool to achieve results and cannot be trusted to achieve results. This leader will demonstrate the following behaviors:

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  1. “My way or the highway” mentality
    • Questioning is insubordination
    • Immediate response to requests or orders is required
    • Centralized decision making
  2. One way downward communication
  3. Conflict is seen as childishness and therefore is treated with decisive leadership action
  4. Throw new employees into the fray; the good ones will swim and the bad ones will sink
  5. Micromanagement – details are important and to be done as the leader wishes
  6. When mistakes are made, place blame; when problems occur, it is the employee’s fault
  7. High quality is expected; never recognize it
  8. Innovation comes from the leader only[/message]

This style is not always a fire-breathing, in-your-face approach. There is also a benign, benevolent autocrat who views employees as his or her children. All the leader’s “children” are protected by the leader but none of them better “cross” the leader.

Long term result: Unless this person is a one of a kind genius (Rickover, Jobs), better than average results will seldom be achieved. Staff learn not to think or act without the leader’s direction. As a result, there will be high energy when the leader is present but “goofing off” when he or she is not around. Most mere mortals cannot use this style effectively over any period of time. This leader will often not be liked as a person, but will be respected in one sense: he or she will honestly and directly tell people what he or she thinks of them and their work.

Leadership Style 2: People and Productivity Do Not Mix: I Choose People

This leader wants to be liked. He or she comes from the human relations school in which care for the employee is the preeminent leadership task. This style is one of the most dangerous because this leader will tell people what they want to hear. (This may be one of the worst things a leader can do to knowledge workers). When employees compare stories they find they are all being told different information and trust and respect will deteriorate. Finally, this leader is thrilled with the happiness movement because in his or her mind the key to high productivity is keeping employees happy. This leader demonstrates the following behaviors:

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  1. Set goals so that all employees can reach them.
  2. Everyone should like each other and always get along. (The group is a country club).
  3. Conflict is handled by pouring oil on troubled water (pretends the issue will be addressed and then ignores it and hopes it will disappear)..
    1. Conflict is driven under ground
    2. When there is a problem, this leader often addresses it with a personal plea (won’t you do it for me?)
  1. Performance evaluation and feedback is always positive.
  2. Salary increases are given to all employees because all tried hard.
  3. When problems occur, it is never the fault of an employee.
  4. Innovation is discouraged unless the group agrees since no person can look better than the rest.[/message]

Long term results: Over time this style can only achieve minimal performance at best. This leader is often liked as a person but not respected as a leader. This leader is viewed as weak since decisions are made by taking the pulse of the group rather than doing what is right. Additionally this leader wants a happy workforce and but an unhappy, de-motivated workforce is the result..

Leadership Style 3: People and Productivity Do Not Mix: I Choose Neither

This leader is often called “mentally retired”. He or she may have one day or twenty years to retirement but the leader has quit trying. This person no longer wants the role of leader but he or she cannot afford to leave the position. As a result, the following behaviors are demonstrated:

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  1. Goals remain the same from year to year unless dictated by upper management or an individual employee chooses to do something different. (This leader won’t care).
  2. Pass the buck. If senior management has a problem with the work, the leader will point fingers at the employees. If employees have complaints, the leader points the finger at upper management.
  3. Protect oneself from responsibility; “You can’t blame me if I was not there” is his/her mantra.
  4. Provide no direction, guidance, communication or feedback to the employee – “read the manual” will be the highest level of direction.[/message]

Long term results: Unless this situation is addressed by senior management, the entire unit will eventually morph into a “mentally retired” mindset as this is the only type of employee that can co-exist with this style. Because this leader has given up, it will be a very frustrating place for employees to work. The one exception is a highly talented employee who builds relationships with senior management and is given opportunities beyond his/her pay grade. This person will eventually be promoted or leave, soon becoming frustrated with doing the manager’s work (and not getting the pay).

The Problem: Is It Good To Be Consistent With A Bad Style?

Each of these styles of leadership creates the situation where 1 + 1 < 2. Each style sub-optimizes the time, talent and resources entrusted to that leader. None of the three styles will build great organizations. But if the leader uses the style consistently, at least employees know what to expect and can adapt.

But there is a worse problem. Many leaders use all three styles daily. They treat one staff member with one style and a second staff member with a second, different style. They perform one function of their job using one style (i.e., autocratic decision making) and another function with a different style (i.e., performance evaluations conducted by employees on each other with no input from the leader). This inconsistency causes great consternation to employees who are constantly confused by an inconsistent leader alternating between a high concern on productivity and a high concern for people. See The Boring Trait Google Looks For In Leaders.

Each of these 3 leadership styles stems from the basic belief that people and productivity do not mix which is a Theory X leadership philosophy (see part 1). When one understands that each of these three styles have a common philosophical belief, it is easier to understand (but not to justify) how a leader can switch among such diverse styles.

Result? All three of these leadership styles do short and long term damage to organization and staff and rank as shoddy leader workmanship .

Coming Next: Shoddy Workmanship – Part 3: The Most Common Leadership Style

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