In this leadership blog series, I'll be touching on some of the warning signs that a leader is in serious trouble and may not even know it.
1) The “Back in My Day” Mentality; or the “New & Shiny” Style
“We’ve always done it this way” is said to be the most dangerous phrase in the business lexicon, but that doesn’t mean you’re in any safer hands with the leader who lives by the mantra, “We’re doing it because it’s the latest trend.” These two views actually share the same underlying logic: social conformity over situational context. Ultimately, all business practices, dealings and decisions should be assessed on their individual merits, and not based solely on past precedent or the newest fashion.
2) Team Members Don’t Feel Comfortable Looking Stupid
Many well-known leadership writers and motivational theorists have highlighted psychological group safety as a foundational element in human flourishing, including Abraham Maslow (Hierarchy of Needs), Patrick Lencioni (5 Dysfunctions of a Team), Brene Brown (The Power of Vulnerability) and Simon Sinek (Leaders Eat Last). It's an ominous sign for the leader when the team is not seen openly disagreeing for fear of conflict, nor heard admitting fault for fear of reprisal. These vulnerability-based norms begin at the top.
3) Low Standards of Accountability
Having clear and well-defined standards doesn't mean much if people aren't held accountable when boundaries are crossed—both for poor performance and for inappropriate behaviour. All too often we hear stories about leaders who are reluctant to do anything about underperformers, while separately excusing inappropriate behaviours from high performers. These seemingly small acts of non-intervention can lead to what is known as the "normalisation of deviance" in which boundary lines are allowed to drift, gradually and without notice, far from their starting points. To quote a line from a famous anti-misogyny speech by Lt. General David Morrison, "The standard you walk past is the standard you accept."
4) Double Standards
In global surveys of most important leadership traits, integrity repeatedly tops the list. The antithesis of integrity is hypocrisy. Very few things get under people’s skin quite like a leader with double standards: the non-walker of one’s talk; the standard giver but non-standard bearer; the public judge and private offender. If there is a leadership style that is sure to kill trust faster and harder than any other, it is the double standards style—typified by the type of leader who signals "do as I say, not as I do."