Cutting-Edge Leadership

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The Cardinal Sins of Bad Leaders: Revisiting Bosses From Hell

What are the worst sins that a leader can commit?

Since last year when I posted about bad leaders and "Bosses From Hell," I have been flooded with stories of bad leaders and the amazingly horrible things they do. From those stories (and from research on good/bad leadership), I'm going to discuss what I call the 4 Cardinal Sins of Bad Leaders.

1. Lying. Polls have shown consistently that the most admired leadership quality is honesty/integrity. So, it seems obvious that the first cardinal sin should be the opposite. When it comes to leading effectively, honesty is always the best policy, because once a leader is caught in a lie, followers lose trust, and with that, the effectiveness of the department or the organization.

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The worst lie I have heard lately was the bad boss who created a "strategic planning committee" for the department. The committee diligently set to work to help create an exciting future for the department. In the midst of many meetings, 0ne member met the boss's boss at a social function and commented on the strategic planning committee. The senior executive was surprised, "Your boss submitted a strategic plan to me weeks ago!" Not only did this lie break faith, it wasted the employees' time, and killed initiative to do anything for the leader again.

2. Bullying. I have to admit that I did not know how widespread bullying behavior at work is, until I really looked into it. When leaders bully, it is particularly sinful because of the power and control they have over employees. I was not surprised that much of the bullying discussion in those earlier blog posts included examples of bullying in academic settings, because academics are notorious for their use of politics and power - and bullying.

Perhaps one of the worst incidences was the professor who targeted a specific graduate student each year to "drive out" of the program - a serial bully. I know of several instances of department chairs threatening junior faculty with the loss of tenure. Bullying is particularly insidious and sinful.

3. Cronyism. The very best leaders surround themselves with the best employees - those with talent, motivation, and creativity. And, leaders should always maintain professional relationships with them. A cardinal sin is when a leader plays favorites, choosing friends for important positions over those who are more qualified.

I have heard of instances where a leader and his or her tight band of cronies have made departments a "living hell" for employees. They do everything to make their lives easier at the employees' and the organization's expense.

4. Neglect. You might be surprised that I consider this - what is termed laissez-faire leadership - a cardinal sin. But the leader's job is to lead, and those in leadership positions who neglect that job are, in my mind, negligent and "sinful" leaders. Companies and industries have died because of leader neglect.

So there they are, my cardinal sins of leaders. If you want to read about the flip side - and how good leaders can avoid these sins, check out my post "The Virtues of a True Leader." In the meantime, feel free to share stories (vent) about leadership sins you have encountered.

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http://twitter.com/#!/ronriggio

 

Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., is the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College.

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