Cutting-Edge Leadership

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The Five Most Common Ways Bosses Screw Up

Do you recognize your boss? Yourself?

Although there is much written about the right ways to lead organizations and work groups, far less attention is paid to how bosses and leaders can keep from screwing up. But if you want to know what leaders should NOT do, just ask their employees. I know, I tried this in my class as an exercise, and a short discussion of how bosses screw up, turned into a long one, and verified the most common reasons why leaders fail.

1. Under-communicating. It sounds crazy because so many leaders are always talking, but I'm referring to formal communication from the upper levels of the organization to the lower. Leaders need to ensure that employees throughout the organization know what is going on.

Sometimes, that's not easy. I know of a top-level executive team that spends an extraordinary amount of time meeting and strategizing about direction for the organization, but they neglect to inform the lower levels of management about new developments and initiatives. They're always surprised at how uninformed everyone below them is ("Why can't people get with the program?" Because you never told them!).

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2. Neglecting Human Resource Issues. Too often, top-level leaders leave human resource issues to the HR department. But employee morale, evaluation of performance, identification of high potentials, should be leadership issues. Effective leaders are in touch with what their followers think, know, and do. Leadership and HR should be inextricably interlinked.

One important point (and itis the most frequent complaint I hear from employees), is the treatment and use of "human resources." Leaders must treat employees humanely. Bullying, punishing, arrogance, even neglect, is the expressway to leadership failure.

3. Lack of Vision (or Shared Purpose). Leaders need to have a clear vision of where an organization is headed, and create a sense of shared purpose among all organizational members. Importantly, leaders need to constantly communicate the vision and shared purpose to everyone (see #1 above).

4. Lack of Transparency. From the employees' perspective, bad bosses are inconsistent, unpredictable, and perceived as having "double standards." Their followers are always wondering about the "hidden agenda." In their effort to control things, these bad leaders figure "what they don't know won't hurt them."

Effective leaders are transparent. They don't play games. They are straight and fair in their dealings with others, and they certainly wouldn't ask employees to do something they wouldn't do themselves.

5. Unwillingness to Change and Innovate. Far too many leaders and organizations have failed and disappeared because of an inability to adapt and innovate. "Staying the course." "It's my way or the highway" is the road to failure.

In order to be creative and adaptive, leaders need to ask the hard questions: "What are we (am I) doing wrong?" "How can we get better?" Leaders need to be open to different viewpoints and criticism from their followers. Continuous and critical self-evaluation is necessary for leaders and organizations to grow and innovate.

 

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

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