The Anti-Leader: How Bad Leaders Get Everything Wrong

What is an anti-leader?

Posted Nov 05, 2009

I'm coaching a professional colleague who is encountering the very worst sort of leadership imaginable. The tales of this leader's bad and vicious behavior are truly remarkable. In an effort to better understand how such bad leadership operates, I thought of this: Let's take a theory of good leadership - transformational leadership - and flip it around. If bad leadership is the opposite of good leadership, then we should be able to take the components of transformational leadership and see how this exceptionally bad leader does the opposite.

So, here goes. The first component of transformational leadership is idealized influence. The good leader is a positive role model and deals fairly with followers. The good leader "walks the talk," and would never put personal gain over the needs of the followers. This anti-leader does the opposite. She demands complete, unquestioning loyalty, and never shares how or why decisions are being made. She plays favorites, and rewards blind loyalty with perks. Rather than portraying that she is proud to lead this group, she says, "they don't pay me enough to deal with the likes of you."

The second component of transformational leadership is inspirational motivation. The good leader is optimistic and uses a positive, compelling vision to inspire followers and spur them to better performance. This anti-leader tells followers who were faced with budget cuts, "just don't work so hard; do only what is necessary to get by." And, the leader's style is punitive. Nothing kills motivation faster than getting punished for any misstep, and never getting rewarded for positive behavior.

Transformational leaders use intellectual stimulation to spur followers to be creative and "think outside the box." The anti-leader tells followers to "just do the basics; follow the rules and don't question my authority or the way things are done." This anti-leader said that the "most important thing is to complete the required forms," and not to worry about the quality of customer service. Any employee who questions the status quo (or her authority) is not only immediately reprimanded, but goes on the anti-leader's sh#& list. When my colleague was entrepreneurial and tried to improve a process, rather than being encouraged, the anti-leader considered it a case of "insubordination."

The fourth component of transformational leadership is individualized consideration. This is where the leader shows concern for followers, their individual needs and concerns, and works to develop them into better workers and budding leaders. You can imagine that this doesn't happen at all with the anti-leader. High on narcissism, this leader furthers her own agenda, at the expense of her workers.

So, it seems that there are bad leaders, and there are really bad leaders - anti-leaders. What is an anti-leader? The exact opposite of the very best.

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