What makes a lousy leader? That is easy, they do the opposite of what great leaders do. Not so fast. Our biases forget the differences between leadership we agree with, and leadership from people we do not like.
The differences rest partly in our individual perspectives. It takes a certain maturity to recognize when effective leadership occurs in opposition to our wants and needs. For the enlightened, it causes frustration, of course, but also garners respect. We have an abundance of frustration with leaders in our life and an absence of respect. We forget leadership is not static, it runs along a continuum from lousy to outstanding. Also, there is a variance between leadership tasks that may or may not be affected by time, individual experience, risk tolerance, introversion/extroversion and a host of other conditions. To me, the effective leader is the one that, given multiple variables, attributes and situations, still achieves positive results more often than not.
There are many opinions on the crucial characteristics of an effective leader, and an equal number to identify a weak leader. We could use a system that helps identify the lousy leaders from the outstanding ones. If you watch cable news, your choice of channel is liable to inform your choice in an acceptable leader. We should be more selective in choosing which leaders to follow. You would think anyone with good judgement could tell in an instant, but I believe having criteria to evaluate leaders with greater discernment would help.
Sometimes, in the heat of battle we do not have the luxury of choosing our leaders. Otherwise (read, most of the time) we should choose with deliberation. I have a list of thirty-one observable attributes and behaviors that could be used in a binary yes/no checklist, or on a rating scale. It is also an excellent list for action planning if you want to work on your personal leadership. Take on one attribute each day and after a month you cannot help but be a better leader, at least temporarily. Add five or six to your daily repertoire and those changes solidify over time.
Try it out. Pick a leader, yourself if you want, and rate their observable actions. If you do not know or aren’t sure, be fair when you infer what you can. Then tally the results and see if the leaders meet your initial expectation.
- Is this leader approachable and kind to others?
- Does this leader make decisions?
- Does this leader take initiative?
- Does this leader communicate expectations?
- Does this leader inspire creativity?
- Is this leader accountable for their actions?
- Does this leader set their own example?
- Does this leader measure performance?
- Does this leader reward the efforts of others?
- Does this leader give continuous feedback?
- Does this leader position team members where they can win?
- Is this leader deeply curious?
- Does this leader problem solve?
- Does this leader possess a positive attitude?
- Does this leader value relationships?
- Does this leader have a record of success?
- Does this leader frequently communicate?
- Does this leader demonstrate empathy?
- Is this leader flexible as conditions change?
- Does this leader embrace and manage change?
- Does this leader value customers and end users?
- Does this leader teach others?
- Does this leader enjoy their role?
- Does this leader share a vision?
- Does this leader behave ethically?
- Is this leader honest?
- Does this leader give credit and take the blame?
- Is this leader focused on a goal?
- Does this leader create and or nurture a culture?
- Does this leader possess courage?
- Does this leader serve those they lead?
Take the number of yes responses and divide by 31. If 0% is lousy and 100% is outstanding, plot the leader within the continuum and see if it matches your perceived impression. Any surprises? Are there any behaviors and attributes you would add or replace?
Karl Bimshas is a leadership consultant who collaborates with busy executives to improve the working relationships with their colleagues and direct reports to create high performing teams. He’s the author of “How to Stay When You Want to Quit;Strategies to get over yourself“.