Lousy leadership is scary because it is so prevalent in our lives, and no one is fully immune from it. New and established managers both make errors because of impatience, or fear, or poor judgment. These mistakes frequently most hurt the people being lead. A good leader acknowledges their faults, makes corrections, and tries to make amends. A good leader is devoted to continual learning, not only for process improvements, and people development; they also look for ways to better themselves.
What makes lousy leaders scary is, through intent or ignorance, they do not look at self-improvement. They don’t recognize their shortfalls, and if they carelessly harm the relationship of a customer or a direct report, they shrug it off, or worse, pass blame.
Being technically proficient in the skills of your chosen industry is great, and something everyone should aim toward. Accomplishing that alone does not make you a leader, even if someone decides to promote you to a title that seems to confer leadership status. That is more likely a case of 8s promoting 7s. It is mismanagement, and another example of why lousy leadership is hard to eradicate.
Leadership skills, like writing skills, are about influence. Their job is to make the unseen, seeable; to convey knowledge to the unknown. To cause excitement in the curious, not to incite the discontented. It entails nuanced relationship skills; reading people and being brave and bold enough to challenge wrongs. It involves the acumen to run productive meetings, garner relevant resources, and knowing when to change course and when to plow forward.
Seldom learned in a classroom and lecture hall, these skills are learned on the playgrounds, and in the walks between places with friends. They are learned while camping, or negotiating dinner and a movie. Yes, they can be found in books but must be actively uncovered with highlighters and reflected upon in journals or through discussions over coffee. The study of leadership is not a passive endeavor.
Start with you. Test your assumptions. You are wrong more than you care to admit. That’s okay. It is a shared human trait. Refuse to accept axioms on blind faith. Make a note of your findings, and adjust.
What scares me is, we tolerate lousy leadership in others, and in ourselves. Blame it on constant negative reinforcement, the decay of trust, the suspicion of those who differ in thought, faith, color or cell phone choice. Our biases grow and will continue to unless we challenge them. Tear off masks that impend promises of transparency, but don’t gloat. Reconcile. Recalibrate. Learn. Constantly. Otherwise, we will be haunted by lousy leadership.