What Makes a Leader Ineffective?

Companies lacking effective leadership may experience high employee turnover, fall short of company goals and earn a rocky organizational reputation.

Failed leaders can also cost companies millions of dollars, according to the 2009 report from the American Psychology Association Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology.

“More leaders fail and derail than become successes,” A. Furnham notes in his 2010 book, The Elephant in the Boardroom.

Understanding what causes leaders to be ineffective, or just bad bosses, is key to revealing how to prevent failed leadership, according to authors of the 2013 study in the International Journal of Business and Management.

According to the study, unsuccessful leaders have five characteristics in common:

  • Resistant to change
  • Have difficulties developing good working relationships
  • Fail to build and lead a team
  • Fail to meet business objectives
  • Lacks depth to manage outside of their current function

How do these characteristics cause leaders to be ineffective? The traits listed below may provide a glimpse of where leadership crumbles and employees suffer.

Resists Change

During times of organizational transformation, great leaders can reinvent their leadership style, pivot according to the needs of the situation, and inspire their team. Leaders who embrace change learn new things and grow professionally. Those who don’t like change may fear the unknown, and resist transforming with an organization, negatively affecting their team or their job. Not knowing where changes may lead can cause people to push back, halt progress and stall transformation.

Poor Communication

Leaders who do not communicate effectively can cause confusion and a lack of control, trust and transparency. Those who do not listen to their team may also become isolated, according to 2013 the study. Great leaders are active listeners who can communicate with colleagues and managers within all parts of the business. Listening to another person and being present in the conversation shows you hear and understand their point of view.

It’s All About You

“A self-centered leader cannot and will not change,” FBI Instructor Kevin Crawford notes in his article published in 2011 in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin.

According to Crawford, self-centered leaders are perceived as someone who makes decisions for personal gain, is angered easily when scrutinized or questioned, and skillfully claims credit for others’ work and successes. As a result, those who are self-centered or narcissistic cause employees to be disengaged, lack trust and feel unappreciated by management. In a 2008 study published in the Human Performance journal, authors revealed supervisors who were narcissistic received negative ratings for interpersonal performance and integrity.

Passive Leadership

A lack of active leadership indirectly increases uncivil behavior in the workplace, according to a study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior. Results indicated passive leaders who take a laissez-faire approach are reluctant to respond to a situation until they absolutely have to. Because of this, passive leaders experience higher levels of incivility, as negative emotions, thoughts and actions are able to spread before an active leader gets involved to redirect the behavior.

Lack of Vision

Lack of vision or tunnel vision can result in the blind leading the blind. Great leaders need vision to inspire their teams, and foster creativity and critical-thinking skills. According to a 2014 whitepaper published by the Center for Creative Leadership, the leaders of today need to learn to “operate in challenging, unpredictable circumstances.” In essence, they need to learn how to innovate. Study authors explain that innovation is vital for future growth and sustainability. Innovation is not possible without vision.

Too Much Charisma

Leaders with moderate levels of charisma may be more effective than those with high or low levels of the personality trait, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Researchers combined their findings with two other studies and revealed that perceived effectiveness increased with charismatic leaders, but only up to a certain point. Once it peaked, perceived effectiveness then declined as research revealed highly charismatic leaders were believed to be weak on operational behavior. Low charismatic leaders were found to be less strategic, which also caused effectiveness to decrease.

Changing Moral Positions

Leaders who change their mind due to moral stance are perceived as hypocrites, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The study asked colleagues to rate business and political leaders after hearing they changed their opinion on an issue. Leaders who changed their minds due to a moral stance were rated higher as hypocrites than those who changed their opinions based on a pragmatic argument. Authors note that perceived hypocrisy contributes to ineffectiveness and loss of support for leaders.

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