Are you a dreadful leader?

2011

Unless you are truly blessed, the chances are you have witnessed the damage a dreadful leader can wreak on an unsuspecting organization. While bad leaders can take many forms and share many overlapping characteristics, there are five primary types from which all are derived. Review the following and see if you can spot a dreadful leader in your midst.

It's common for working people to grumble about their bosses. Most criticisms are unwarranted; driven more from miscommunication or envy than true justification. However, sometimes these criticisms do have merit. Of those, the ones that are most insidious to an organization are related to the appalling leadership styles provided by one of these five types of dreadful leaders. Here's what each are about and how to deal with them.

The Deceiver
The Deceiver is the type of leader that demonstrates, through their behavior, that deceit is an acceptable business practice. Their message comes across to subordinates in many ways. Some may choose to cheat customers while others may deceive staff members – plying all whom they come in contact with with empty promises that they have no intention of keeping.

A Deceiver-led organization is characterized by anarchy. There can be no order where deceit is an underpinning. How can you establish order when misinformation is an important part of the corporate culture? If underlings are taught that it's O.K. to mislead a client in order to generate revenue, or, that it's fine to pledge (and not deliver) a promotion in order to retain a talented colleague then why would a leader expect that these same subordinates would be trustworthy enough to provide accurate and timely information needed to run the business?

What's the best way to manage the Deceiver-Leader? Confirmation and documentation! When working with the Deceiver it's important to confirm and document all agreements, assignments, assurances, etc. This accomplished by employing active listening techniques where you parrot-back what is being stated. Once the Deceiver-Leader confirms agreement with the message, then be sure to document the conversation for the record. In this way, as the truth shifts, there is an audit trail that can be referenced.

Keep in mind, this doesn't act to change the behavior, but, it can come in handy in minimizing some of the damage some of the time.

The Bully
The Bully leader uses threats and manipulation in order to get their agenda met. Bullies tend be loud and dominating. Their dismissive demeanor is hiding a weak and fragile ego – one that neither seeks collaborative input nor can tolerate criticism.

This type of leader is widely disliked and resented. But, their frail ego prohibits them from recognizing this fact. They prefer, instead, to think of themselves as being highly respected by peers and subordinates, alike. The result of this leadership style is a dysfunctional organization.

With a Bully at the helm, an organization becomes Philistine in its thinking and behavior. It's every person for themself in such an organization. Cut-throat behavior becomes a norm because it's better to throw your co-worker under the bus than to land there yourself with the Bully-Boss.

So, what do you do? Just like the playground bully from childhood, needed a smack in order to back-down; the Bully-Boss needs a strong dose of reality in order to learn how to respect their staff. So, hold your ground and, simply, say "No!" Your refusal to be berated and mistreated will resonate because there is nothing a Bully hates more than to be shown up in public. Fight back and the Bully will take their frustration elsewhere.

The Egotist
It's all about "me" when the Egotist leader is running the business. Not only are these types of leaders indisposed to recognizing any contribution that a subordinate delivers, they are willing to steal credit from their troops. From an Egotist's point of view, any success is a direct result of their efforts. They are of the opinion that without them creating an environment that enabled the success, the success would not have occurred.

An organization led by an Egotist is likely to be typified by a workforce that vanishes as soon as the shift whistle blows. It doesn't take long for workers in Egotist-led companies to recognize that their extra effort will never be recognized, anyway. So, as the thinking goes, why bother? It's a 9 AM to 5 PM work world in these places. Don't expect any more than that under an Egotist leader.

When working for an Egotist, you have to decide whether their achievement will facilitate your success. If it will, that's fine. If these two are at odds, it's time to find another job. Because the fragile ego that underpins the Egotist leader cannot tolerate competition and is threatened by anyone who has the audacity to confront them. If you are so inclined to confront, your work-setting will likely become very uncomfortable.

The Mad Scientist
The Mad Scientist leader lives to experiment. In fact, they see the business setting as one big laboratory. They devise one test trial after another. The problem with this type of leader is that it's unclear whether their experimentation in radical, new organization blueprints or workflow redesigns are intended to improve the bottom-line, or to simply observe the outcome of their mad ravings.

The Mad Scientist leader demonstrates a clear lack of commitment to subordinates through their behavior. In turn, staff members often behave with the same reckless abandon. The absolute chaos that results in an organization from all of these experiments is startling. It can take years to reestablish order in such environments because the uncalculated risk-taking becomes woven into the fabric of the enterprise in such a way that no one recognizes when enough is too much.

If you adore constant change and thrive in chaos, working for a Mad Scientist can be fun. For those that are not so inclined, there are two choices: find greener (translated into calmer) pastures, or, wait it out. Remember, Mad Scientist types of leaders do not have a very strong commitment to the long-term success of the business. They're "short termers" who want to learn from their experiments and move on to the next business. Hang in there long enough, and a new leader will be placed.

The Slave Driver
The Slave Driver knows no limit to human effort. Because these individuals operate with no work/home life balance, they assume their subordinates do, too. Clearly, this perception is fraught with error. But, the Slave Driver drives onward leaving countless casualties in their wake.

A Slave Driver-led organization is distinguished by the inordinately high degree of burnout among its rank and file. Long hours and little fun contribute to the problem, but, true malaise sets in when the workforce realizes that there's no relief in sight.

The best way to address the Slave Driver is to unmistakably communicate boundaries. It's important to keep the language objective, simple and polite; clearly state the extent of work that can be expected for completion and how many concessions that you are willing to make to accommodate the leader's desires. However, once the boundaries are established, you must stick to them, or burnout will result.

To Close
It is important to note that while the five leader types presented here represent the most appalling of the dreadful leaders that exist, several other types are out there, including, among others, the Politician (who wants to be everybody's friend and will change their position on issues whenever it benefits them to do so), the Micro-Manager (whose insecurities are so great that they cannot possibly trust that anyone can do anything without their superior guidance) and the Lackadaisical leader (who is so apathetic that they provide little, or no guidance to their teams at all).

While these other types can be difficult to work with, strategies can be defined to work around them so that the damage that they inflict on an organization can be kept to a minimum.

What may be worse is the fact that a combination of the types described is possible, too. The Deceiver can be an Egotist and the Bully can be a Slave Driver, and, so on. In these instances, your exit strategy may be the best one to use in order to maintain your sanity. Remember, just because you have this job today, doesn't mean that you can't find your dream job tomorrow.

After all, if the leadership is dreadful, chances are very high that the work environment is, too.

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About The Author

James M. Kerr
James M. Kerr

James M. Kerr is the Global Chair of the Culture Transformation Practice at N2Growth and the author of The Executive Checklist. A specialist in organizational design and cultural transformation, he has been helping clients re-imagine the way work is organized and performed for more than 25 years. Kerr’s next book is due out later in 2016 and focuses on leadership and strategy-setting.