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12 Ways To Spot Ineffective Leadership

12 Ways to Spot Ineffective Leadership

If I only had a nickel for every time I’ve been asked, “is there a simple test that can quickly determine an executive’s leadership ability?” The short answer is yes, but keep in mind, simple and fast aren’t always the same thing as effective. There are a plethora of diagnostic tests, profiles, evaluations, and assessments that offer insights into leadership ability, or a lack thereof. My problem with these efforts is they are overly analytical, very theoretical, and subject to bias. That said, they are fast, easy, and relatively inexpensive. The good news is, there is a better way. If you really want to determine someone’s leadership ability, give them some responsibility and see what they do with it. Leaders produce results. It’s not always pretty, especially in the case of inexperienced leaders, but good leaders will find a way to get the job done.

In a previous post entitled Looking For Leadership, I share a number of concerns about corporate America’s obsession over theoretical academic tests. There is a subtle abdication of responsibility that has occurred as rationalizations take place around DISC scores, or justifications surrounding a 360 review are used to defend an ineffective leader. My question is this: what about real world tests? If your enterprise has trouble identifying leaders, or has a shortage of leaders, you don’t have a testing problem – you have a leadership problem. One of the primary responsibilities of leadership is to create more and better leaders. I believe it was John Maxwell who said, “there is no success without a successor.”

It’s important to realize that just because someone is in a leadership position, doesn’t necessarily mean they should be. Put another way, not all leaders are created equal. The problem many organizations are suffering from is a recognition problem – they can’t seem to recognize good leaders from bad ones. In the text that follows, I’ll address how to spot ineffective leaders pointing out a few things that should be obvious, but apparently aren’t:

  1. Poor Character: A leader who lacks character or integrity will not endure the test of time. It doesn’t matter how intelligent, affable, persuasive, or savvy a person is, if they are prone to rationalizing unethical behavior based upon current or future needs they will eventually fall prey to their own undoing…
  2. Lack of Performance: Nobody is perfect, but leaders who consistently fail are not leaders, no matter how much you wish they were. While past performance is not always a certain indicator of future events, a long-term track record of success should not be taken lightly. Someone who has consistently experienced success in leadership roles has a much better chance of success than someone who has not. It’s important to remember unproven leaders come with a high risk premium.
  3. Poor Communication Skills: Show me a leader with poor communication skills and I’ll show you someone who will be short-lived in their position. Great leaders can communicate effectively across mediums, constituencies, and environments. They are active listeners, fluid thinkers, and know when to dial it up, down, or off.
  4. Self-Serving Nature: If a leader doesn’t understand the concept of “service above self” they will not engender the trust, confidence, and loyalty of those they lead. Any leader is only as good as his or her team’s desire to be led by them. An over abundance of ego, pride, and arrogance are not positive leadership traits. Long story short; if a leader receives a vote of non-confidence from their subordinates…game over.
  5. One Size Fits All Leadership Style: Great leaders are fluid and flexible in their approach. They understand the power of, and necessity for contextual leadership. “My way or the highway” leadership styles don’t play well in today’s world, will result in a fractured culture, and ultimately a non-productive organization. Only those leaders who can quickly recognize and adapt their methods to the situation at hand will be successful over the long haul.
  6. Lack of Focus and Follow-Through: Those leaders who lack the focus and attention to detail needed to apply leverage and resources in an aggressive and committed fashion will perish. Leaders who do not possess a bias toward action, or who cannot deliver on their obligations will not be successful. Leadership is about performance…Intentions must be aligned with results for leaders to be effective.
  7. Not Forward Looking: No vision equals no leadership. Leaders satisfied with the status quo, or who tend to be more concerned about survival than growth won’t do well over the long-run. The best leaders are focused on leading change and innovation to keep their organizations fresh, dynamic and growing. Bottom line – leaders who build a static business doom themselves to failure.
  8. Disconnected from the Market: Leaders not attuned to the needs of the market will fail. As the old saying goes, if you’re not taking care of your customers, someone else will be more than happy to. Successful leaders focus on customer satisfaction and loyalty. They find ways to consistently engage them and incorporate them into their innovation and planning initiatives. If you ignore, mistreat, or otherwise don’t value your customer base, your days as a leader are most certainly numbered.
  9. Not Invested: Leaders are fully committed to investing in those they lead. They support their team, build into their team, mentor and coach their team, and they truly care for their team. A leader not fully invested in their team won’t have a team – at least not an effective one.
  10. Not Accountable: Real leaders are accountable. They don’t blame others, don’t claim credit for the success of their team, but always accept responsibility for failures that occur on their watch. Most of all, leaders are accountable to their team. I’ve always said that leaders not accountable to their people will eventually be held accountable by their people.
  11. Not Focused: Leaders who are not intentional and are not focused, will fail themselves and their team. Leaders who lack discipline will model the wrong behaviors and will inevitably spread themselves too thin. Organizations are at the greatest risk when leaders lose their focus.
  12. Lacking Vision: Poor vision, tunnel vision, vision that is fickle, or a non-existent vision will cause leaders to fail. A leader’s job is to align the organization around a clear and achievable vision. This cannot occur when the blind lead the blind.

The moral of this story is leaders need to be honest, have a demonstrated track record of success, be excellent communicators, place an emphasis on serving those they lead, be fluid in approach, have laser focus, and a bias toward action. If these traits are not possessed by your current leadership team, or your up and coming leaders, you will be in for a rocky road ahead…

Which of these traits stand out to you? Do you have any other signs of ineffective leaders worthy of mention? Leave a comment and share your insights with others…

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    October 20, 2010 at 8:32 am

    Hi Madeline – I completely agree with your sentiments. To build an extraordinary company, you must light the fire in the bellies of your workforce…You must get them to feel passion about your organization and to connect with your vision. You must get your employees to engage. As the CEO, your ability to transfer your passion to your employees is the essence of being a great leader…So much so that if you can’t accomplish this, you simply can’t be a great leader. Think of any great leader, and while you’ll find varying degrees of skill sets, intellect and ability, I challenge to name even one that did not have passion, as well as the ability to instill said passion in team members.

    Jay Young

    October 20, 2010 at 8:49 am

    This is a good post and addresses many of the worst characteristics of ineffective leadership. Effectiveness should be the litmus test for leadership. For more check out "Are You Ineffective?" on Amazon. Others include a lack of focus on culture, failure to question assumptions, and poor innovation.

    Lori Meyer

    October 20, 2010 at 11:34 am

    This is a great summary of the characteristics leaders must avoid to become and stay effective. I'm concerned about point #2, however. I agree that a substantial track record is a solid indicator of effective leadership, but I see a distinction between a LACK of a track record and a POOR track record. Someone just getting started as a leader is not a proven leader and as a result is more of an unknown quantity — but that does not mean that they are automatically an ineffective leader. Inexperienced, yes — ineffective…that remains to be seen. With good mentoring, that new leader will be effective.


      October 20, 2010 at 11:59 am

      Hi Lori:

      I tend to agree with your clarifying comments. That said, while someone may not have prior related experience, everyone does indeed have a track record. Academically, relationally, occupationally or experientially, everyone has a story. Put simply, some stories provide more certainty than others, but sometimes the best rewards come from taking a risk. What's important is to have clear visibility and to recognize what you are or are not dealing with from the outset. Thanks for sharing Lori.

        Lori Meyer

        October 20, 2010 at 4:14 pm

        Thanks very much for your response…and for this great list. I've bookmarked this page.


    October 20, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    I love #4. I see it all the time- “leaders” that will still put their wants before those of the organization & the people. This is a result of poor attitude & absolute disengagement. When someone acts this way- they have already checked out emotionally and should leave while they can still do it with some sort of integrity intact. Their selfish way of thinking drags the whole place down.

    David Mcdaniels

    October 20, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    My question is how many of these traits are natural and how many do you believe can be instilled?


      October 21, 2010 at 8:38 am

      Hi David:

      One of the things that makes people interesting is that they all have their own varying levels of natural giftedness. Each person has innate strengths and weaknesses and the question is what will they do with them? I am a firm believer that even when certain traits are not present they can be acquired, developed and refined so long as one thing is present – the desire to do so. You might be interested in the following post which takes a deeper dive on this topic – http://hub.n2growth.com/leaders-born-or-made (this post also contains links to other related posts as well). I hope this answer helps David…

    Jacek Polubiec

    October 22, 2010 at 9:28 am

    Unable, unwilling or uninterested in learning and growing and therefore not capable of inspiring others to learn and grow.


    October 24, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    Hi Mike,

    I believe Goethe once said “You can easily judge the character of someone by how they treat those they believe can do nothing for them” and I’ve heard Richard Branson once employed this idea, in a search for prospective employees, by disguising himself.

    I’ve also been a believer in scrapping many of the standard interview questions in favor of perhaps, “Who are some of your heroes from history? or Who do you admire and why?”

    I’m not suggesting accomplishments should be disregarded. I just think they’re secondary in importance in assessing a potential leader. An individual of sound moral character can be trusted to learn most of the other requisite skills to ensure great outcomes.


      Mike Myatt

      October 24, 2011 at 10:31 pm

      Hi Ron:

      Thanks for sharing. I too prefer non-traditional interview questions. I have watched the interview process at many companies devolve into little more than a beauty contest question and answer session. Interviews were never intended to be about how well someone can give a canned response to a canned question. The first priority of an interview should be about getting to know the character of the candidate. 


    October 25, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    I like your post very much. It’s short and sharp. Thank you!

      Mike Myatt

      October 25, 2011 at 7:12 pm

      I’m happy you enjoyed the post Thao. Thanks for stopping by.

        Tommy Gheran

        April 23, 2012 at 5:19 am

        I really want to thank you for all you have done…


    October 25, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    Thanks for posting. 


    October 25, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    This article should be posted in every company in America, but somehow I suspect that won’t happen.

    Liz Cassidy

    October 26, 2011 at 12:07 am

    a great post, thank you.
    Can I copy it to my blog with a backlink to you, please?

      Mike Myatt

      October 26, 2011 at 1:15 am

      Hi Liz:

      Thanks for the kind words and feel free to republish with attribution. Thanks for asking. 


    October 26, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    An ineffective leader will not be in charge very long.  Eventually the team or co-workers will start following someone else or the ineffective leader will be fired.

    A great leader is someone who is willing to listen to other points of view even if he does not agree.  The reason is to learn.  If a leader thinks he knows everything he will soon be gone, which is best for the company.

      Mike Myatt

      October 27, 2011 at 1:25 am

      Hi Teddy:

      Thanks for sharing your observations. We are in total agreement. 


      December 16, 2011 at 2:00 pm

      yes and we should learn from the past

    5 for Leadership | Gary Runn

    October 26, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    […] N2Growth blog by Mike Myatt has a very interesting post on “12 Ways to Spot Ineffective Leadership.”  I find Mike’s writing always thought provoking and practical-check it out. […]

    […] Read More […]


    October 27, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    A “leader” who allows themself to be managed by a self seeking team member(s) is a disaster waiting to happen.  It leaves the other team members questioning who they really report to. 

      Mike Myatt

      November 8, 2011 at 7:16 pm

      Spot-on. It’s important to encourage and reward the right behaviors, not the wrong ones. 

    Frank Kozak

    October 27, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    Accurate, concise list. And so true. Nice job!


    October 27, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    Great article.  Here is a quote I wrote down some time ago and think it would be good to share:
    “If you behave like the boss who has all the answers, why would anyone else need or dare to contribute?”  Carol Kinsey Goman, Executive Coach

    Dianne Crampton

    October 27, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    I would also be looking for demonstrated behavior that is trustworthy, interdependent, genuine, empathetic, appropriate risk taking and innovative as well as success in goals as well as the satisfaction level of people accomplishing the work.


    October 31, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    Lack of Performance, Lacking Vision and not being accountable are the worse traits of a mediocre leader.

    […] http://hub.n2growth.com/6-traits-of-ineffective-leaders/ Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

    […] 12 Ways to Spot Ineffective Leadership by Mike Myatt. […]

    Lori Gilliar

    November 8, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    Touched, moved, and inspired by this.
    Am excited to share a link to this with my teammates! The fact that I winced reading two of them is a great sign that I’ve identified work I need to do!

    Mark Ossendryver

    November 22, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    I agree with everything you say and would like to add: as
    important as it is to own the characteristics described it is also important
    for current leaders to identify traits in others in our environments (not only
    in our company’s) and nurture them to develop those leadership qualities and
    skills for the future. In a way (and I know your views on the terms “coach” and
    “mentor”) we all have the ability to coach, mentor, advise and make an impact
    on the future.
    PS- An amazing bi-product of this approach is the amount you yourself will learn from it!

    Mark Ossendryver

    November 22, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    I agree with everything you say and would like to add: as
    important as it is to own the characteristics described it is also important
    for current leaders to identify traits in others in our environments (not only
    in our company’s) and nurture them to develop those leadership qualities and
    skills for the future. In a way (and I know your views on the terms “coach” and
    “mentor”) we all have the ability to coach, mentor, advise and make an impact
    on the future.
    PS- An amazing bi-product of this approach is the amount you yourself will learn from it!


    December 9, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    I’m a leader in education. I have taken on schools that have ‘lost their way’.  In each school there have been fundamental problems with the way the schools have been led/managed. In each school the degree of ineffective leadership from the principal has been proportional to the outcomes for learners. The school I have just joined is one of the lowest performing schools in the country. Go figure. I agree with every single one of the statements listed above as I have picked up their consequences time after time. Of course I can’t say that I am perfect but I do know my weaknesses and their impact on others. Can I suggest a lack of self awareness as number 13?


    July 19, 2012 at 1:44 am

    Thats a really interesting perspective looking at the other side of the coin when people focus primarily on good leadership traits. I think people always look for character in leaders. If they have little or no honour/integrity/character then they can’t be trusted and wont want the best for their team.

    I think there’s a overall theme within this list that you’ve written and thats a lack of confidence in leadership. Any leader studies leadership and finds improvement through personal development of their chosen skill. 


    September 11, 2012 at 12:49 am

    leadership in the outer world is different in the kingdom leadership because it is the world or government that is freed from the sin! all u must to do is repent first so that we can lead people to the right path of salvation!

    Ellen K

    September 13, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    This list should be mailed to the White House. On every count, Obama has failed.


    April 2, 2013 at 8:00 am

    I worked for a so called leader. He had a vision for the heck of it,had a target for others to achive or be fired, had a nice blue print document made by a consultant for the division only to be put in cold storage, he regularly held monthly review meetings to blame the subordinates, for him a discipline was most important meaning not opening our mouths on bad things, there was always his assurance on resources but never fulfilled,if there was any slippage we would loose whatever little we had. He would the repeat the mantra he would tolerate anything other than slippage on discipline and performance. I can go on, on and on.
    To summarize his leadership style was bulldoze, manipluate,demoralize , divide and rule. He killed the organization and he was eventually fired.

    Mary Claire Farnell

    September 18, 2013 at 2:57 am

    Hi Mike. You’ve got some interesting insights here. I do believe the a leader who manifests these characteristics cannot lead long enough because sooner his organization is headed for a disaster. He will not be able to keep the best people to help him for I am sure they will leave the company so soon without hesitation. For me , an authentic leader must be a servant leader- one that seeks the best for his people and not only for himself. He must also be flexible meaning he able to use different leadership styles to adapt to a particular person or situation.

    Mita Pogue

    April 7, 2014 at 9:57 pm

    The list probably could have been condensed a bit by combining 6 and 11 (focus) as well as 7 and 12 (vision/forward looking) – separated they are a bit redundant.

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