Often, we talk about the qualities and actions of good leadership, but I think it is important that we learn to spot bad leadership. Here are the top ten ways to identify toxic leaders:
1. The realm under the leader has little if no strategy or plan to inspire and drive people. Literally, there is no vision. The purpose of the business is primarily to make money, become bigger, and take care of itself (the self-licking ice cream cone). Any goals are developed to ensure each subordinate leader can justify their position in the strategic plan and do little to overcome barriers to a future vision. Any vision and goals are such low targets that they, in most cases, have already been attained.
2. Program accountability is slowly eroding and nothing is done about it (i.e., deadlines are missed, people not qualified are in positions, reports are misleading/false/nonexistent, etc.). Expectation barely exists in the organization because targets, rules, and requirements are ignored. Organizations like audit, risk, and compliance are seen as the enemy and kept away from the organization and treated with fear. When there is a finding from one of these organizations, the leaders spend all their resources to point blame, make it go away, and/or cover it up, but does little to nothing to solve the root causes that created the issue in the first place.
3. There is a complete lack of organizational performance, process management, and accountability. No one knows deeper than monthly what they are doing from a measurement perspective and there is a complete lack of process focus. Everyone simply does their own thing and what little process documentation is lodged tightly in the employees’ heads and passed down like tribal knowledge. Knowledge systems are bursting at the seems with senseless information without any organization. Variance across processes runs rampant and unchecked.
4. There is a significant lack of communication both internally and externally. What little communication that is occurring lacks any direction or strategic intent. The leadership doesn’t even know who their stakeholders are to communicate to. The term “customer” is used, but they are a faceless entity that nothing is really known about. Specifications for work are all internally created and bear no resemblance to competition or what customers want. In some cases, the customer is seen and portrayed as the enemy.
5. Little or no organizational structure. The organizational structure looks like a Christmas tree and is broken into functional and operational departments that are so siloed that the company seems like an island chain. There is minor communication and less cooperation across departments. Each silo is only focused on what they do for themselves, they see everyone else as a competitor for money and manpower, and they simply throw work over the wall versus work in an end-to-end process.
6. Education and training opportunities might exist. There is no plan or strategy to develop employees and leaders. The activity, if it happens at all, is chaotic and broken. Employees mainly spend resources to gain skills through training so they can leave the company.
7. Operational effectiveness. Operational effectiveness is based on things like defect counting, process timing, first-pass yield, on-time delivery, customer satisfaction, etc. is barely looked at (if at all), and nothing of substance is done about it.
8. Leadership failure. Leaders across the organization focus on tactical operations, ignore problems, lack methodical problem solving, micromanage work, and have little vision at work. Toxic leaders focus on the knife fight and fail to see the forest through the trees.
9. Recognition failure. Good, hard-working employees are consistently overlooked for promotion opportunities and are kept “getting the work done.” The great employees have either turned apathetic in the workplace, are looking for other opportunities, or have already left. Attrition and absenteeism are high, and morale is very low.
10. Almost all the leadership and management below a bad leader looks the same. The problems above spread to every corner what that leader controls. Bad leaders conspire with other bad leaders to corrupt the entire organization because this eliminates the need for accountability. Soon, the toxicity has spread to the highest-level executives and even possibly the president or CEO. The leadership ranks become bloated with high-paid executives who do little and hold no one accountable to organizational values.
This article has been reprinted with permission from John Knotts´LinkedIn page.