20 Habits of Highly Ineffective and Unsuccessful Leaders

by Gordon Tredgold

It’s great to read books and articles about what the great leaders do so that we can model ourselves on the best, and I highly recommend that. However, it’s also worthwhile taking the time to understand what bad leaders do so that we can learn what to avoid which can be just as helpful.

After over 25 years in leadership positions, here are some of the top habits of highly unsuccessful and ineffectual leaders that I have seen, and in some cases, their justification for having them. 

These are habits best avoided, if possible!

1. Believe they have all the answers

They know that the reason that they have been put in charge is that they are smarter and better than everyone else. So when it comes to deciding strategy, solving problems, or resolving issues, there is no need, or point in involving anyone else.

One on my favorite quotes comes from Ken Blanchard “none is as smart as all of us.”

2. React, don’t respond

Driven by their emotions, they react quickly to situations without worrying about facts or the repercussions of their actions.

They can always show good emotional intelligence by apologizing later.

It’s our EQ that determines how successful we will be as leaders, and good EQ allows us to manage our emotions. It enables us to understand our feelings, manage them and then take time to make the right decision.

When we just react our thought processes are not fully optimal, and this can cause us to make mistakes.

3. Take big risks, the bigger, the better

They like to gamble and take big risks. Believing in the adage “Nothing Ventured Nothing Gained” and that Smart Risk taking is for wimps.

When I questioned a decision that one boss was taking his response was, “That’s not your concern, I get paid big bucks to take the big risks and make the tough calls.”

4. Believe that talking about it and doing it are the same thing

I always remember the first boss I worked for, when the CEO asked him how it was going, he said: “It’s going great, we have been discussing the problem for two days now.” The only problem was, that was two days that the business couldn’t operate, and we were no closer to finding a solution.

There is a time for talking, for agreeing on what needs to be done, but once we know what’s needed, then it’s time for action.

5. Focus on blame, not solutions

It’s better to know whose fault it is so that we can fire them and make sure this doesn’t happen again.

It’s much easier to blame people than to accept our accountability and own up to our mistakes and failure. When we blame we give away our ability to fix things, to turn failure into success, which then contributes to being an ineffective and unsuccessful leader.

6. Believe their own PR

There is a big difference between confidence and arrogance; the former helps build trust in the leader, the latter destroys it. As soon as you start to believe your own PR, then you are leaning more towards arrogance and starting down a path that is going to end in tears.

7. Don’t waste valuable time on planning and preparation

Sometimes you just have to dive and get it done. Don’t worry about what’s involved, or whether you’re focused on the symptom or cause, just do it.

My favorite comment was, “we can afford to spend time and money on planning; we just need to get started.” Interestingly we found the time and money to do it again correctly after that first attempt failed badly.

8. Hire people beneath them

As a leader, it is critical that you are the most skillful and a knowledgeable member of the team, that way everyone can focus on their job rather than working out how they could replace you.

I worked at one company where the boss told me that he liked to recruit from the bottom quartile because it kept the costs down. He then added, “the only problem with that was the results sucked.” Who would have guessed that?

9. Focusing on instant success

It’s all about results, and if we find that they are not coming, then we need to move quickly on to another topic.

They believe that a lot of short-term success will lead to long- term success. The challenge here is that we need to make sure that these short-term successes are sustainable and are aligned with our long terms goals. If they are not, then they are just a distraction.

10. Focus on the big picture, not the details

Don’t worry about the details, focus on the big picture, as that will keep you motivated. We all know the devil is in the details, but that could lead to concerns, a lack of belief and even worse, de- motivation.  As leaders, we need to keep our eyes on both the big picture and the details.

11. Focus on weaknesses not strengths

As leaders we cannot have or show any weaknesses, so we need to work on eliminating them, or failing that, hiding them.

When it comes to weaknesses, we all have them, probably more than we would like to admit. But when we focus on our weaknesses it takes us away from what we are good at, what differentiates us from everyone else.

12. Confuse stubbornness with determination 

“Winners never quit, and quitters never win” is a great approach to achieving results. However, you’re bordering on stubbornness if your approach is failing, but you refuse to change it.  Good leaders understand when things are not working, and they know when the approach needs to be changed.

13. Don’t play well with others

It’s hard to play well with others when you adapt a command and control approach to leadership. People like to be led not managed.

When you isolate yourself by not creating a network that you are supportive of, and that is supportive of you, this significantly restricts what can be achieved.

14. Think praise is for wimps

It’s ok to praise people once we have achieved success, but praising people just to keep them happy is not a good approach to building a strong, resilient team.

We’ve got to be mean to keep them keen, and praising people too often makes the team soft.

15. Take, don’t give

The more we take, the more we have, and that’s how winners are made. It’s a dog eat dog world, and we have to fight for our share.

Bad leaders adopt a scarcity attitude, believing that there is not enough to go around so focus on making sure they get their share, whether it be money, praise, or position.

Good leaders adopt an abundance approach; they are happy to share because they understand that the more you give, the more you can get back. 

16. Quick to criticize

If you want people to improve, you need to point out their mistakes quickly and clearly. It’s also best to do this publicly so that others can learn too. Nothing kills enthusiasm quicker than criticism. The louder and more public the criticism, the quicker the enthusiasm and engagements dissipates.

17. Easily distracted

Never content with their current goals, they are constantly looking for the next big thing that the get involved in. I think the reason for this is that it’s much easier to start something new than to finish something important.

18. Make excuses

There are a million and one reasons why things don’t work out as planned, so it’s not always our fault, and we need to remember that so don’t become too de-motivated.  We need to own our failure, learn from them and improve. We need to understand the reason for a failure and then look to mitigate it or eliminate it; this is how we progress.

19. Love to micro manage

It’s hard to trust everyone, so by micro-managing your staff; you can keep a close eye on things, and look to offer advice or step in if things start to go wrong.

Micro management is one of the most limiting management techniques, as well as one of the worst because when you micro-manage, it limits your scope of control to the number of people you can directly manage.

Great leaders understand the importance and power of delegation ad empowerment. The more we share our control with our teams the more work that can get done and the bigger and better the results can be.

20. Practice inconsistently

It’s great to be inconsistent because it keeps your team guessing, which in turn keeps them on their toes.

Predictability, on the other hand, can lead to complacency.


Gordon Tredgold LLC Inc Magazine Top 100 Leadership Expert and Speaker Top 100 Leadership Expert & Business Coach to Follow on Twitter gordon@gordontredgold.com www.gordontredgold.com

Gordon Tredgold LLC
Inc Magazine Top 100 Leadership Expert and Speaker
Top 100 Leadership Expert & Business Coach to Follow on Twitter