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The Myth About Being a Good Leader

There is no recipe, a 5-step model or a framework of "what good leadership looks like". This doesn't exist, so stop buying into those bullet points of communicator, influencer, empathic or authentic, etc...

These are wish lists at best! We have examples of fantastic leaders who don't demonstrate half of them yet, people love being led by them.

Furthermore, those gurus who come up with these lists, models, and frameworks fail to show you any data on the number of "bad leaders who demonstrate those characteristics." And this is why real academics/scientists say, "Leadership studies are a mess." I loved it when Daniel Kahneman said to Adam Grant, "You guys lost the academic world at the concept of employee engagement":-)))))

The opposite of a good leader is not the one who doesn't have those behaviours.

The opposite of a good leader is a bad leader. While we don't have a recipe for this one either, we do have some behavioural characteristics that negatively impact the environment.

But being a good or bad leader, at the core, is not so much about what we do but more about the degree to which we understand the impact of our actions on the people around us. This is what differentiates good leaders from bad ones.

Good leaders are good because they pay attention to how their actions impact the team or the organisation and adjust accordingly. If a leader is not great at communicating but knows it is vital for the team, they will find someone who can communicate for them. They will not say, "This is me! I might not be great at that, but I am good at ..." That's a bad leader.

Bad leaders have little to no care or awareness about their impact on others and the organisation.

This makes them bad leaders, not the lack of communication skills or authenticity. And it has nothing to do with empathy, either. It is a pure lack of self-awareness.

I often do an exercise with leaders. I collect feedback from their immediate team, asking just two questions. I receive the feedback, and I present them during the workshop. Bad or shall we say weak leaders stand out immediately by:

  • Being afraid of the feedback (they always fight against such action). They just cannot face how others perceive them.

  • They don't want to acknowledge the feedback and make claims that "my teams don't understand me or they are stupid". I had a boss who, after every engagement survey, interrogated us about "who said what and why?" Her level of awareness about her impact on the team was zero, and she had no intention of understanding it. She was as toxic as it comes.

  • They blame the team and others for behaving that way. I heard leaders saying, "I have to treat you guys like that because" or "I am not like that, but you bring this out of me."

Good or, shall we say, strong leaders, on the other hand, are curious about how they are being perceived and how they can get even better. Even when disagreeing with something, they don't blame or reject the feedback they want to know the reason behind it. They say things like, "I wonder where this is coming from" or "I would love to get more details on this".

Toxic work environments are the result of bad leadership, and the reason is that the leader has no awareness of the impact on their people. They, in fact, justify those conditions along with their behaviour. I heard leaders saying, "You guys are ruining my life! You are all useless, and I cannot even fire you." If a leader says or reacts like that because they are just responding to the team's behaviour, we all know who is at fault, right?

So don't fall for those lists of stereotypes of being a good leader, and look for and develop self-awareness in your leaders because leadership is this magical game of constantly scanning your environment and adjusting your actions according to the needs of the people around you to achieve results.

If you want to develop this ability in your leaders, give us a shout because the good news is that we can all develop self-awareness.

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