Leadership + Management | By Tom Murphy,

Are You Leading By (Bad) Example?

When you look around a company and see a common set of behaviors, you can usually tie it back to the behaviors of the leaders.

Positive, focused, driven behaviors by leaders set an example for the team, and it’s very common for the team to generally behave in the same way and have similar attitudes. It’s contagious. And people tend to rise to the level of expectation or standard.

The same holds true for the negative behaviors displayed by leaders. When the team regularly sees poor behavior, they begin to see it as acceptable and respond accordingly. People also tend to lower their output to the level of expectation or standard.

Poor behaviors that are demonstrated and tolerated are morale busters. Lack of effort, inspiration, courage, and follow-through by a leader can deflate even the most positive of people. Here are some poor leadership behaviors that can be detrimental to your team:

  • Not making decisions, avoiding commitments, not implementing scheduled changes
  • Lack of responsiveness to communications
  • Putting in minimum effort to achieve minimum expectations
  • Not meeting deadlines and goals
  • Not following through on commitments
  • Canceling and not showing up for meetings or appointments
  • Playing favorites based on relationships and not results
  • Making excuses for these behaviors rather than owning up to the real Why

If this sounds all too familiar, then it’s time to do some evaluation to understand the real cause for these behaviors. Is it just an individual or two in the company behaving like this (performance issue)? Or is it pervasive throughout (cultural & leadership issue)?

Either way, you’ll need to do some work to make sure these bad behaviors don’t spread throughout the rest of the organization.

Turning the ship

If your leadership is displaying bad behaviors, the only way to turn the organization around is to acknowledge the problem and address it.

If you’re part of the leadership team, ask for an honest assessment from your staff and colleagues. Once you’ve identified the issues, you ask for the help and accountability you need to get yourself and everyone else back on track. If you’re not the leader but you’ve spotted a leadership problem, it’s going to require a potentially difficult conversation on your part. It may not be enough to point out the behaviors themselves. You might also need to detail the impacts they are having on individuals and the organization.

If you’re in a position where you can’t be the person directly influencing leadership behavior, you have a few choices, depending on your role.

  • You can do nothing.
  • You can talk to a person who has the power to influence company leaders, help them see the situation, and encourage them to take on that conversation.
  • You can work to create your own set of values and an alternate sub-culture within your group or department.
  • You can choose to leave.

None of these things are easy for anyone, but if an environment isn’t healthy and doesn’t provide a beneficial situation for you, your team, and your organization, someone should try to change it. Whether that person is you, your CEO, your HR Department, your Board of Directors, or other key influencers, it needs to be done. Breaking poor behavior patterns is the best course of action to get your leadership and your company moving in the right direction.

If this isn’t happening, you should be prepared for continued problems and an exodus of your best talent. You should also consider that your best career decision may be to follow them out the door.

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