The Top 10 Ways to Sink Your (Leader) Ship

Posted on October 21, 2019 by

Let’s cut to the chase. The integral elements of a business are its staff, resources, processes, and output (products/services). At the helm of it all is leadership. Leadership is both a category of titles with particular responsibilities (i.e. executives) and a personal/professional trait—a mindset backed by a manner and quality of working (every employee has or can have it).

Good leadership—meaning both titled leaders and staff leadership traits—can compensate for a lack in resources, processes, and output. But good resources, processes, and output, can never compensate for bad leadership. Here are 10 traits and actions that smack of bad leadership (starting with the last):

10. Keep Them Guessing:

One way to keep your employees wondering if you (or they) are actually heading in any meaningful direction is to not share enough necessary information on tasks, projects, resources, or company goals. Supposing you are the CEO: this manner of working will have your employees, shareholders, and external analysts guessing whether you have the necessary vision to run the company.

If on the other hand your entire leadership team does this consistently, you can guarantee that there will be a lack of integration among departments, as nobody really knows why they are undertaking certain tasks, what it has to do with the company’s overall mission, and where it is all going. They may wonder, “Does the ship have a rudder; has anyone actually seen it”? In the end, the entire crew starts feeling uninspired, and the decrease in motivation and morale leads to underperformance…or mutiny.

9. Don’t Ask, Don’t Listen:

Sometimes, there’s nothing that will sink employees faster than making them feel like they’re really not that important. It’s actually easy to do: don’t listen to what they have to say (or at least don’t take it seriously) and don’t take time to ask them their opinions or feedback about their work or the company.

This way, you can preserve a certain tradition of institutional arrogance, and focus more on ‘process’ rather than the people who labor hard to run it. Under these conditions, if there are any early warning signs—internal and external opportunities (innovations, better ways of doing things, new technologies, etc.) or threats stemming from these factors, you are guaranteed to miss it all, as your employees are your eyes and ears on the ground…where most of the action takes place.

8. High Tech without High Touch:

In this digital era, it’s sometimes easy to forget that tech was not only designed by people, but operated by people in order to ultimately serve people. You can communicate with your customers by email, but nothing makes up for that one personal call or meeting. Same thing goes for employees, suppliers, partner organizations, etc.

Technology helps us connect: it’s fast, convenient, and speeds up the tempo of business. When it comes to personal touch, technology is a better relay than it is a substitute. Used excessively, it starts to feel like an unnecessary communicative prosthetic. It causes a big disconnect. And that’s when technology starts to work against you.

7. Employee Wellness is for Wimps:

We’ve all been told at one point or another to ‘deal with it,’ or ‘suck it up.’ Most of us probably heard this during team sports practice (while we were in grade school). Unfortunately, this attitude still prevails amongst bad leaders in the workplace.

What’s wrong with this? As a leader, this is one way to tell your employees that their work is much more important than their health—physical, mental, and psychological well being—and that leadership privileges profits over the people helping make the profits. In the end, such an attitude reveals leadership’s lack of interest in the health of a business, as a business can only be as fit as the people who drive it.

6. Your Paycheck is Enough:

There will come a time when your business will face daunting challenges. Whether from competitors, economic conditions, industry shifts, or technological changes, your business might find itself at a critical juncture. When that time comes, you will ask every single employee to give their 100%. With their understanding that almost everything is at stake, and that they will have to work together like never before to overcome the difficulties that lay ahead, you realize that, as indoctrinated by the culture you established, they are all doing it for…the paycheck?

People strive to accomplish difficult tasks for personal gain. Pay is one form of gain, but it’s not always enough to motivate someone to take on tasks or risks that are more challenging than what they usually encounter. True loyalty—to team, to company, to an idea—can only come about through a sense of personal satisfaction. Recognition for accomplishment is one crucial factor that encourages team pride and team loyalty. These affect individual and organizational morale. When times get tough, morale is scalable and can be increased. The same can’t be said for paychecks.

5. Work is a Serious Business:

Should the work environment be a fun environment? Is a fun environment anti-productive? Here’s a simple answer: people do things because they want to do them or because they are afraid of what will happen if they don’t do them. The former is affirmative and the latter negative. In an affirmative work environment, employees tend to have a wider capacity to choose, create, imagine, risk, and take action in an alert but non-stressed environment. Those are characteristics of ‘play.’ Take that away, and you will lose all of those factors (which, by the way are what characterize exceptional companies).

4. Training is a Liability

Businesses aim to grow, but not necessarily in size. Growth can take the form of increased revenue, influence, relevance, capabilities, expertise, and industry leadership, to name a few. Growth, in one way or another, is a necessary aspect of maintaining competitiveness.

But what grows? It’s usually the people who drive the business (not just the executives, as they can’t be in charge of every single task, but the employees as well). When leadership deems its investment in people (employees) to be optional, then overall competitiveness, the potential to thrive, and the defense against obsolescence also become optional.

3. It’s All About the “Bottom Line”:

This is a systemic adaptation of #6 above. If you expect your employees to work solely for pay and nothing more, then it’s not much of a leap to see how an organization can exist primarily for its own ‘bottom line.’ Not very inspiring.

Bottom line counts significantly, of course. An increasing bottom line is the end result of a process. But if that process lacks passion, vision, vitality, creativity, that extra ‘something’ that makes a company tick (all of which require passion), there’s no reason to expect loyalty from either employees or customers. There are other companies that do have that extra ‘something’ though. And they are usually the ones who might eventually sink your ship.

2. Rigid Compliance to Policy 

Bypassing industry and state policy (important matters nevertheless), there are corporate policies that not only outline fundamental rules (which are often based on industry and state policies) but also extend toward protocols defining ‘best practices’ and to a considerable extent, actions in alignment with ‘corporate culture.’

The last two are in a state of constant flux. Policies map out a set of directions in an otherwise fuzzy world. But the map can’t change the fuzzy dynamics of the territory. Many ‘best practices’ eventually become outdated. Corporate culture is always changing in that it reflects the ‘real’ and current skills, tendencies, and interests of the people who live it. For a company to evolve, it’s a matter of trust in real people, understanding what they do, how they do it, and what changes they see fit. It’s not about following a recipe to keep a company operating under conditions that may no longer even exist.

And now, the #1 way to sink your leadership is to:

1. Create a Culture of Unexceptional
Having read the previous nine ways, this should not be a surprise as it is the culmination of all of the above. There are a number of words to describe this state: drab, underwhelming, stale, obsolete, unimaginative, uncreative, etc. You get the picture.

Bottom line: Refusing to invest in your people is refusing to invest in your business. Your people not only work for your business, they create and drive your business from the marginal spaces all the way to the top. On a human level, optimal health is about taking care of the whole body. Neglecting the slightest illness or injury, no matter what part is affected, can be detrimental to the entire physical system. Businesses are not much different.

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