We’ve all been at the mercy of a bad leader.
You want to be a good leader in your own work.
You probably have an intuitive sense of what that means, but how can you know for sure?
Here are 3 ways that a good leader differs from a bad leader. Looking at these, you can determine whether the people around you give you their best effort and are thriving, or whether they are resentful and playing small for you and in their own lives.
1. Good Leaders Balance Completion and Compassion
Good leaders can see the end in their mind, and guide others through the milestones to achieve a worthy goal. They also appreciate that work gets done by human beings. They treat their peers, team, and family members as humans who have their own motivations and desires and struggles. They notice where their team members are succeeding and where they are struggling. They ask questions to keep a pulse on their team members’ experiences – paying attention to how the work gets done, not simply that it gets done. They check in regularly, genuinely asking their team about their feelings and well-being, and how improvements can be made.
Bad leaders see people as objects to be manipulated for an end goal that they want, viewing them only as a cog in the machine or as a stereotype. They don’t see the individuality of each team member and try to match the task/hours/opportunity to each person.
Bad leaders let their own insecurity and career self-interest drive their behavior, overriding the care and concern for their people. They only see the progress of the work without noticing the people who do the work, or they care so much about being liked by their people that they fail to give direction to achieve completion of the work that gives team members a sense of satisfaction and pride.
2. Good Leaders Provide Clarity and Vision
Good leaders provide a clear roadmap, and help their team members see it the same way they see it in order to reduce misalignment and rework. They give clear instructions so that team members can get that feel-good ‘dopamine squirt’ in their brains upon completing a task, yet they also keep giving tasks that keep a person stretching and growing.
They rally their team members by helping them see they are a part of something bigger and more meaningful than their own piece of the overall effort. They play the long game, developing people in order to get exponentially better outcomes from them over time.
Bad leaders don’t give their people a sense of context so they can’t see the value of their work for patients, clients, customers, community members, or colleagues. Their team members lack clarity on their role and waste time duplicating work or trying to figure out ‘who’s supposed to do what’. Their team feels unsupported and is left to spin on their own.
3. Good Leaders Use Their Power To Raise Others
A good leader is in their power. They appreciate that they are a leader of other people and take their responsibility seriously. They know how to handle situations so their actions are intentional rather than reactive. Their intent is to use their power in order to make things better for the team, for the good of all.
They act to protect the team from overwhelm, clear obstacles out of the way, or be a buffer from a non-supportive work culture.
Good leaders create psychological safety. “Psychological Safety,” a term coined by Harvard professor Amy Edmonson, means creating a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect where people are comfortable speaking up and being themselves. In this kind of team culture, team members aren’t afraid or ashamed to raise ideas or own their mistakes. Mistakes are seen as learning opportunities – good leaders show they too are fallible, and model how they learn from mistakes. Good leaders know what it feels like to fear speaking up or have ideas dismissed, so they are motivated to make sure others don’t experience that as well. They hold space for new conversations – so everyone can be candid and feel heard.
Research studies show that power can ‘go to your head.’ Many high power individuals have reduced empathy, stereotype others, and are less inclusive.
Bad leaders don’t see the impact their thoughtlessness has on other people. They don’t take responsibility for their impact, and react defensively or demean others – shutting their team down rather than spurring them to greatness.
Bad leaders don’t see how they can motivate and inspire others to perform; rather, they only see how to get others to serve their ends. They only think in terms of what they already know or they stay in the comfort zone of what they have seen modeled. They misunderstand what “power” means, thinking it’s power over others in order to get what they want. They only play the short game, doing whatever they think it takes to get a result now, not realizing they are losing the loyalty and discretionary effort of their people. They only see solutions through their own eyes, not seeing their impact on others or alternative solutions that could be better for everyone.
In order to define who you want to be as a leader, you might start by filling in two columns on a sheet of paper – qualities that describe good leaders and bad leaders in your life. You might also make a list of the qualities you are currently displaying as a good and bad leader at any level – on your team, in your company, in your community or family.
What qualities are you displaying as a good leader? Our world needs good leaders in order to better communities and create cultures where everyone can thrive. Will you be the good leader your world needs?