Are You Guilty of The Three Demoralizing Leadership Sins?

Leaders are never energy-neutral. Leaders create energy or they sap energy out of their people and out of their organizations.

And yet some leaders don’t seem to understand that there’s a lot more to being a boss than being bossy. It may sound corny, but as I often tell my coaching clients, “If you lack tact, no one buys your act.”

Of course, no “leader” would ever admit to being arrogant, even though some of them are. They may emphatically deny their arrogance or may even be unaware of it.

But everyone who works with an arrogant leader can see it and has to deal with the damage it causes

So just in case you know someone who is bossy and arrogant, you might want to pass this article on to them. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll see the light of a better approach.

From my observations of working with hundreds of leaders, there are three tell-tale signs or sins of arrogant leadership.

► 1. A love of power.

Hey Washington! Are you listening? I find that most politicians of any persuasion will do just about anything to maintain their power.

Of course, it feels good to be in control. It helps you get things done. But power can be a destructive force if you’re not careful. As business broker Marshall G. Bryant puts it,

“When your love of authority exceeds your sense of responsibility, your leadership is in jeopardy — and so is the organization you lead.”

By contrast, effective leaders go beyond their love of power. They do more than tell other people what to do. They pitch in. As telecommunications executive Harold Geneen points out,

“I don’t believe in just ordering people to do things. You have to sort of grab an oar and row with them.”

Another sin of the arrogant leader is…

► 2. Taking too much of the credit.

That’s all too common. Arrogant leaders take credit for everything good that happens while they’re in office, whether or not they had anything to do with that good result. And they blame someone else for everything bad that happens while they’re in that leadership position.

Go back and watch the old Melanie Griffith movie called Working Girl and see how her boss took too much of the credit. Or take a look at some of the “research” coming out of the universities these days. Quite often the students do the research, but the professor publishes the results under his or her name.

By contrast, effective, redemptive, non-arrogant leaders take more than their share of the blame and less than their share of the credit.

Other energy-sapping leaders are known by…

► 3. An overwhelming need to be right, all the time.

Arrogant leaders find it almost impossible to admit their mistakes, apologize, and ask for forgiveness. They’ve got to be right … or at least look like they’re right … no matter what. And that ultimately destroys their credibility and effectiveness.

After all, if the boss is always right, the team could get to feel like they’re always wrong. And that doesn’t feel good. It’s disrespectful and demotivating.

If you’re guilty of any of those three sins, you will never reach your full potential as a leader. And neither will your organization.

There is hope, however. The arrogant leader can be saved or redeemed … if they engage in one or more of these behaviors.

A. Get committed to ongoing learning and education.

A leader’s first calling is to grow. And a leader’s commitment to ongoing learning kills off any arrogance or know-it-all behavior that may be hanging around.

And yet, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken to an organization where the leader comes in for the first few minutes of my program … and then leaves. Whether they know it or not, they send the message that they don’t need to know what is being taught … or they have more important things to do.

And does the leader’s leaving an educational program make a difference? You bet. It mystifies, confuses, or even angers the program attendees.

One of the most frequent comments on my program evaluation form is something along the lines of … “This was a great seminar, but WHO REALLY NEEDS to hear this stuff is my boss … or our managers … or our entire leadership team.”

In essence, the program attendees are saying, “My boss … or our leaders … are ignorant. They’re not as good as they think they are. They still have a lot to learn.” And as one person noted, “Foolish are the generals who ignore the daily intelligence from the trenches.”

The sad truth is … too many leaders stop learning.

So go ahead and do it right now. If you’re a leader of any sort, ask yourself what YOU learned today. If you’re not sure, or if your teammates don’t see much evidence of your learning, you’re sapping the energy out of them. They see ignorance and arrogance, neither of which is ever a very inspiring example to follow.

B. Admit your mistakes.

Instead of needing to be right all the time, the most effective leaders can say, “I was wrong. I’ve learned to see things differently. I’ve learned a better way.”

As Margaret A Neale, a business school professor says,

“You need to constantly ask yourself: Do I want to be right or do I want to be effective?”

I encourage you and all leaders to ask themselves the same question.

C. Talk the talk and walk the talk.

Almost everyone wants a sense of direction. And almost everyone wants their leaders to lead them SOMEWHERE better than where they are right now.

Before that can happen, however, the leader has to create the vision, communicate the vision, and sell the vision, so everybody understands it and everybody buys into it. That’s talking the talk.

The leader also has got to walk the talk. After all, employees are constantly watching their leaders to see if they’re doing what they’re telling them to do.

One leader thought he had a good way to walk his talk and reinforce the direction he was giving them. He purchased an expensive coffee mug with a fancy depiction of the vision statement for each employee. It was his way of breathing extra life into the vision he was imparting.

What he didn’t understand was that you have to do more than walk the talk … if you’re trying to lead a somewhat cynical or demoralized workforce. You also have to talk the talk. You have to explain the intentions behind the direction you’re giving. Otherwise, you’ll have a workforce that can easily misinterpret your leadership direction. They’ll read between the lines, inserting meanings you never intended.

That’s what happened in the coffee-mug situation. Many of the employees assumed the coffee mugs were a thinly veiled cost-cutting device … because the new mugs were a full ounce smaller than the older ones. They thought it must be an underhanded attempt to get people to drink less coffee.

Final Thought: Are you (or someone you know) guilty of these three leadership sins? If so, take on the challenge of doing more of A, B, or C above.