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04/10/2013

Leaders (Desperately) Wanted: Bad Bosses Need Not Apply


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People today don't trust banks, Wall Street, or government. We need men and women with the leadership skills necessary to fill the leadership vacuum of our times. 

Many bosses think they're leaders. But they're wrong. They're merely bad bosses.

Case in point: I once knew a man who had been both a college professor and an attorney and decided to switch careers. He took a position as a high school social studies teacher.

Seeking to establish himself from the get-go as an authority figure, he spent those critically important first days of school pacing before his classroom like a military despot and pronouncing a long list of rules students were to obey without discussion.

Anyone who knows adolescents knows what happened: Of course, the students laughed. So much for the martinet approach to leading.

Other fallacies about what it takes to be an effective leader abound. 

  • The Bully: This is the manager who motivates people by screaming at them. She picks on people she views as weak and uses fear to get things done. This style will backfire. It destroys, rather than strengthens, the team. As with high school students, employees intuitively know that bullies are, deep down, craven cowards. They will make merciless fun of her histrionics when she's not around. 
  • The Nit Picker: Only he can do things correctly, so no detail is too small for his obsessive compulsion to keep everything tightly under his control. This micro-manager never lets go, never delegates. This style hurts the team because no one ever learns how to back up others in the group. And, no one has acquired the experience and confidence to accept more responsibility—or to act effectively during a crisis.

Mach Creative
  • The Cowardly Lion: The actor Bert Lahr gave us one of Hollywood's most comical characters, but the Cowardly Lion is no joke. This is the boss who pretends she's tough, but it's all bluff. She cuts and runs in times of danger, often spending days on end hiding in her office behind a closed door. This style doesn't work because, instead of confidently leading by example and standing at the forefront to defend her team, she trains the people she's supposed to be leading to run and hide when problems occur. 
  • The Shameless Self-Promoter: This manager is always looking for his next promotion, so he is an expert at managing upward. When talking to top management, he takes all the credit for ideas his team originated. He is the ultimate schmoozer, especially when he's around powerful people. He uses only the first person pronoun. For example: "I did this. I thought of that." This tactic is so blatant that smart decision makers recognize the Shameless Self-Promoter is trying to manipulate them. Even worse, the team will become resentful, passive, and unmotivated. 

Leadership is the challenge of our times. By refusing to put up with the tactics of bad bosses, we'll encourage smart, consensus-building, clear-eyed people to step forward and inspire others to excel.

–Susan Mach, PhD

Susan Mach, PhD, is a communication coach, trainer, and strategist. She teaches management communication part time at major NYC-area business schools, and investment research report writing at NYSSA.

As an impartial, nonprofit forum for the finance and banking industries NYSSA encourages discussion and debate among its member and other professionals. Commentaries, however, should be taken as the sole opinion of the author(s) and not of NYSSA. If you would like to submit a commentary to the Finance Professional's Post, send your article to the editor.

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