At Caldwell Partners, we are on the lookout for the cream of the crop, and they deploy a diverse range of tactics to ensure the shortlist of candidates they put together is an optimal fit with a company’s needs.
The answer to the question of what makes a good leader isn’t a simple one, as it depends on variables such as the requirements of each specific position within the C-suite, the firm’s individual needs and the fact that there is more than one path to effective leadership. That being said, some leadership behaviors are unequivocally detrimental and should be avoided at all costs.
1. Poor communication
In a list compiled by Maren Hogan of the Young Entrepreneur Council and published by Forbes, poor communication came up as the No. 1 bad leadership habit.
“You know the type,” wrote Hogan. “One minute, they’re dashing off an email that makes virtually no sense and the next they’re requesting a three-hour phone call to go over a relatively minute project that you’re not even working on. Or they ask you to make something the very highest priority and then tell you to scrap the plan next week, just as you’re finishing your project plan.”
For leaders, this type of operating model is precisely what they should be avoiding. For management recruiters, candidates who display this type of behavior likely won’t make it to the shortlist.
What’s the solution? One word: Organization. Often, leaders act scattered (hence the nonsensical emails and conflicting instructions) because they have too much on their plates.
2. Not sharing knowledge
Sometimes, leaders are unwilling to let star employees shine for fear of being overshadowed. This results in knowledge hoarding and a general sense among workers that they are being “kept down,” which can wreak havoc in terms of engagement and performance rates.
“You’re not in competition with your employees,” wrote Hogan.
On the contrary, pooling information, insights, resources and experience can allow the company to perform better as a whole, with the leader maintaining his or her executive position while employees hone their skills to become better within their current roles – and perhaps eventually even climb the corporate ladder.
What’s the solution? The opposite of hoarding knowledge is sharing it, and that’s precisely what leaders who struggle in this regard need to do. Empowering employees with information can go a long way in terms of everything from boosting innovation to decreasing turnover due to disengagement.
“Leaders often communicate poorly because they have too many things on their plates.”
3. Not sharing responsibilities
As we noted above, leaders often communicate poorly because they have too many things on their to-do lists and not enough time to engage with their colleagues and subordinates. While leaders should handle high-level or delicate tasks directly, those who shut others out in order to personally oversee every process and operation not only run the risk of spreading themselves too thinly but also of curtailing their employee’s professional growth.
“If your organization, department or company could run with just one person, it would,” Hogan pointed out. “And your employees will never be able to step in and assist in any meaningful way if you keep pushing them down. In fact, putting the smartest guy in the room in the middle of every important decision can result in entire teams, departments and even companies grinding to a halt.”
What’s the solution? Delegation, delegation, delegation. Before leaders begin reassigning some of their responsibilities, they should ensure the recipients have the expertise to execute related tasks effectively. This will involve a prudent selection process on behalf of the leader, as well as potential training deployment to bring members of the workforce up to par if necessary.
4. Failing to see the distinction between ‘working hard’ and ‘working smart’
Often, leaders insist on working long hours and being constantly focused on the task at hand. Even worse, they tend to pass this mentality on to their employees.
“Not everyone can be ‘heads down’ all the time,” asserted Hogan. “Humans need breaks in order for creativity to flourish.”
If workers don’t feel able to take a breather, the quality of their performance will likely be negatively affected, and their attitudes will probably take a similar nosedive. That isn’t to say they shouldn’t rise to meet the demands of their jobs or strive to do their best, but establishing a sense of balance is key – and will actually benefit the organization in the long run.
Indeed, as Arianna Huffington stated during a speech at HubSpot’s 2013 INBOUND conference, “creating the culture of burnout is opposite to creating a culture of sustainable creativity.”
“Working hard doesn’t necessarily equate to being productive.”
What’s the solution? Leaders must recognize that working hard doesn’t necessarily equate to being productive, and sometimes taking a step back is exactly what a project needs – not to mention the people working on it.
The bottom line
Executive search consultants understand that every company’s needs are unique, but regardless of the industry in which it operates, the size of the firm or the specifics of the position that needs to be filled, certain qualities will stand out: communication skills, knowledge-sharing, delegation and the ability to work “smart,” not just hard.
About Caldwell Partners
Caldwell Partners is a leading international provider of executive search and has been for more than 40 years. As one of the world’s most trusted advisors in executive search, the firm has a sterling reputation built on successful searches for boards, chief and senior executives, and selected functional experts. With offices and partners across North America and in London, the firm takes pride in delivering an unmatched level of service and expertise to its clients.