Right from Jump Street, let me be clear about something: I don’t mean you should be scared of these jackwagons we’re about to describe. Far from it. Leaders that pull the nonsense we’re about to talk through deserve neither your fear nor your respect, though they’ll try to bully you into giving them both or make you miserable until you do.
But if you see some of what I’m describing below, it should scare you into giving serious thought to your work environment, because these are all huge leadership red flags. Translation: you should probably be really considering getting out of Dodge, my friend. That, or you may end up making a deal with the devil or something. (Ok, so the devil reference may have been a little heavy-handed with the Halloweenish stuff I suppose, but you’ll forgive me, right?)
So what are these scary signs? Here you go.
This can take many forms, some of them overt, many more covert.
It’s like a way of life with some of these leaders. You know the type.
They’re emotionally abusive.
They tear into people because they can. If they break people down emotionally, they’re quick to spout nonsense about the other person being “too emotional” or something instead of acknowledging what every single other person around them knows: that they’re just a huge jerk. You see, emotional abuse is a weapon for these types of leaders. It’s a weapon used to gain and maintain power and control. The more often it works, the more often these sociopathic leaders will use it. It’s frightening — nay, chilling — how familiar the description of a sociopathic leader sounds if you’ve had the unfortunate experience of encountering one at some point in your journey.
This can take all forms. Emotional. Verbal. And so on. Oh, the horror stories I could share. (Do I get additional bonus points for employing yet another Halloween-related word in my Halloween-themed post?)
They’re always playing some sort of game. They’re always scheming, sometimes by themselves, and sometimes with others. They’re typically worked up into a tizzy anytime they feel at all threatened, or any time they feel like their lousy leadership might be exposed. At that point, expect the scheming to kick into high gear.
And not just here and there. It’s almost a way of life. If it will serve their purpose, they’ll lie. If it will keep them out of trouble, they’ll lie. If it will get them what they want, they’ll lie. If it will hurt someone they want to hurt, they’ll lie. If it will gain them favor with someone, they’ll lie. If it will result in financial gain, they’ll lie. If it will keep them out of trouble in a relationship, they’ll lie. If they’re bored, they’ll lie. If they’re wearing socks, they’ll lie. If it’s a day that the sun rose in the east, they’ll lie.
They alter stories just a touch to get people to side with them on something. They exert emotional pressure on people to get them to do what they want. The employ guilt as a weapon. Everyone and everything is a pawn to these leaders.
For more on this one, click the link above.
They serve themselves instead of their team.
They’re the antithesis of servant leadership. Everything is ultimately about them. They don’t give two shekels about their team when it comes down to it. The team is just there to do what they’re told and make them look good.
Everything negative is rationalized away. Everything. Everything is someone else’s fault. Leaders like this can turn over teammate after teammate after teammate, but they’ll have a story for every single one of them. All the while, research tells us that people leave managers. So when people leave (or even take demotions to escape), those leaders will be there with a story and reason as to why this is anything but their fault. Poor chemistry on these leaders’ teams? “Oh, some of them are bad apples,” they will no doubt say, rather than owning their poor leadership. People leaving their teams? “Oh, they had better opportunities.” Or, “They just weren’t a good fit for us,” will be the rationalization, rather than anything remotely close to owning the mess their leadership has created.
They’re quick to throw others under the bus.
Closely related to the above, leaders like this have no qualms about shoving folks into oncoming traffic. In fact, to them, it’s almost an art form.
They divide, rather than unite, people.
They pit people against each other. They pit departments against each other. They spread gossip, even amongst members of their own team. I’ve seen leaders like this; they just can’t help themselves.
They need to be praised and worshipped and idolized, and if no one does it, by god, they’ll actually do it themselves. Just watch — they will literally bring up things that they think you should be praising them for and then wait for you to praise them. That, my friends, is what happens when unbridled ego and a complete lack of self-awareness combine into one, ugly mess.
They’re obsessed with status.
Related to the previous point, but manifesting slightly differently, leaders like this desperately need to appear to be…something. They need the biggest office. They need not just a big salary, but a bigger one. They won’t say it out loud, but they need to be fawned over. They pout when they feel they’re not treated like royalty. They’ll clamor for more attention if they’re not getting enough.
They take credit for their teams’ successes, but blame the team for their failures.
When the team does well, they’re quick to take credit. Sure, they may toss out the obligatory acknowledgement to the team, but you can tell it’s just that — an obligation. Then they return to their regularly scheduled program of prattling on about how awesome they are. The irony, of course, is that their team is doing great work in spite of their leadership, not because of it. On the other hand, when things go sideways, these leaders aren’t nearly so quick to take the credit. In those cases, they’re oh so happy to point out that this or that individual didn’t do this or that and thus that individual — not the leaders themselves — failed. (Sigh)
Scary stuff, right? Most of us have seen stuff like this first hand. I know I have. And it’s too bad, because leaders like this can gut a team and organization.
Did I miss any? Have any thoughts to add? Share them in the comments! Happy Halloween!