Seven Deadly Sins of Leadership

In business circles, leadership is a hot topic. A recent search on using the keyword leadership resulted in over 10,000 book titles! Yet most people can’t entirely agree on what makes a great leader. I have had the good fortune to work for a great leader early in my career who made a lasting impression on me, and I also had the misfortune of working for several bozos that taught me what not to do. Let’s take a look at what great leaders don’t do, what I refer to as the Seven Deadly Sins:

1. Lack of Vision — As a CEO or business owner , your primary responsibility is to set the vision for the company’s future and spend most of your time making sure it gets there. Things like “how large do we want to be?” and “what will our business look like in 5 years?” You also need to be conducting strategic planning meetings that include a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). Get outside help if you need someone to educate you and facilitate this process — it is impossible to both contribute and facilitate a strategic planning process with objectivity. Would you build a a new facility without an architect? Of course not, then why would you try to build a business without help from a business development specialist?

2. Micromanaging — Focusing on the small stuff and nitpicking your managers is equivalent to Nero fiddling while Rome burned. Yes, “the demon is in the details”, but let your mangers focus on the details while you focus on the strategic macro issues. Checking every last detail of your people’s work not only annoys and frustrates them; it is a grossly inefficient use of your valuable time. If you are the CEO or a VP, your job is to recruit, train, and empower great leaders to lead your organization — not check their math and ask them why an Administrative Assistant took a personal day last week! The top performing organizations are full of people doing the right things, at the right time, and for the right reasons without being told to.

3. Jumping the Chain of Command — Dressing down an employee who reports to one of your managers accomplishes nothing positive. At a minimum, it erodes the confidence of your managers and sends a clear message that you don’t respect their ability or authority. If that’s really the case then why do you have them in management positions? Check your ego at the door and let them do their jobs.

4. Not Trusting Your People — We have all heard the management adage “you must inspect what you expect” but that doesn’t mean looking over your people’s shoulders. If you don’t trust your managers to manage why are they on your payroll? Why should your people trust you if you don’t trust them? Jim Collins, in his bestselling book Good to Great pointed out that the companies who made the transformation from good to great all worked extremely hard at “getting the right people on the bus and in the right seats”. If you feel the need to constantly check-up on them, then I submit that you don’t have the right people on the bus or you’re not an effective leader. Another point on trust, in my experience people who can’t trust others are quite often untrustworthy themselves, or at least believe that about themselves. Strong leaders build trust by first trusting in their people.

5. Double Standards and Nepotism — Don’t fall into the “do as I say, not as I do” trap. You can’t have two sets of rules. To be effective you must lead by example. Having two, or even worse several, sets of rules will slowly kill your organization. Giving certain individuals special treatment or privileges will damage employee morale and sap the energy of the organization. And you should know that flaunting special perks and privileges, like having the company pay for the owner’s family vacation as a so called “business trip”, is not an effective way to win your people’s hearts and minds. It is hard to expect your people to be frugal and spend the company’s money wisely when you don’t follow that rule. It is also unrealistic to expect your employees to work hard and strive to be the best if they see unqualified family members promoted ahead of them. Promotions must be based on merit not birthright; otherwise your best people will leave for organizations in which nepotism isn’t practiced.

6. Straight Talk — Effective leaders don’t engage in prevarication. This is a nice way of saying BS; and I don’t mean Bachelor of Science! Remember Bill Clinton’s statement under oath “It depends on what the meaning of is is.”? People at all levels in your organization can immediately see through that type of evasive claptrap. The best leaders are brutally honest with themselves and with their employees. If you truly expect people to follow you in difficult times, you must tell them the unvarnished truth; they can handle it. If your financials stink and the turnaround you are planning is going to be long and arduous, tell them that and ask for their support. An organization can do great things when a trusted leader rallies her troops around her. Strong leaders are known for their straight talk. They don’t mince words or use weak terms like “rightsizing”; no one ever feels their termination was “right”, the accurate term is downsizing. It takes years to build a good reputation, but only a minute to ruin one. As a leader, you simply can’t afford to “gild the lily” or skirt around the truth. A final word on accountability: people respect a person who takes responsibility for their actions and acknowledges the consequences of his or her decisions. As a leader you will have to make difficult decisions. Never say “it’s not my fault”; just be clear on your intention and speak openly about the consequences.

7. Not Sharing the Credit and Spreading the Wealth — It is amazing how many leaders take all the credit and jump into the spotlight when sales and profits are great but find scapegoats to castigate in public, a.k.a. “sacrificial lambs”, when things aren’t going well. Effective leaders always find a way to give credit to their people and take the heat when the results aren’t good. They also regularly seek opportunities for sincere praise and thank yous. They love to catch their people doing things right.



Articles on leadership, building high-performance teams, organizational health and culture.

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Frank Manfre

Business & career coach w/ 35 years experience in leadership roles in for profit and nonprofit organizations focused on developing leaders & org health