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Addressing Unleaderlike Behaviors: Navigating the Pitfalls of Leadership
Unleaderlike behaviors stem from leadership immaturity or deep-seated character faults. The stressful, demanding nature of leadership can cause leaders to adopt immature habits, thoughts, and behaviors. The consequences of unleaderlike behaviors can be grave, but leadership coaching can help leaders overcome these pitfalls.
“Leadership’s not a title. It’s a behavior. Live it.” – Robin Sharma.
In the business world, leaders provide guidance, motivation, problem-solving, and ethical decision-making. Successful leaders are master communicators. They build high-performing teams and positive organizational cultures and manage change.
Leadership is a high-stress job with high expectations. Some people thrive amid high expectations and rise to the challenge. Others react differently. Stress and the constant demands of change management may trigger unleaderlike behaviors in some. Immature reactions, thoughts, habits, and beliefs are among the main causes of leadership failure and derailment.
Leaders inspire, motivate, and serve others. That is the essence of leadership.
As a leadership development professional, I have identified leadership immaturity as a common cause of unleaderlike behaviors and leadership derailment. Insecurity is a consequence and result of immaturity.
“Most bad behavior comes from insecurity.” – Debra Winger.
I can help immature leaders achieve a higher level of leadership maturity and defeat some of their weaknesses. When unleaderlike behaviors are the results of fundamental character flaws, coaching will find it more difficult to effect positive change.
Identifying Unleaderlike Behaviors
From the perspective of an experienced leadership coach, unleaderlike behaviors often surface in almost stereotypical ways. The key to identifying such behaviors is the presence of self-serving behaviors in leaders.
Inspirational, motivating, well-respected servant leaders serve others. Their primary concern is to improve others and serve the goals and values of their organizations.
The Helper trait sums up well how a leader should behave at the helm of a team. Mature Helpers are selfless, generous, and invested in the success of their teams and team members.
When they derail due to immaturity, Helpers start attaching strings to their generosity and selflessness. They expect others to reciprocate. They view the help they provide as some sort of currency that is part of a zero-sum game, and that should find its way back to them somehow. Their help takes on a self-serving tinge. And the moment it does that, it loses its authenticity.
Mature Disciples follow others to contribute to a higher cause. They value others’ leadership and decision-making abilities and will support others without reservations while retaining their own leadership capabilities.
Immature Disciples use others’ leadership to compensate for their sense of inadequacy. Such leaders may suffer from imposter syndrome, deeming themselves unworthy of success and the accolades it begets. Insecurity resulting from immature thoughts, beliefs, and reactions, once again leads to derailment.
An Example of Unleaderlike Behavior
Enron Corporation’s downfall in the early 2000s is a typical, albeit somewhat extreme, example of leadership immaturity at work.
Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay, the CEO and Chairman of the organization, engaged in a series of unethical leadership practices that the leadership coaching world tends to see as an overly grotesque morality tale, rather than a lens revealing a systematic problem at the core of corporate logic and leadership.
The two Enron executives engaged in financial manipulation, attempting to hide their machinations behind an opaque layer of hubris and arrogance. They ignored the concerns of their employees and refused accountability while using short-term goals to blind investors and stakeholders.
They squandered the trust of those they should have led and destroyed their credibility together with the organization they should have stewarded to prosperity. Enron’s collapse destroyed the investments and retirement savings of many. It claimed jobs, livelihoods, and careers.
Unleaderlike behaviors carry grave consequences.
The Consequences of Unleaderlike Behaviors
Unleaderlike behaviors always come with significant costs. The problem is that those guilty of such behaviors aren’t the only ones to pay when their immature constructs and cooked books inevitably collapse.
Many will do whatever they can to eschew responsibility, acting like preschool children incapable of comprehending the consequences of their actions.
Unlike Enron’s spectacular collapse, unleaderlike behaviors don’t often result in highly-visible catastrophes. Often, they silently gnaw away at the fabric of the organization, sabotaging its success and that of the stakeholders.
“A bad leader can take a good staff and destroy it, causing the best employees to flee and the remainder to lose all motivation.”
Bad, immature leadership entails many more or less obvious consequences affecting organizations and individuals alike.
- Loss of trust. People don’t trust leaders who observe no values and only care about themselves.
- Loss of motivation. Trust is the currency of leadership and an indispensable prerequisite of employee motivation and morale. With it gone, morale suffers.
- Loss of engagement. With employees less engaged and interested in the success of the organization, productivity suffers.
- Negative impact on organizational culture. Leaders contribute to the cultures of their organizations by setting positive examples. Leaders who set bad examples promote dubious values and create toxic cultures.
- Lack of innovation. Employee disengagement leads to a lack of creativity and innovation. No one cares enough to do anything other than what’s necessary.
- Reputational damage. Dubious leadership practices breed a lack of trust that ruins the reputation of the organization.
- Wasted opportunities. With no one assuming psychological ownership of organizational goals, no one is keen on seizing opportunities for growth and scaling.
- High employee turnover. People like to belong to an organization that supports and cares for them. If leaders fail to deliver, many employees will move on to greener pastures.
- Lasting dysfunction. An organization that can’t handle its leadership challenges is like a bad marriage. It can’t work, and its dysfunction hurts everyone involved.
Addressing Unleaderlike Behaviors
Unleaderlike behaviors, leadership immaturity, and insecurity stem from a fundamental lack of self-awareness. Lacking self-awareness, immature leaders are seldom able to course-correct without outside intervention.
Leaders incapable of ethical decision-making are unlikely to realize the need to reform their attitudes and approaches to leadership.
On the other hand, only leaders themselves can effect positive changes in their attitudes.
Leadership coaching can help.
The winning formula calls for coaches to take immature leaders on a joint journey of self-discovery by asking questions that call for revelatory answers. That is the essence of executive coaching and leadership development.
Coaches can help leaders achieve higher levels of self-awareness while committing to personal development. Some growth-focused leadership behaviors that coaches may encourage are:
- Self-reflection. Self-reflection is the starting point of self-awareness. By practicing self-reflection, leaders can recognize negative traits like arrogance and poor communication abilities.
- Providing and asking for feedback. Exchanging feedback is one of the cornerstones of healthy communication.
- Cultivating self-awareness. Coaches can help leaders get in touch with their feelings, emotions, thoughts, and the impact of these factors on their actions.
- Empathy. By practicing empathy, leaders can understand problems from other people’s perspectives.
- Active listening. By fully listening to what their interlocutors have to say, leaders can defeat negative tendencies like impatience and dismissive attitudes.
- Accountability. Assuming responsibility and accountability for the growth process can help leaders’ long-term commitment.
- Mindfulness. Leaders can adopt techniques like meditation and mindfulness for stress management.
- Modeling positive behaviors. Developing leaders should demonstrate the behaviors and qualities they want to adopt, setting good examples for their followers.
- Celebrating success. Celebrating milestones on the road to success serves as positive reinforcement, helping leaders commit to continuous positive change.
Self-awareness, accountability, and ethical decision-making are three essential pillars of mature, inspirational, and engaging leadership.
Addressing unleaderlike behaviors is not a one-time undertaking. With the guidance of an executive coach or by themselves, leaders must treat it as an ongoing process. They must be patient, show self-compassion, and commit to long-term growth.
Leadership coaching is a co-discovery process that helps leaders navigate leadership pitfalls. Derailment and unleaderlike behaviors can surface at various stages of one’s leadership career. Leadership coaching can help leaders course-correct in many cases.