How to Be a Terrible Leader (Hint: It’s Easy)

How to Be a Terrible Leader (Hint: It’s Easy)

How to Be a Terrible Leader (Hint: It’s Easy)

They say that leaders are born, not made, but a couple of decades at the helm of multiple companies has taught me otherwise. I’ve made every leadership mistake in the book and probably invented some new ones along the way.

In spite of that–and in spite of being a born introvert–I managed through trial and error to arrive at a place where I feel confident in my ability to motivate, guide and love a large, diverse group of people.

There’s no magic formula for achieving this, but here are nine surefire ways to achieve the opposite:

1. Exaggerate your importance.

I choose not to have a private office because I want to communicate to my company that all roles are equally important. We have 90 employees. If all of them were CEOs, we’d fail miserably.

Every role matters. Every piece of the puzzle counts. It’s not good enough just to say it–you have to believe it. If you merely mouth the words and then strut to your private kingdom and close the door, you’re sending an awful message.

2. Surround yourself with clones and yes men.

Surrounding yourself with toadies and lookalikes is self-defeating, and it’s boring as hell. The pleasure of having your butt kissed is a drug: fleeting, false, and painfully subject to the law of diminishing returns.

Embrace people who will challenge you. Embrace people from different backgrounds, who’ve walked roads radically different from yours. They’ll see things that you can’t, alerting you to pitfalls and possibilities you wouldn’t have dreamed of otherwise.

3. Try to be good at everything.

Effective leaders are on intimate terms with their strengths and weaknesses, but they don’t waste time and energy trying to force the latter to become the former.

Focus on what you’re good at, and toil to become the best at it. When it comes to what you’re bad at, be content to achieve a passing grade, and build a complementary team to make up for the difference.

4. Don’t laugh at yourself.

There’s nothing more psychologically crippling than taking yourself too seriously. If you can’t laugh at yourself, if you can’t stand some friendly teasing or being called out for an obvious error, you’ll distance yourself from others and insecurely wonder what’s really on their minds.

Make peace with your inner oddball and allow others to poke fun at you. Poke fun at yourself. You’ll find it crazily liberating.

5. Dwell on your mistakes.

Leaders can’t afford to brood over past errors. The business world is fast, competitive and ruthless. Learn from your blunders and move on. You’ll be ten times stronger for it.

6. Poo-poo emotional intelligence.

People with high emotional intelligence (EQ) are capable of recognizing and managing their own emotions and the emotions of those around them. If they take constructive criticism personally, for example, they can quickly identify their reaction as unreasonable and move on.

Similarly, they can see when someone else is hurt and take the appropriate steps to mollify and encourage them. This is massively important when it comes to building a company culture free of drama and regrettable turnover.

7. Wish you were someone else.

One surefire way to blunt your talent and look silly in the process is to pretend you’re someone you’re not. We should all seek to emulate our heroes, but draw the line at outright envy or mimicry.

If I walk into my next company meeting dressed as Steve Jobs, I hope I would be greeted with a roar of incredulous laughter. Embrace who you are, and others will embrace you for the same reason.

8. Gossip.

Great leaders are above gossip and all the nastiness, anxiety and small-mindedness it implies. Even in your closest circles, avoid anything that smacks of belittling others behind their backs.

For one thing, you’re setting a terrible example. For another, you’re undermining the confidence of everyone in your presence. They’ll secretly wonder if you say similar stuff about them when they’re not around.

8. Play mind games.

One of my employees told me about a guy he worked for who would write long, impassioned emails, demand an immediate response, and then leave you on pins and needles for days before replying himself.

Be above that sort of behavior. Mind games are a sign of a weak, narcissistic, unstable personality.

9. Avoid having fun at all costs.

Leadership is hard. It’s stressful. It demands long hours, intense concentration and deep, empathetic relationships with those you lead. If you can’t have fun while you’re doing it, why do it at all?

This is where love comes in. The more I love the folks I work with, the more I can approach work itself with a lightness of spirit that will save my health and delight and relieve those around me.

This article originally appeared on Inc.

This article was originally written on May 19, 2017 and updated on January 31, 2021.

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2 responses to “How to Be a Terrible Leader (Hint: It’s Easy)

  1. Great article and points to internalize.

    What do you do when you have a manager that checks all these boxes? I have read Extreme Ownership by Jocko Wilinik and Leif Babin and understand I need to take responsibility for everything in my domain even this. I am not in a financial position to leave and this situation has me feeling sapped.

    1. Hi Orion, thanks for your kind words. You’re in a tough spot. I suggest that you live in the moment and relish what is good and positive, but also that you play the long game. Rather than focus on your manager’s shortcomings, look for ways to improve yourself that will reward you when your circumstances change.