If you are like me, you have encountered many examples of weak leadership throughout your career.
Many of us have been frustrated with having to deal with poor leadership while trying to do our jobs. You may have even quit your job due to bad leadership.
- But what causes leaders to be so bad?
- What leads to that?
- How can we make sure we aren’t weak leaders?
In this article, we will discuss 7 major causes of weak leadership.
Table of Contents
Ignorance is a major cause of weak leadership.
Some leaders are ignorant of good leadership principles, some are unaware of the fact that they don’t know good leadership principles, and others are ignorant of both.
Ignorance of good leadership principles
Many leaders are ignorant of good leadership principles. This can be caused by a variety of reasons.
- Some are thrown into leadership positions and receive no training for it. They are just expected to “lead”.
- Others are brought into a leadership position by another leader who isn’t a good leader themselves. They may be trained, but they aren’t trained well because they are being trained by another leader with poor leadership.
- Others put themselves into a leadership position by volunteering or through a club or organization or by starting a business. In most of these cases, there is no formal training in leadership. If they haven’t been taught through other avenues or taken the time to learn on their own, they are entering that position ignorant of the best steps to take.
Not all these situations are necessarily bad IF the individual realizes they need to learn and grow to be a better leader.
However, too often, these new leaders are unaware of their ignorance and are sometimes caught by the curse of position or the curse of little knowledge.
Ignorance of one’s ignorance
Often, we can be unaware of our ignorance. In other words, we don’t know that we don’t know something.
Many weak leaders don’t know that they don’t really know what good leadership is. Because they are unaware, they think they are doing a fine job and don’t look toward growing themselves.
However, there are a couple of “curses” that hurt this ignorance as well.
The curse of position
Sometimes when an individual is placed in a leadership position, they suddenly think differently of themselves because they are in that position.
Some people have this “I’m a leader now” attitude, and it is reflected in how they act toward others. It’s not always an arrogant action, but you can tell they feel they are special or important now because they are in that position.
Sometimes, too, people think because they are in a leadership position that it must mean they know what a good leader is. In other words, because they are a “leader”, they think they know what being a good leader is, and they are unaware of the fact that, really, they do not.
That can be especially dangerous because they may be less likely to look to learn or listen to others because they think they have it figured out.
The curse of a little knowledge
Another curse is when someone takes a little training or they read a book, and they suddenly think they know everything there is about leadership (or whatever topic).
I’ve seen this with goal setting and SMART goals. People will take training or read a book or two, and suddenly they feel they are experts on it and telling others how to do it right (even when they might be wrong).
It’s a normal event. When people are in a new situation and/or starting to learn something new, it is a lot of new knowledge. They may feel like they’ve learned a lot and could teach it (which in itself isn’t bad).
However, when they are in that situation, they often fail to realize that, even though they have learned some, there’s a level of depth and experience that they don’t have yet.
There’s a lot to leadership. There’s a lot of depth. It’s great if you take a class or read a few books. It just doesn’t make you an expert.
Just know in your excitement while you do know some information, you still have a lot to learn and grow. It’s okay to teach what you have learned, but realize you still have a way to go. Be humble.
- First, realize that leadership is a process. There’s a lot of depth to it and it takes time to grow.
- Second, realize that if you feel you’ve reached it or that you “know” leadership, it probably means you’ve got a long way to go.
- Third, recognize that you may not know. Recognize that you may not be a great leader – yet. Take the time to learn and grow. Find role models. Read great leadership books and find good courses to take. Always have a humble and learning attitude.
And, if it’s someone else you know who is unaware of their ignorance, you could subtly share this article or suggest a great book that you’ve recently read on leadership and let them borrow it. You can’t force them, but you can try to give them a small push.
Ego can be a major cause of weak leadership. Ego – arrogance, pride, whatever you want to call it – is a destroyer.
And, unfortunately, being put into the position of “leader” can help spur the ego if it’s not already present and alive.
The problems with ego
The ego has multiple problems that it causes:
- First, it keeps you from learning and growing.
When someone has an ego, they often think they know everything, or at least think they know enough. People who have egos don’t seek out new knowledge in areas they may need to grow.
- The ego keeps you from admitting errors and mistakes.
When you think you are so awesome, it’s easy to overlook the mistakes you make or pass the blame to someone else. One of the many problems with that is when you don’t admit or look at your mistakes, you don’t learn from them, so you are likely to repeat them.
- The ego keeps you from listening to others.
If you think you have and know the answer, you are less likely to listen to others’ inputs or points of view. When others have ideas different from your own, you are less likely to listen to them. You are also less likely to listen or ask for advice when you need it.
- Ego is often about making oneself look good, not about the good of the team, the mission, or the organization.
People with egos focus on themselves. They are about themselves and making themselves look good. That is detrimental because if you are focused on yourself, you aren’t focused on those whom you are supposed to be helping and serving (your team), the organization as a whole, or its goals and mission.
- Ego blames others when things go wrong and takes credit when things go right.
The ego is focused on making oneself look good. Because of that, egotistical people often blame others when things go wrong and take credit when things go right.
- Ego lacks teachability which hinders leadership growth.
When you aren’t teachable, then you aren’t growing. If you aren’t growing, you aren’t going to become a great leader.
- First, it keeps you from learning and growing.
What the data shows
Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, discusses the study he conducted on what makes companies great. One of the major factors was level 5 leaders. And what was one of the two major qualities of a level 5 leader?
- Are you teachable?
- Are you willing to listen to others’ feedback and disagreements?
- Do you accept responsibility for mistakes, or do you cast blame?
- When things go well, do you take the credit, or do you pass it on to your team?
You may want to ask others if you come across as egotistical, and don’t get defensive if you do. Tell them “thank you” for letting you know.
If you struggle with ego, start working on it. Enlist other leaders or friends or family to help you.
Another main cause of weak leadership is the insecurity of the leader.
When leaders are insecure, they often do negative actions to compensate for that insecurity.
Insecure leaders are likely to:
- Cast blame on others so they won’t look bad.
- Hire people who are weaker than them, so people won’t outshine them.
- Make others look bad so that they look good.
- Take all the credit for when things are going well.
- Won’t admit to mistakes because they don’t want to look bad.
- Not teachable – because if they admit needing to learn, they admit some form of failure.
- Often have a fixed mindset.
- Are defensive when others give feedback or disagreement.
- Surround themselves with yes-men/women – people who always agree with them and their ideas.
- Micromanage others.
- Always has to make some change/adjustment/tweak just to show that they are in charge.
- Won’t admit ignorance – will just make something up if they don’t know.
Fear/Lack of Courage
Insecurity can also bring fear and a lack of courage.
If the leader fears standing up to people, dealing with conflict and confrontation, taking risks, making decisions, or acting with integrity when it’s hard (and the list can go on) – then that leader will stay a weak leader.
If you struggle with insecurity, it’s time you worked through it.
- If you fear making decisions or confrontation or whatever it may be, ask yourself why?
- What are you fearing?
- Is there insecurity you need to deal with?
Whatever the reason is, you need to deal with it, otherwise, you will stay an ineffective leader.
A great resource is finding a counselor who can help you deal with the causes of that insecurity. There’s no shame in counseling
There are also good books on helping you deal with insecurity. You can also enlist others around you to help you through it and keep you accountable.
Another major cause of weak leadership is apathy (a lack of care). When a leader doesn’t care, for whatever reason, that leadership is doomed to fail.
There are multiple reasons someone could be apathetic toward leadership:
- They don’t want to be a leader (or they don’t want to lead).
Sometimes people are put in a leadership position, but they never really wanted it. Or they were put there, then they realized it wasn’t really for them. They may just want to do their work without having to deal with helping others do their work. Or they like the perks of leadership but don’t want to do any actual leading.
- They’re jaded.
It could be that they’ve had too many negative leaders of their own or they’ve been in a negative environment too long or it could be a variety of other reasons. Whatever the reason, they are weary, tired, and jaded about their experiences, so they just don’t care anymore.
- They’re coasting.
It could be that they are near retirement, it could be the norm for the environment they’ve been in for a while, or maybe they just want things to be “easy”. Whatever it is, they are just coasting along, trying not to do much work or ruffle too many feathers. They just want to do the bare minimum to get by.
- They don’t want to be a leader (or they don’t want to lead).
- If you find yourself not caring or just coasting, ask yourself why. Try to dig deep into the root of it.
- If you find you don’t want to be in a leadership position, then don’t be. Ask to be moved to a different position or find a new job somewhere else. Don’t hurt your team or your organization because of your apathy.
- If others around you are apathetic, your response will depend on your position toward them. If under them, you can try to lead up.
- If you are above them, then you may need to have a conversation about them and their apathy, see where it comes from, and what if anything can be done to resolve it. If it can’t be resolved, it might be time for them to move on.
5. Lack of Integrity
A lack of integrity will keep anyone from being a good or effective leader. It’s one of the biggest causes of failed leadership (you may have seen evidence of this on the news).
Integrity and character are linked. Integrity is living by sound moral and ethical principles, no matter the situation. It’s doing the right thing or telling the truth even if the situation is hard or could bring, at that time, negative consequences.
Those who don’t know their values or principles (or don’t have good values or principles) are doomed to fail. Those who have them but don’t follow them are on a path to failure as well.
You may get away and advance for a while with a lack of integrity, but in the long run, without integrity, you will fall, and it will likely be a hard fall.
Lying, cutting corners, deceptive practices, hiding mistakes – the list can go on – all will come back to bite you in the end.
Your employees, your bosses, your customers, your vendors, and so on won’t trust you if you don’t live by integrity. If they don’t trust you, your effectiveness and impact as a leader will be highly diminished.
A lack of integrity can also lead to trouble with the law or other governmental agencies.
Integrity is incredibly important. If you want to be an effective leader, you must live with integrity.
- What are your values?
- What are your principles?
- What are you going to live by no matter what?
- Compromise is a slippery slope. If you start compromising in small ways, those small ways can grow into large ways faster than you may realize.
6. Poor or Negative Attitude
A poor or negative attitude is a definite cause of poor leadership. This is not talking about having a bad day or feeling negative occasionally. It means you have a consistent, negative attitude.
A negative attitude has multiple negative effects:
- First, a negative attitude pushes people away.
When you are constantly negative, people don’t want to be around you – except for other negative people.
- Negativity hurts your influence as a leader.
A leader leads by influence. When you are constantly negative, you destroy that influence.
- Negativity generates a negative attitude in others.
Whether you are just negative about the company, its goals, and missions, or everything, others will be drawn into that attitude, and you will create more negativity in your team and organization.
- Your negativity (and the spread of it) will decrease productivity.
If you are negative about the organization and its goals, you won’t be passionate about it or your work. You won’t try as hard as you should, you’ll spend your time tearing it down, or both. And, if your negativity has spread to your team, it hurts their productivity as well. When people are living in negativity, productivity goes down.
- Negativity lowers morale.
If you are constantly negative toward others, it lowers their morale and can cause you to lose your best workers.
- A negative attitude also impacts customers.
Even if you try to fake it initially, people can recognize fake, and it will impact customers and your bottom line.
- First, a negative attitude pushes people away.
In summary, negativity hurts your leadership capacity, hurts relationships with coworkers and customers, spreads negativity in the organization, lowers morale, and lowers productivity.
The first step is to evaluate yourself and ask others if you come across as negative. If you find you are living in negativity, you’ve taken the first step toward changing it.
Changing your thought process, how you talk to yourself, focusing on the good and what you are grateful for instead of the bad, writing a gratitude journal, and having others hold you accountable – all these are some of the ideas you can use to help you overcome your negativity
If you spot negativity in others, that’s a bit tougher. However, one of the first steps you can take is to talk to the person tactfully about it.
If they aren’t willing to listen, depending on that person’s position, you can try to lead from below, talk to someone else in leadership about your concern, set expectations and consequences, or find another place to work that isn’t so negative.
7. Lack of Emotional intelligence
Daniel Goleman in his article on HBR called What makes a Leader? discusses how emotional intelligence is a key aspect of effective leadership.
When he compared it with IQ and technical skills, he said, “Emotional intelligence proved to be twice as important as the other for jobs at all levels”, and “the higher the rank of a person considered to be a star performer, the more emotional intelligence capabilities showed as the reason for his or her effectiveness.”
If you lack emotional intelligence, then you are not going to do well as a leader.
Goleman breaks down emotional intelligence into five areas:
- Social skill
All of these are important, though we all may be at different levels of each. If you aren’t self-aware of your emotions, then you will come across negatively toward others without realizing it.
When you can self-regulate, when you have negative emotions, you can put them into perspective, control them, and use them effectively instead of saying or doing something you will regret later.
Without motivation as a leader, you aren’t going to get far. If you don’t have empathy, it’s hard to build effective relationships with others. If you don’t have good communication skills, it’s hard to build those relationships and to communicate vision, goals, needs, etc. effectively to your team or upper management.
- Examine yourself in each area.
- Ask others how you come across (you might be surprised).
- Do you recognize your emotions?
- Do you recognize when you are angry?
- Do you control your anger?
- Are you motivated and driven?
- Do you treat people as tools or as people?
- Do you try to see situations from other people’s perspectives?
- Are people confused when you speak?
- Are there often misunderstandings (or are they doing the opposite of what you intended)?
Final Thoughts on 7 Main Causes of Weak Leadership
The great aspect of these causes is that they are curable. If you recognize them in yourself, you can work to change them. If you recognize it in others, you try to help them, but ultimately, it’s up to them if they want to change.
In this article, we discussed 7 major causes of weak leadership. I encourage you to examine yourself to see if you see any of these causes within you. If so, start taking action to fix it.
Also, check out these articles:
7 Brutal Truths About Leadership Most People Forget
141 Signs You Are a Bad Leader (Or Have Some Growing to Do)