How to Handle Lousy Leaders

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What is effective leadership? Each of us instinctively has several responses to this question. An effective leader influences and enlists the help and support of others to accomplish a common goal; she motivates, inspires and encourages; she respects and listens to others; she is proactive in planning, setting goals and exploring new ways to do business.

But what occurs when these skills are lacking in a person with whom–or for whom–you work? According to Dr. Laurence J. Peter, author of The Peter Principle, “People tend to be promoted up to their level of incompetence…The cream rises until it sours.” During the path of promotion, the potential leader missed acquiring basic skills that promote teamwork and the achievement of the organization’s goals.

Nevertheless, when we face dealing with a lousy leader, we must develop strategies to keep our own work and behavior on track. Here are some of the most common ineffective styles and suggestions for turning them to your advantage.

An executive needs to be assertive and occasionally just plain pushy, but the bully takes it to a toxic level, publicly or privately threatening and humiliating coworkers. Your response? Take the high road; don’t bully back, become loud or angry. Take the emotion out of it. Calmly stand up for yourself and explain your position. Be the voice of reason, tactfully, firmly and repetitively if necessary. Stress that you are part of the team and will work to achieve the goals of the organization.

Doing the job yourself ensures that it’s done correctly, but the micromanager can be a helicopter, keeping a tight leash and constantly looking over shoulders to manage every detail. This leader has a lack of trust in coworkers and their abilities. Create and build trust by doing your job more than well; achieve or exceed deadlines, pay attention to details, communicate, continue to act proactively.

Poor Communicator
When tasks and responsibilities are assigned, it’s important for the leader to provide enough direction to allow the coworker to get the job done. If he doesn’t provide adequate information or direction, the task may need to be completed or redone at the last minute. Head off the poor communicator by gathering as much information as you can first. Ask specific questions in a neutral manner; be diplomatic, not aggressive. Remain flexible to the ideas or tasks you are asked to work on and continue to respectfully communicate your concerns or questions. If you stay focused on the quality of the tasks at hand, even a poor communicator will eventually divulge more information or rationale for the assigned responsibility.

This leadership style destroys organizations and businesses. He undermines the work and professionalism of others. He doesn’t give credit when due, or may take credit himself for the ideas or work of another. To overcome the saboteur, make him look good; provide outstanding ideas and work product. Nevertheless, keep your own career advancement in mind. Document every idea you provide and its sources. Keep copies of reports; maintain a paper trail of memos and emails. If at some point your job is on the line, you will have evidence to demonstrate your performance and worth.

Fickle Boss
This leader may be pleasant but may lack clarity and decisiveness. His changeable directions and mood swings can create confusion within the organization. If you don’t know who he will be on any given day, productivity goes into the shredder. Don’t take this behavior personally; there may be forces at work you know nothing about. Limit contact or communication to urgent matters; keep your nose in your own work, stay out of office politics and keep your comments and opinions about the behavior to yourself. This will encourage your coworkers to see you as a leader.

Unprepared Pilot
This executive flies by the seat of her pants. She makes decisions based on personal whim, not statistics or research. She often operates in crisis mode. Frequently you will see this leader when you have been with the organization for a short time, and it may have already reached the tipping point. Counter by doing your own research and, if possible, delve into company history and statistics to see trends so that you can assist her with developing plans for the company’s future. Anticipate crises and have strategies in mind to overcome the worst outcomes. If your proactive nature can’t turn the tide, the company itself may be history.

Practicing these responses to less-than-effective leadership will develop your own skills. In the end, you can’t change or improve another person; you can only change yourself. It may be time to brush up on your other skills–networking, communication, technological, interpersonal–update that resume, and leave these lousy leaders behind.

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