How to Suck at Leadership

Have you ever woken up in the morning and said to yourself, “I’m tired of being a good leader. Today, I want to suck at it.”?

Well, today’s your lucky day! As someone who strives to keep up with the latest in leadership, it recently occurred to me we have tons of books, videos, blogs, and articles on how to be a great leader. But I have yet to come across any that talk about how to be a bad one.

Given the performance of our political leaders and the lack of integrity exhibited by many in the private sector, it’s obvious that the desire to be a lousy leader runs deep these days. So if you’re looking to take your leadership abilities to a new low, here are some useful tips. For those who don’t want to stop at merely bad leadership, but want to become the Michael Jordan of awful leaders, I’ve broken each tip into two categories that define progressively worse levels of leadership.

Leadership skill: Managing employees.
Suck: Don’t conduct regular one-on-ones with your direct reports.
Really suck: Go ahead and schedule the one-to-ones. Then cancel them at the last minute, using some lame excuse that both you and the employee know is bogus.

Leadership skill: Being open to diverse data sources.
Suck: Don’t allow others to disagree with you or have a dissimilar view of things. After all, you’re the boss, right?
Really suck: Encourage people to bring up new ideas by saying things like, “That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard!” Be sure to do it publicly, so everyone can see how much you love innovative thinking. When you’re done berating the employee, ask (with all sincerity), “Anyone else have any ideas they would like to bring up?”

Leadership skill: Giving ongoing performance feedback.
Suck: Don’t give employees candid or direct feedback. None. Nada. Zippo. Instead, assume they will just “get it.”
Really suck: Hold them accountable at annual review/merit increased time for things you never told them about.

Leadership skill: Updating your thinking/ways of working.
Suck: Don’t change the way you do things because they always worked in the past.
Really suck: Ignore and/or suppress obvious data that shows the way you always do things is no longer working and is actually putting your business in jeopardy. Then punish those who had the audacity to present the data in the first place.

Leadership skill: Engaging employees.
Suck: Don’t solicit or answer questions from employees.
Really suck: Make a big deal about having an open door and “open ear” policy. Then act really annoyed when employees come to you with questions, feedback and input.

Leadership skill: Leading effective meetings.
Suck: Don’t prep for meetings. Just run in (late) and hope you’re effective.
Really suck: Schedule last-minute meetings (very important ones, of course) that force people to rearrange their schedules. Then don’t show up because something else came up. Bonus suck: Don’t apologize because everyone knows your time is more important than theirs.

Leadership skill: Defining winning for your organization or team.
Suck: Define what winning looks like and tell people once. Then never mention it again, expecting everyone to remember it with great clarity and passion.
Really suck: Don’t define it, so that no one (including yourself) has a clue as to the destination. Then punish people for not taking you and the organization to the Promised Land.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. All humor aside, the vast majority of us really do want to be effective leaders. And we all know that we need to practice effective leadership skills on a consistent basis in order to achieve the results we want.

The problem is that we’re all running so fast to keep up that we don’t pause for a moment to do what effective leaders do. Or, we don’t pause to even consider what effective leaders do. Or, we get so caught up in all the daily interruptions that seem important that we lose track of what really is.

My suggestion: if you really want to be an effective leader, start every day by thinking about it. Take a few moments each morning to focus on what will make a difference a year from now, and then don’t let the deluge of distractions get in the way. I know…easier said than done. But the alternative is to suck as a leader, whether we want to or not.

Call to action: Take 5 minutes each morning to focus on what you need to do that day to be an effective leader.

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Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. ( and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

Holly G Green




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No Comments

  1. mauricio geraud on May 7, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    love it love it love it!
    I’ve been on the wrong (offended) side of EVERY ONE of these!!
    and yeah, I messed up once or twice on the offending… sorry.

  2. Jerome on May 8, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    Excellent post, Holly.
    I love your approach of using reverse psychology, i.e. telling leaders that if you currently do this, you probably suck at leadership, vs. do this or that to be a good leader.
    Brilliant and funny!

  3. claire@redvespa on May 8, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    Oh so so timely… trying to explain leadership to someone, give positive examples of it- but then when its good its almost invisible – so explaining what it isn’t is a nice way to articulate it…


  4. Ben Simonton (@BenSimonton) on May 12, 2013 at 10:50 am

    Well said Holly. Sadly, how to be an exceptional good/effective leader is not well known even though it is very simple and is based on the science of people, cause and effect. Leaders are the cause and knowing the science allows you to predict precisely what the effect will be, that being how people will respond to the cause. Leadership truly is a science.

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