6 Inexcusable Leadership Flaws

We have a whole section in our leadership management training we call “unpardonable sins of leadership.” These leadership flaws are the actions and attributes that so obviously hamper good leadership that many people find them inexcusable. Take a couple minutes and do a self-check, your leadership reputation is worth it.

Inexcusable Leadership Flaws: The “Bad 6”

  1. Incompetence
  2. Insensitivity
  3. Indifference
  4. Inconsistency
  5. Lack of self-discipline
  6. Ineffective communication

1. Incompetent Leadership

Incompetence is an inability to perform. From a leadership standpoint, it can be not understanding what you’re doing. Or worse still, some incompetent leaders think they know what they are doing and they are doing it well. While in reality, they are doing anything but.

Incompetence is probably the easiest of the leadership flaws to overcome. In essence, incompetence is a form of ignorance, defined as a lack of information, knowledge or understanding. So those leaders willing to learn and grow have the best chance for overcoming this leadership flaw.

I often illustrate a success mindset using a triangle. I call it the “triangle of success” because it has three important elements. On the left side of the triangle is “knowledge.” The right side of the triangle is “skill.” But the most important element is the foundation of the triangle. And that element is “attitude.” (Here’s what the “triangle of success” looks like.)

By increasing knowledge (or understanding) as well as increasing skill (the application of understanding), incompetence can be reduced. But it all rests on attitude (or desire).

What is your attitude? Are you willing to apply yourself to learn, grow and get better?

2. Insensitivity

Being insensitive to the needs of other people is a huge leadership flaw. A part of engaged leadership is rooted in caring for those we lead. If care for others is lacking or absent, then we’re not really leading. Instead, we’re driving them, manipulating them, or simply managing them. But we’re not leading them.

Trusted leaders have an authentic level of sensitivity, compassion and concern for their people. When they see or sense someone is going through something, they don’t ignore it. Here’s a quick example.

Let’s say you have a sensitivity to people who are isolated or neglected. Whether they ever mention it, you see it or you sense it. But this awareness is not enough.  You choose to act on your awareness of this person’s isolation.

In the mind of those around you, taking action is an act of leadership.  While inaction is the same as unawareness or insensitivity.

How can they know you’re aware unless you act?

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3. Indifference

While insensitivity is a lack of awareness, indifference means, “I see or sense it, but I don’t really care.” Indifferences says, “that’s not my problem.” Or “I have a lot of other, more pressing issues I’m responsible for.” In essence, the indifferent leader priorities their needs over the needs of the people they lead.

The leadership flaw of indifference may also point to a greater disconnect between the leader and their people.

4. Inconsistency

Inconsistent behavior. If the people you lead can’t predict your actions and reactions, then frankly, they are constantly confused. Employees want consistency and predictability.

Consistent behavior is a strange and powerful leadership force. So much so, that even if a leader is consistently bad, people can adapt and adjust to those behaviors.

Regarding this leadership flaw, I’ve often said (tongue-in-cheek) to leaders, “If you’re going to be a jerk, be a jerk all the time!” At least your people know how you are day in and day out and they can adjust their behavior to yours.

But with inconsistent behavior, people can’t predict, adapt or adjust because they are never certain how the leader will react.

5. Lack of self-discipline

Discipline has such a negative connotation for so many. Discipline in essence is control. And for leaders, self-discipline means self-control.

The quickest way for a leader to lose leadership respect is to lose self-control — specifically to lose their temper. I’ve witnessed it too many times. Leaders get angry — and they show it. A bad thought comes in their head — and it comes out their mouth. And the sad part of this leadership flaw is it results in self-inflicted wounds.

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6. Ineffective communication

Communication is most effective when a connection is formed. The more connected you are, the more effective your communication will be. Leaders who spend time making connections with their people are going to be better communicators — and better leaders!

But in the rush to “get things done,” some leaders make the mistake of thinking “one size fits all.” That’s the thinking of an ineffective communicator. It may also be a sign of an insensitive or indifferent leader.

How have you seen these “bad 6” leadership flaws play out? Let me know in the comments below.

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Phillip Van Hooser

Phillip Van Hooser, CSP, CPAE, and Founder, Van Hooser Leadership. A seasoned leadership expert, keynote speaker, and author, Phillip Van Hooser is passionate about developing intentional leaders who can effectively engage and empower their employees to deliver powerful results. His most recent book is “Earning The Right To Be Heard," a primer for creating greater influence and opportunities. Connect with Phil on LinkedIn.


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