9 toxic leadership traits that are killing your business | Erickson Business Coaching
Are any of these leadership problems showing up in your business? Learn what they are and how to fix them.
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9 toxic leadership traits that are killing your business

Your business is an expression of you – for better or for worse.

A clear vision can inspire people and drive progress. Dysfunctional attitudes and behaviors can demotivate people and derail progress. Your job is to understand how you show up and to change your behaviors when you spot dysfunction.

It is always difficult to see our own weaknesses. Sometimes, its because we are too close to see them. Other times, we don’t want to see them. One of the things that makes it tough to see weaknesses is that they are often distorted expressions of our strengths.

You need to embrace and accept them because they are part of you. Avoiding them always makes things worse.

Once you do that, you will have the power to change. So, take responsibility for the implications of your style. It isn’t comfortable, but it is necessary to changing yourself and your business.

Read on to discover nine toxic leadership styles and what to do about them.

1. Under-Responsibility

On the surface, a company afflicted with under-responsibility might look vibrant. It has a steady flow of new ideas and initiatives and everyone pitches in to get the work done.

In reality, most – if not all – of those initiatives never get followed through. People don’t have clear job responsibilities, so everyone overlaps with everyone else and no one is accountable.

Ask yourself:

  1. Do you always do what you say you will?
  2. Do your employees drop balls and make excuses? Do you?
  3. Is there a culture of blame in your company?
  4. Do you see your contribution to current conflicts and frustrations?

How to fix under-responsibility:

  1. Accept that you are responsible for managing yourself and commit to doing it
  2. Be willing to look at yourself as part of the problem
  3. Find freedom within responsibility rather than outside it

2. Myopia

A myopic business is not inspiring. It is a business that lacks vision. This often stems from the owner’s fear of failure. If you don’t have goals, it is impossible to not achieve them.

Instead of a long-term vision, myopic businesses believe that hard work will solve problems and lead to success.

It won’t.

If the culture is that everyone keeps their nose to the grindstone and puts in long hours, you are probably afflicted by this dysfunction.

Ask yourself:

  1. How do my employees know what’s expected of them?
  2. How do my employees feel about working here?
  3. Do I have a written vision of where this business will be in 3 to 5 years?
  4. What makes the hard work worth it?

How to fix Myopia:

  1. Find an inspired purpose
  2. See the business as an opportunity for self-expression
  3. Commit to change and communicate a vision

3. Fear

A fear-based leader might look like they are being cautious or conservative. In reality, they are obsessed with the worst-case scenario and have serious difficulty with risk. The leader will often appear to be a hard-worker because they are hiding in the day-to-day work of the business.

This leads to a lack of planning and keeps the business in a reactive mode. It leads to avoidance of discomfort and change. There are always a million excuses why things should stay just the way they are. Behind this is a pessimistic attitude and assumption that any attempt to change will fail.

Ask yourself:

  1. What hard things to you find yourself avoiding?
  2. How do you feel when planning for the future of your business?
  3. What is your biggest fear about yourself in business?
  4. What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

How to fix fear:

  1. Recognize and acknowledge fear
  2. Embrace discomfort as a path to growth
  3. Take decisive, courageous action

4. Distraction

Leaders who have issues with this dysfunction tend to be creative and spontaneous. They can create an exciting, engaging environment.

The dark side of this is impulsiveness, lack of focus, lack of follow through, and disorganization. Leaders with this issue are likely to focus on growth instead of fixing structural problems. They have difficulty sticking with a long-term strategy and avoid quantification of results.

Ask yourself:

  1. Do you get bored easily when working on just one thing?
  2. Do you have a hard time saying no to new opportunities or ideas?
  3. Do you tend to start things and not finish them?

How to fix distraction:

  1. Find freedom within responsibility instead of outside it
  2. Be willing to manage yourself and others
  3. Work on sticking with an idea or a plan to completion

5. Micromanagement

Micromanagers fear losing control.

Micromanaging leaders will often be angry at or critical of employees in response to unfulfilled expectations. They often give employees responsibility without authority and rarely take the time to train them. This prevents employees from developing their own self-responsibility.

A micromangaging leader believes that no one can do it like they can. They also usually believe that things get done their way or the wrong way. This results in demotivated employees who act more to appease the leader than to accomplish anything.

Ask yourself:

  1. What are all the things only you can do in the business?
  2. Are you a perfectionist?
  3. Do your people have the level of authority to match their responsibility?
  4. How are you contributing to the lack of passion and drive you see?

How to fix micromanagement:

  1. Realize that sometimes ‘good enough’ is good enough
  2. Learn the difference between management and control
  3. Take responsibility for your negative impact on your employees
  4. Learn the value of training that gives people the skills and authority they need to do the job well
  5. Learn that a successful business culture needs to provide employees the room to grow and become self-responsible

6. Over-responsibility

The over-responsible leader assumes personal responsibility for everything. They have a need to be the person with all the answers and to be the person who comes to the rescue. In their mind, this comes from a place of deep caring. In reality, it suffocates employees and stunts their development and ability to become responsible.

Over-responsible leaders feel overwhelmed and they ignore reasonable personal needs. They try to be all things to all customers and prospects. They also tend to be passive aggressive and blame others for issues.

Ask yourself:

  1. How do you take care of yourself with the stress you are under?
  2. Do you tend to put others’ needs ahead of your own?
  3. Do you ever feel taken advantage of?
  4. What do you like about being the only person who can do X?

How to fix over-responsibility:

  1. Realize that trying to spare others discomfort is actually avoiding your own discomfort
  2. Understand that your needs must come first
  3. Stop care taking behaviors

7. Overachievement

Overachievers have unrealistic goals, poor work/life balance, and a need to be heroic.

From the outside, this drive might look admirable. In reality, it often leads to a lack of soul in the business and an ‘end-justifies-the-means’ attitude toward results.

Overachieving leaders often demand that everyone else match their drive without any interest in whether employees are personally connected to the owner’s goals. They are driven but not inspired. As a result, overachieving leaders have a hard time inspiring others.

Overachieving leaders define themselves by what they accomplish, so have a difficult time with criticism or failure.

Ask yourself:

  1. Have you felt fulfilled when you have achieved goals in the past?
  2. What do you really want your life to look like?
  3. How do you define success?
  4. What is failure like for you?
  5. What impact does your drive have on those around you?

How to fix overachievement:

  1. Work to make achievement secondary to developing self-awareness
  2. Realize that life is about people and relationships, not just goals and achievement

8. Dissociation

Leaders suffering from dissociation have their heads in the sand. They avoid pain and conflict, they are in denial, and they are indecisive. From the outside, they might look approachable, easy going, and able to stay calm under stress.

A business led by a dissociated leader often has unaddressed long-standing problems with simple solutions. These businesses also tend to have problems with rotten apple employees, a lack of structure, and no clear roles and responsibilities.

Ask yourself:

  1. What parts of the business are hardest for me to look at?
  2. What changes do I know need to be made that I’m avoiding?
  3. Which employee am I most afraid of losing and why?
  4. How do I hold people accountable?

How to fix dissociation:

  1. Step into leadership
  2. Find a vision that insipres you and commit to it
  3. Recognize and own your feelings

9. Self-importance

Self-important leaders are narcisstic, arrogant, and self-rightous. They have a need to be special and typically have a disdain for others.

In many cases, these leaders actually do have special qualities: high intelligence, extraordinary skill, or extensive experience. When taken too far, these strengths become weaknesses.

The self-important leader is confident, often too confident to recognize what they don’t know. These leaders see their strength in their own abilities rather than their ability to develop and support others. They will often create organizations that are entirely dependent on them. They believe empowering others makes them less important.

Self-important leaders are sensitive to criticism because their identity is tied to what they do. So, they often ignore negative feedback.

Ask yourself:

  1. Do I realize the impact I have on people?
  2. Do people feel valued by me?
  3. How am I actually like most people, but don’t want to be?

How to fix self-importance:

  1. Learn to meet others where they are
  2. Find value in relationships instead of managing others’ perceptions of you
  3. Be transparent about your limitations so you can work on them
  4. Become more interested in what is actually true than your glorified picture of reality

There’s no doubt that seeing any of these traits in yourself is painful. Fixing them may not be easy. But fixing them is necessary for the success of your business and for your own happiness.

Looking at these issues isn’t about feeling guilty or beating yourself up. It’s about freeing your strengths to be strengths and managing the ways they express negatively.

Most of all, it’s about getting out of your own way.

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