THE BLOG
12/12/2014 03:28 pm ET Updated Feb 11, 2015

5 Signs You're Not a Good Leader: What You Can Do About It Now

'Good' leaders. Where are they all? By my opinion they're a rarity in the modern corporate world.

Why would I say that? Because over the past 10 years of working in corporate institutions I've come across barely any leaders who I would consider 'good' or in some cases even 'OK'. Sure there are lots of likable people I've come across, but when it comes to managing a team or delivering a project a lot of people in leadership positions fall flat.

There are some key giveaway traits to spotting a poor leader. They can be regularly found:

1 Hiding behind email
2 Leading by namesake only
3 Protecting their position by using negative tactics
4 Lacking basic knowledge
5 Not leading by example, in fact entirely contradicting themselves.

1. Email.

Put simply, sending emails is not being a leader. Yes it's a necessary part of the work place in modern business, but when it comes to taking control of a situation that needs immediate attention and direction, 'sending an email' is not the answer! Far too many managers in business these days send an email and think that's the end of their involvement in the matter. Not so, my friend.

  • Do you use email as a form of leadership armor? Stop emailing and pick up the phone instead. Face things head on in person as often as possible. You'll get much more respect, even in times when you might be wrong or at fault.

I've worked under 'email only' managers several times, generally you just have to get on with whatever task or challenge is at hand without them - then email them about it later with an update.

2. Leadership by namesake only.

That is, while a person's position or title states they are a leader in reality they don't have the necessary skills for good leadership.

While I support what I call 'equalist' movements (I refuse to use the antiquated term 'feminist' regardless of being a woman myself) in particular I've seen a number of women in my time in the corporate world be put into leadership roles simply to tick the 'woman' box. This position of (poor) leadership negatively affects the team, affects results and affects the day to day working of other people around them.

This issue goes beyond gender - it's the same with race, religion, culture and class; people should be put into leadership roles because they have the necessary leadership qualities, but often this isn't the case. They're instead put there to satisfy company criteria.

  • Are you in a leadership role that you don't feel qualified for? Do you want to be better at your role? Ask for help, your company more than likely offers leadership coaching programs for people who request them. As a leader you should be given the appropriate support and training necessary to improve the performance of yourself and your team - ask for resources to support you.

3 People who are in leadership roles by appointment only generally know they're not fit for purpose, in which case they'll do whatever they can to maintain their position.

A notable tactic is to enforce dire consequences on people who don't follow them. For example, firing someone who's stood up to them, or giving them difficult, unjust or meaningless projects in order to keep them 'small'.

Another classic tactic of poor leadership is to blame others when things go wrong, and in the opposite fashion take all the praise when things go right! I have seen this A LOT in my time in the corporate world. It is infuriating working within a team that is lead in this way.

  • Take a good honest look at yourself here. Are you making life difficult for people in your team in order to defend your position? Time to give up the act and admit that perhaps you need some support or that you need to up your game. This can be a tricky one but not impossible to solve. Is there someone outside of your department you can speak to? Someone above you who you could approach as a mentor? Ask yourself what small changes can you make daily to increase rapport with your team, or gain the respect of the specific person challenging you? Admitting you need to improve is the first step, then make a succession of incremental improvements.

4 Know what you're talking about.

While a leader doesn't have to be an expert in their field, general knowledge of whatever subject they're leading in is essential. A lot of 'leaders' out there don't have enough knowledge in crucial areas and therefore buckle when challenged or when things go wrong. This can cause embarrassment for the leader and therefore negative defense tactics such as those described above come into play.

A construction manager I once worked for barely every came out of his office to see what was happening on site. He had very little experience in his role and if only he would come out and learn a few things about what was happening on the job it would have changed everything for the better, both for himself and the team, but he never did. It regularly caused problems with nearly anything he was involved with on the project.

  • If you're a leader in this position, do yourself and everyone around you a favor and learn everything you can as soon as you can. Conduct research, read reports, ask questions after meetings, go out into the field/on site and see things in action, understand the processes involved, talk to the people in your team to know how they feel and what matters to them. Learn, learn, learn. You and your team will be thankful for your efforts.

5 Lead by example.

This is the single biggest thing that other people look for when it comes to quality leadership. 'Does this person walk their talk? Do they show others the way?'

A lot of modern workplace 'leaders' out there simply don't lead by example. When someone's own behavior is contradicting their commands, it breaks rapport and makes it hard for people to follow. 'Do as I say not as I do' is an out-of-date style of management; when someone you work for is performing inconsistently but by contrast is cracking the whip and expecting the world from you, you have the right to question it. In fact encourage you to question it.

  • If you are a leader and you want to improve your connection with your employees, gain their respect and improve relationships, then get out there and lead by example. Arrive early sometimes, and stay late on occasion. If a project deadline means people are working overtime, make sure you're there too. When challenges are faced, be at the forefront of corrective action. Praise others, recognize their efforts with rewards. Walk the talk and show others how it's done.

Leadership at work affects everyone - don't put up with poor leadership, and if you're in the position of being a leader, by not making the 5 mistakes above everyone will be better off. Good luck!