September 6, 2010 Business, Leadership, Thought Provoking

What Dysfunctional Leaders Can Teach Us

When I began my career I was lucky enough to have some great mentors.  However, as I began to progress I began to encounter executives who exasperated me. In most cases they were nice people and I would have to be fair and say that “most” meant well.  However, in my view they were completely incompetent as leaders and managers.  As my experience grew and my exposure to senior executives and other leadership styles increased, I realized this scenario was all too common.  In speaking to many of my clients, colleagues, friends and family I often hear war stories of their inept manager.

Unfortunately, there are many leaders with obvious dysfunctions and yet they manage to rise to and remain in prominent, senior roles. Working with them can be frustrating and disheartening, especially to those who clearly demonstrate excellence and are looking for mentorship to grow their careers.  I have heard the hopelessness in people as they criticize, complain and nag the ear off anyone who would listen.  It was a way to make it through the next day.  But after the initial whining these inept leaders forced me into the process of self-analysis; what kind of leader did I want to be, or more importantly not want to be.

The wisdom of this process was that in hindsight, I learned far more about great leadership from a few of the dysfunctional leaders than I ever learned from the excellent ones. The distress they caused me was a strong learning stimulant for the following lessons:

Self-Motivation – Nothing like a dysfunctional de-motivator to force one to drive oneself to continue to succeed in spite of the roadblocks.

Keep True to Yourself – Don’t change your core values and beliefs to grow your career.  Integrity and self-respect are much more important and will triumph in the end.

Patience – This is probably the biggest lesson I learned and is an essential leadership quality.  Patience under poor management does not mean I am waiting for them to act, it means I am persevering despite their actions.

Positive Attitude – Prevailing wisdom and much research show that having a positive attitude improves the likelihood you will achieve your goal, speeds your progress and, perhaps most importantly, makes you more resilient – All of which help you overcome obstacles and remain persistent in pursuit of your goal.

Let it Go – dealing with the stress of working under this dysfunction taught me to be less judgmental and more inclined to give support. If you take the good and throw the rest away, so to speak, it makes it easier for you to move forward.  It is actually better to trust that everyone is doing their best within their capability.  This mindset can often defuse a lot of your frustration and makes you more compassionate and forgiving.

So if you find yourself one day working for a dysfunctional leader, take heart. Set your intention to being grateful for the wisdom and leadership tools that you will learn through the process. You’ll be glad you did.