12 Signs Of Un-Leadership

by  Mike Henry  |  Leadership Development
12 Signs of Un-Leadership

I’m a big fan of leadership and how the best leaders inspire people. Great leaders create an atmosphere where the energy for the team’s success comes from within the team members.

Energy flows from the team to the stakeholders and customers. The energy, excitement and creativity are organic, natural and authentic.

That energy is also very fragile. It doesn’t take much to deflate a team. Like a big balloon, insensitive attitudes and actions can deflate team members, but when those actions are honest mistakes, most people can, and will, overlook them for a while.

But when those mistakes come from the leader’s true character, they kill the team. The behavior is what I call un-leadership and the actions themselves are demotivators.*

Top 12 Signs Of Un-Leadership

So I thought we’d have some fun with the idea. Here are my top 12 signs of un-leadership or demotivators. See if you agree or disagree or maybe you can add some of your own.

  1. Make yourself the purpose of everything the organization does.
  2. Withhold information and then criticize others for not being as smart as you.
  3. Compensate yourself (or a small, inner circle) exponentially better than the team.
  4. Reward suck-ups and brown-nosers.
  5. Answer questions someone asks of your team members.
  6. Interrupt people. Finish their sentences
  7. Insist on being right. Never admit fault, or always have an excuse.
  8. Show team members where they fall short. It’s only for their good…
  9. Remind them how you helped them by showing them where they fell short.
  10. Change direction or priorities regularly.
  11. Shoot messengers.
  12. Ask people to do something but, before they can do it, do it yourself because they weren’t moving fast enough..

If you’ve ever worked with me, you know I’m capable of every one of these and a few others. Hopefully, I’m developing my character so these happen less and less. Character-based leaders can always improve, not just their behavior, but their who-they-are.

We can become the people who just don’t do these things. We can become the kind of person others want to join. Then, when we make these kinds of mistakes, like I did last week, some people cut us a little slack. And we can all use a little slack.

So, what would you add? Don’t name anyone, except maybe yourself. But take a minute and help us make a great list. Then we can get back to being the leader we really want to be.

This post is a hat-tip to http://www.despair.com, the most creative workplace tool I’ve ever seen.

What is demotivator number 13 for you? Tell us in the comments!

About The Author

Articles By mike-henry
Chief Instigator (Founder) of Lead Change Group and VP of IT for a mid sized technology company. Passionate about character-based leadership and making a positive difference.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Paul LaRue  |  06 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Mike, great post! Like yourself, I also work to be cognizant of these behaviors in my approach and grow to minimize their existence. Sometimes I learn more about “un-leadership” from myself than from others, lol!

2 other “un-leadership” signs I can add:

* Don’t waste time fact-finding; just rush to make a judgement.

* Agree to a course of action and don’t follow through on it. Even better, don’t communicate at all and let everyone else fill in the blanks.

Look forward to the input from others. Thanks for this jump-start to our week!

David  |  06 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Those are 2 great ones good thing I was there to give you the reply and take credit for your work

Mike Henry  |  07 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Great additions Paul. Thanks!

Tom Degnan  |  06 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Showing everyone how easy it is to fix things, but all they do is fix “not broken”.

Not adjusting the processes to technology.

Demand without purpose.

Mike Henry  |  07 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Tom, 3 more great suggestions. Thanks for the additions.

CJ Ewell  |  06 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Be sure to steal all your team’s best ideas and promote them as your own. Especially after telling the team member that their idea was completely unworthy and impractical.

Mike Henry  |  07 Apr 2015  |  Reply

CJ, I had that idea too! I just didn’t think it was any good. :-) Thanks, Mike…

Page Cole  |  06 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Great post Mike… the only two that I would add are:

“Constantly on the hunt for the ‘weakest link’ in the organization, not to help them, but to have a scapegoat to blame things on.”

“Regularly chastises team members in front of others, rather than dealing with issues one on one.”

I am with you my friend, I’m ashamed how many times I’ve been guilty of more than one of these… a great reminder and a warning for me to watch out for these weak spots of mine.

Mike Henry  |  07 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Two more great ones Page. Thanks very much. Mike…

Kay  |  07 Apr 2015  |  Reply

As a leader, intercept all the bouquets and get out of the way when the brickbats come in.
Demand to be kept in the loop for everything, no matter how trivial it is and when your inbox is inundated with mail from people following your instructions, tell them “I don’t need to know everything”. Talk of sending out conflicting messages

Mike Henry  |  07 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Kay, thanks very much. I wonder how I send these signals sometimes. Some members of my team think I read all of their email conversations. I’m trying to get out of the loop! Thanks for the comments. Mike…

Tom Dixon  |  07 Apr 2015  |  Reply


Mike Henry  |  07 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Great comment Tom! LOL! Much appreciated. Mike…

Yolanda Triplett  |  07 Apr 2015  |  Reply

When you fail to engage with your people. A leader cannot spend all thier days sitting in the throne in the castle with not clue what is happening to the people in the kingdom.
Also when a leader has no clue about the work being done and does not look beyond the numbers. The people are the drivers behind the paper and the process. People are cricitial in the situation and should be given a higher pecking order.
I learned from some great leaders this simple thing; you have to let people know that they matter and that you care.

Mike Henry  |  07 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Agreed Yolanda. Thanks for the comment. I have to remember that I care much more about them than their tasks too. Mike…

Tom Dixon  |  07 Apr 2015  |  Reply

I forgot to mention to be not only loud but loud and rude. Make sure that you look at your phone’s text messages or play a game while in meetings. Your raw intelligence can multitask after all and still grasp what is being said. Show up late and leave early with all meetings but make sure your staff is punctual. When your employees show up at 8:25 for an 8:30 meeting, chastise them in front of everybody for being late and don’t let anybody correct you that the employee was not late. Constantly move the meeting time until it is the most inopportune time for everybody, preferably Friday afternoon between 1 and 3. AND I’M NOT GUILTY OF ANY OF THESE MIKE!!! YOU ARE. Plenty of projection of your guilt and emotions onto others is the sizzle on the steak.

Mike Henry  |  07 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Still LOL! Thanks.

Dan Diehl  |  07 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Whine about how unfair your boss is or how un-(fill in the blank) another team in your organization is.

Mike Henry  |  07 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Dan, isn’t that the truth? Treat others in the organization in a way that deflates everyone. Great addition. Thanks. Mike…

Darkene P  |  07 Apr 2015  |  Reply

More demotivators-

Tell your managers who complained about them and what was said, in the spirit of ‘divide and conquer’. Keep repeating that same complaint year after year to keep it fresh in your subordinate’s mind.

Trash the reputations of those who move on to greener pastures, in front of others, to show that you didn’t need the person who left, anyway.

Scream, shout, yell at the person who made an error so everyone knows you really mean business when you ask for quality.

Berate people for not doing assignments you didn’t give them because their workload was already excessive.

Tell your professional staff that you ‘know how to do their job’ and could do it better, even when you haven’t had that training.

Mike Henry  |  07 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Thanks very much. These are great. I especially remember a boss who berated people because they were not fast enough to get done with their work so he had to do it. Great stuff. Thanks.

Ron  |  07 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Not realizing that you are doing any of these demotivators and ignoring the article and comments.

Mike Henry  |  07 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Amen! Thanks!

Shawn  |  07 Apr 2015  |  Reply

1.) Shut down ideas from team members before you have had time to review them.
2.) Not giving praise often enough to team members when praise is due.
3.) Feeding into the rumor mill along with your team

Mike Henry  |  07 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Thanks very much Shawn. Killing ideas is a big one. Much appreciated. Mike…

Sean Sabet  |  07 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Thanks to all for all the great examples.
The only one I could think of is to blame the deficiencies and critcisms on team members and throw them under the bus… Thanks, Sean

Mike Henry  |  07 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Blaming and making excuses are huge. Thanks for the addition Sean. Mike…

Dan  |  07 Apr 2015  |  Reply

How about when the boss emails directly to your customer (without telling you) “just to make sure you are asking all the right questions.”

Andre Belcher  |  07 Apr 2015  |  Reply

1) Keep your office door closed and remain beyond reach when the team needs guidance.
2) Avoid conflict at all costs, thus never addressing issues that need to be addressed.
3) Believe that you are greater than your team.

Sean Sabet  |  08 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Good ones, Andre. I like them.
Thanks, Sean

elizabeth  |  07 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Set up recurring one on one meetings & then not show up to any or send Outlook cancellation 1 minute prior to start of said meeting.

Sean Sabet  |  08 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Hah… one of the most common ones and very anoying! it is a clear indication of poor time management.
Thanks, Sean

Elaine Cartwright  |  08 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Telling your employees that everyone is replaceable & that you should be thankful you have a job.

Gerald Bates  |  09 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Great article! We have all had leaders who fit into the 12 signs above. Unfortunately we have had some that fit into ALL 12 and even more. Through my experiences, this could easily be avoided if for no other reason than if “in-competence” had never been placed in a position of such great importance to begin with. That, in and of itself is the great injustice to the organization. The 13th sign that comes to mind would have to be a corrupt mindset of “entitlement” rather than actually being qualified for the position and this is where “politics” factor in.

John E. Smith  |  10 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Hi, Mike – I am coming very late to what was apparently one of the best parties of the year so far:)

Your original post was impressive enough on its own merits, but when the engaged responses from some pretty high-powered folks are factored in, you have really made an impact.

I don’t often say this, but when I do, it’s usually about something to do with these rich leadership discussions here on LCG … I have nothing to add to the conversation:).

Nicely done!


Steve L. Wintner, AIA Emeritus  |  10 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Mike, these are excellent choices.
It is my belief however, that we, as influencers, cannot motivate anyone other than ourselves. I can inspire, I can stimulate, I can suggest, recommend and offer options, but the only person who motivates me is me.
The biggest mistake managers make is accepting the “we’ve got a problem” from anyone, as an invitation to ‘fix it’. The best thing I could suggest would be to explain to the individual who brings this invitation to relieve them of their ‘problem’, is to explain that I do not have time to deal with their problem. On the other hand, I would have lots of time to work with them in reviewing any number of options for solving their problem if they come back to me with a well-thought out lit of a number of them.
This was the topic of a workshop I attended in 1976, “Getting the Monkeys Off My Back” (and creating more discretionary time). I have never forgotten this important lesson.

Theresa Nagle  |  17 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Hide the ball, then micromanage.

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