Dysfunctional Leadership: 10 Thinking Habits to Avoid

Certain aspects of thinking and behaving like a good leader can be tough for many on the leadership development path. Our brain doesn't develop neuropathways at the flip of a switch. New habits may takes months, if not years, to become second nature.

The best of leaders who grasp concepts like influence, vision, listening, and delegating with relative ease arrive there through hard work and practice. We shift by soliciting feedback, developing self-awareness with humble introspection, and taking responsibility to own up to "our stuff" when "our stuff" is at fault. Remember the old saying, "for every finger you point, there's three pointing back at you"?

How a leader thinks and acts can no doubt impact a team for better or worse. Better = high-functioning leadership fostered by mutual trust and accountability. Worse = dysfunctional leadership hampered by poor decision making and weak social/emotional intelligence.

Speaking of dysfunctional leadership, let’s take a look at some common distorted thinking patterns that, not only have I personally witnessed in my line of work with my clients, but the literature confirms as dysfunctional leadership. These common thought patterns hold leaders back, destroy their self-esteem, and damage relationships in the workplace.

1. VERY EXTREME—seeing things in black and white, and blowing things out of proportion.
2. VERY BROAD—generalizing from a specific; labeling people rather than their behaviors.
3. VERY NEGATIVE—seeing the glass as half empty and dwelling heavily on the worst possible outcome.
4. VERY DEMANDING—wanting things their way and having expectations that cloud a sense of reality.
5. VERY JUDGMENTAL—condemning others for their shortcomings and being unable to forgive.
6. VERY OBSESSED—getting on a track of being unable to budge or view things differently; persevering about something that is out of their control.
7. VERY CONFUSED—having pictures in their heads that do not match the “real world”; feeling that they don’t get what they think they're “supposed to” get; having a hard time seeing things without denial, blame and negativity.
8. VERY INTOLERANT—having a need to have things the way they “should be”; finding it difficult to have patience and tolerance for differences that don’t fit their needs and expectations.
9. VERY PERFECTIONISTIC—having a need to be “right” and not make mistakes, as that would mean one is inferior or is a failure; having permeating low self-esteem.
10. “SHOULDING” ON SELF AND OTHERS—placing expectations of how one “should” be, thereby limiting their ability to accept self and others without judgment, leading to negativity and tendency to criticize.

As you consider some of the points above, what resonates with you as a leader? What would you say may be the hardest distorted thinking pattern to overcome, or even accept that it’s dysfunctional? Which may be the easiest?