Solid leadership is an essential component of effective management, and although not everyone is a born leader, it is possible to be molded into a leader.  The subject of leadership has been greatly covered by academic scholars and management consultants, yet building high-performance teams remains elusive to most companies. Leadership is the most important competitive advantage of a company, not technology, finance, operations nor anything else. I would love for someone to justify otherwise.

A high-performance company with solid leadership is like a high-performance car and driver

Proper performance and integration of all components are critical. Unanswered customer calls are like faulty wiring.  Missed production schedules are like misfiring spark-plugs.  A poor strategy is like an engine out of tune.  Poor internal communications are like a weak battery.  Poor morale is like a flat tire.  And, poor leadership is like a moving car whose driver has bailed out.  Companies, like cars, need all components properly working, and working in an integrated manner.  Such integration is even more important in today’s dynamically competitive environment.

One of the biggest problems facing poor leadership, and possibly the most significant reason we are stuck with it, is that so many of us are prepared to tolerate – or even support – those who are not fit to lead. “The reason we do so”, says Peter Drucker, “is that it is easier to toe the line than to make trouble”.

Another reason that many of us are happy to follow people for whom we may hold little respect is that we tend to crave the kind of simplicity and stability that does not go with the responsibilities of leadership.

When management tends to focus so much on one management area, e.g., sales, and has no time to manage the internal organization challenges, dysfunction creeps in and takes hold. Here is a great checklist of warning signs of poor leadership from the International Institute of Management.

  • No 360 Degrees Feedback: There is limited or no leadership performance feedback.
  • Personal Agendas: Recruitments, selections and promotions are based on internal political agenda, for example hiring friends to guarantee personal loyalty at the expense of other highly performing and more-qualified employees.
  • Inefficient Use of Resources: Budgets are allocated between business units or departments based on favoritism and power centers rather than actual business needs.
  • Empire-building Practices: Managers believe that the more people they manage and the bigger the budget, the higher the chance that they will be promoted. This results in raging battles around budgets, strategies and operations.
  • Unequal Workload Distribution: You’ll find some departments are underutilized while other departments are overloaded.
  • Too Much Management: There are many management layers in the organization, thus, hindering communication and resulting in slower execution.
  • Fragmented Organization Efforts: Interdepartmental competition and turf wars between rival managers lead to the emergence of silos, which results in communication gaps. Management silos almost always result in fragmented and duplicated budgets and projects, thus wasting valuable company investments.
  • Too Much Talk: Plans are heavy on talk but light on action. In a political corporate culture, image management becomes far more important than actions.
  • Ineffective Meetings: Argumentative and heated cross-divisions meetings with discussion and language focusing on point scoring and buck-passing rather than sharing responsibility and collaborating to solve the problem
  • Lack of Collaboration: Every person for himself/herself. Low sense of unity or camaraderie on the team. The key criterion for decision-making is What is in it for me?
  • Low Productivity: Management wastes more time and energy on internal attack and defense strategies instead of executing the work, innovating and overcoming challenges. Critical projects fall behind on deadlines, budgets and performance targets (e.g. sales, market share, quality and other operational targets).
  • Constant Crisis Mode: Management team spends most of their time on fire fighting instead of proactive planning for next-generation products and services.
  • Morale Deterioration: Muted level of commitment and enthusiasm by other teams. Even successful results cannot be shared and celebrated due to animosity and internal negative competition.
  • Backstabbing: Backbiting among the executives and managers becomes common and public.
  • Highly Stressful Workplace: There is a high rate of absenteeism and a high employee turnover rate.
  • Dictatorial Leadership: Management that does not allow disagreements out of insecurity or arrogance.

Poor leadership is undoubtedly one of the main potential factors that can lead an organization to fail.  Pay attention to the warning signs, be proactive and hopefully, the elephant leaves the room.