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7 Deadly Sins of Leadership

        posted by , December 22, 2012

We all run into difficult leaders. Difficult leaders may be effective but you personally find it challenging to work with them.

A toxic leader is something all together different — a fundamentally destructive leader who doesn't add value and disrupts others from adding value.

There are 7 signs a leader is toxic:

1. Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt is a tactic that involves sowing doubt and fear in one's opponent. The idea is to manipulate fear instincts (which tend to be very strong).

A leader feels threatened by a top performer on her team. She hints to the employee that there's a problem with her performance but doesn't explain what the problem is. The top performer becomes disengaged and bitter.

Half truths, lies and statistically improbable events are often enough to trigger powerful fear responses.

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt is a manipulative technique that is normally launched against one's worst enemies. It's not an effective or ethical leadership technique.

2. The Dark Veil of Secrecy

Leaders who keep their team in the dark to enhance their own power — even when it's destructive to the organization.

Secrecy sometimes makes sense. There are plenty of tactical and strategic reasons for a leader to control the flow of information. In some cases leaders are legally bound to keep secrets.

Leaders may also keep information secret to make themselves more valuable. In the worse cases, leaders may hold back information that's critical their own team's success.

A program manager and project manager are political adversaries.

The program manager knows that the project manager's project is doomed because its architecture is flawed. She keeps quiet and allows the project to shipwreck.

Destructive secrecy for personal gain is a sure sign of toxic leadership.

3. Passive Aggressive Tactics

A leader who secretly sabotages programs, projects, initiatives or careers.

Your CEO instructs all executives to fully support the implementation of a new ERP system. The VP of Sales is against the system but can't openly oppose it. He encourages his staff to provide outlandish requirements to ensure the project's failure.

Passive aggressive leadership tactics are particularly destructive because they are difficult to identify and discipline.

4. In Bed With The Competition

A leader whose relationship with the competition is inappropriately close.

A high ranking government official has responsibility for oversight of the banking industry. His relationship with major investment banks is very close. When he leaves his position with the government he's hired by an investment bank into a comfortable position.

5. Aggressive Narcissistic Tactics

Aggressive narcissism is a social psychology term for a person who is self-centered, overconfident and manipulative. Aggressive narcissists fail to take responsibility for their actions and are often pathological liars.

Aggressive narcissists are extremely self-confident and politically adept. They often become leaders. Organizations that suffer from high degrees of office politics are most likely to tolerate aggressive narcissist leaders.

Aggressive narcissists tend to be destructive leaders because they aren't motivated by value creation. They don't recognize their own failures and tend to repeat mistakes. They are willing to take actions that are destructive to their organization if it's advantageous to them. They're the source of perpetual political distractions.

6. Control Freak Compulsions

It's difficult to draw the line between a healthy level of management and micro-management. When the line is crossed, the results can be toxic.

Control freaks may seek to control things they don't understand for disastrous results.

An IT project manager becomes involved in architecture and design. She or he impose their own architectural decisions on the project despite a fundamental lack of architectural ability. The project implodes.

Control freak leaders are likely to cause damage by controlling that which they don't understand. They inhibit the creativity and productivity of their teams. They may pursue insane levels of perfection (as they personally define it).

7. Abusive Behavior

Leaders who lead by pain and fear. Common abusive behavior (bullying) includes yelling, use of physically threatening posture, personal attacks and threats. Such leaders may intensionally foster a "crazy" image to intimate all those around them.

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