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    May 12, 2021    |   Psychometrics Canada

Best Leader, Worst Leader

3 minute read

Written by Shawn Bakker, Psychologist

Think of the best leader you know. What words would you use to describe that person? Typical responses to this question include: supportive, personable, visionary, encouraging, authentic, empowering, and bad leader working with frustrated employees inclusive.

Now think of the worst leader you have had the misfortune to work with. What words would you use to describe that individual? The most common responses I hear are: controlling, micromanager, selfish, lack of vision, biased, arrogant, and poor listener.

I wager that you could easily recall the face of these two leaders, and thinking about them may have even brought up old feelings – that is the tremendous influence that leadership, effective or poor, has on others. Good leadership is often described using terms that capture working effectively with others and building towards the future. Poor leadership is seen as small-minded, focused on the little things, and more concerned about power than collaboration.

So where does this poor leadership come from? Our research with the Psychometrics 360 data shows that some of it may be coming from the leaders’ bosses. When asked what they see as most important, the areas they stress the most are focused on day-to-day operations. Planning work activities, directing people, and evaluating performance are at the top of the list. At the bottom of the expectations list? Communication, flexibility and adapting.

Individual leaders are picking up on this. The level of agreement between a leader and their boss on what they should be focusing on is incredibly aligned. So perhaps many of our leaders are day-to-day micromanagers because that is what their bosses are looking for. Leaders’ performance data supports this as well. Aggregate ratings from the Psychometrics 360 show that leaders’ greatest strengths also bend towards day-to-day operations.

So leaders align themselves with their bosses’ expectations – getting things done by making plans and managing tasks. And they seem to be doing it rather well. Unfortunately, these are not the things that are used to describe great leaders; instead they are table stakes, the bare minimum that you need to get into the game. To become a good leader requires addressing other issues.

The greatest challenges identified for leaders from our 360 data are:
  • Coaching and developing others
  • Empowering employees
  • Mobilizing others around a clear purpose
  • Seeking innovation
  • Displaying flexibility

These five areas consistently float to the top. We see it when we ask people to describe great leaders. We see it when we ask a leader’s colleagues, direct reports and others to identify that leader’s performance gaps. To be a better leader, leaders need to move beyond task management, power and control.

Given what we hear from employees and see from the assessment data, leaders looking to step up their performance should do more of the following:

4 key takeaways to becoming a better leader
  1. Take a long-term, strategic approach to their work.
  2. Empower and coach their direct reports.
  3. Be open to innovation.
  4. Embrace change and be flexible.

These are not necessarily easy things, and they are a shift from what a leader might be hearing from their boss. But good leadership has never been easy or straightforward. When working with leaders I ask them how they want to be remembered – as the good leader, or the bad leader. The difference between the two is pretty notable.


Filed under: Leadership Development