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Leadership Styles to Avoid

These methods cause unproductive workplace cultures

While evaluating my most successful workplace transformational client projects in preparation for my newest seminar on employee engagement, I made a discovery.

I’m sure other thought leaders have already come to this place, but for me it was quite a revelation. Participants in the workshop found it of tremendous value in evaluating their leadership styles and the work environment it has created.

What I discovered is that two diametrically opposed leadership styles lead to very similar and very negative, toxic, non-productive workplace cultures.

Let’s take a deeper look:

Leadership Style 1: Command and Control
This leadership style is one in which the leader rules with an iron hand with a very structured work environment in which employees need to do things according to specific guidelines. For a woman in a leadership position, this style could come with the “B” label. Here is a list of characteristics of the command and control leader:

  • Demanding standards
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Offers an open door with a closed mind
  • Rarely accepts feedback
  • Rarely accepts others’ ideas
  • Micro-manager, too much accountability and little trust
  • Feedback mostly/always critical
  • Little praise & rewards
  • Gives impression (via communication style) that efforts/results “never good enough”
  • Behavior/performance standards applied inconsistently
  • Defensive when challenged
  • Mistakes not tolerated
  • Places blame vs. solution focused
  • Reacts harshly to bad news
  • Often communicates with inappropriate tone and body language
Leadership Style 2: Avoid and Let Go
(something I also call the “avoid & tolerate leadership style”)
This leadership style is one in which the leader takes a laissez-faire, hands off approach that offers an unstructured work environment in which employees need to figure things out on their own. For a woman leading with this style may be seen in a stereotypical fashion of being too soft and communicating with too much empathy and compassion. Here is a list of characteristics of the avoid and let go leader:

  • Unclear standards
  • Unclear expectations
  • Offers an open door, listens to ideas but fails to act on them
  • Gives lip service to others' ideas
  • People pleaser
  • Defensive when challenged
  • Often asks for others' ideas, wants to be inclusive but little follow through and often does their own thing anyway
  • Too much trust, not enough accountability
  • Wants improvement but doesn’t implement accountability, feedback & development systems
  • Sometimes plays favorites, different rules for different people without justification by performance/position
  • Avoids/Ignores addressing behavior/performance issues
  • Behaviors/performance standards applied inconsistently
  • Let’s things go “until” blowing up
I’ve had the challenge of working with both types of leaders and the work environments created by each style. The amazing realization in evaluating these projects is that both leadership styles, as different as they are, create the same negative, toxic workplace cultures.
Below you will read the workplace culture that manifests from both the “command and control” as well as the “avoid and let go” leadership styles.

In these workplace cultures, employees:

  • Feelings of fear, insecurity and uncertainty, permeate work environment
  • Create bureaucracy and information control systems to create “job security”
  • Are mostly just task oriented
  • Do the minimum; rarely go the “extra mile,” on their own
  • Need reminding and oversight to get tasks done and meet deadlines
  • Will not make decisions or try to solve problems on their own
  • Have a “Not my job” attitude
  • See things as “us vs. them”/“win/lose/zero sum game”
  • Throw their co-workers “under the bus” and look for ways to lift themselves up by putting others down
  • Are compliant with job requirements, but offer little creativity and innovation
  • Absenteeism/turnover higher than desirable
  • BMW present (bitching, moaning and whining)
  • CYA – Cover You A!#@# attitudes
Which of those leadership styles have you experienced in either your present or former work environments? If so, what type of workplace culture manifested from it?

Article written by Skip Weisman