Many people today talk about leadership who’ve never led anything more complex than a high school marching band.  They offer this or that principle as if proven under fire when, in fact, their experience has been limited to launching missiles in a game of Battleship.

But that’s not to say that you can’t learn from these neophytes or even failed leaders. On the contrary. As volunteers or especially as victims in their experiments, you often have a front-row seat to observe their inappropriate actions and inactions. You learn not to repeat their leadership lapses:

Lesson #1: Communicate Your Reasoning Behind Decisions

If your school board announced next week that all local schools would be closed at noon for the next month, I’m guessing your first reaction would be “Why? What’s going on?”  If you have school-age children and work outside the home, that news would mean you have to make alternative childcare arrangements. Probably you would not simply shrug your shoulders and say, “Oh, well.” Most likely, you’d be asking questions about the cause of the shut-down.

But if the school officials told you that scientists had found a toxic chemical in the school building that necessitated a complete refurbishing, you would likely accept the decision and necessary action.

The same situation occurs daily in the workplace. Leaders discuss situations and data behind closed doors, then emerge and make grand announcements to employees, cloaking their conclusions in vague language that leaves people baffled, beleaguered, and often bruised.  And to boot, they often expect buy-in!

You can learn from their mistake.

Lesson #2:  Communicate Often—Both the Good and the Bad News

These failed leaders remind us of the famous husband whose wife complained, “You never tell me that you love me anymore!”  To which he responded, “I told you I loved you the day we married. If I change my mind, I’ll let you know.”

Such leaders communicate a message once and think their message has been heard, understood, digested, and applied throughout the organization.  No need for repetition. No need for interpretation. No need for reminders.

Definitely, don’t put these “leaders” in charge of sales or marketing if you plan to keep the company afloat. With this thinking, you could run one ad one time and cut your marketing budget dramatically, but be prepared for the fall-out with lead generation.

Neither do failing leaders understand the value of consistent communication—both good and bad news.  They often fall into the trap of communicating with employees only when there’s bad news to share: layoffs, restructuring, product recalls, wage freezes, and the like.

You can learn from these poor examples: sporadic and inconsistent communication.

Lesson #3:  Consider the Reality of Perception—And Its Impact

Perception becomes the reality for many people. These leaders announce cost-cutting initiatives––and then take the executive team and their spouses on a strategic planning retreat to an exotic locale for five days. 

Message communicated: “Cost-cutting measures are not to be taken seriously.”

Perception:  The executive team considers themselves an elite group, operating under a different set of rules than the rest of the employee group.  The cost-cutting measures have no basis in fact.

Impact:  Future ideas submitted by employees for cost-savings measures dribble to nothing.

You can profit from this mistake if you understand that the impact of perception can be far worse than the reality of a situation.


Followers have a unique perspective on leadership: They see first-hand how leaders gain or destroy their own trust, cooperation, and confidence.



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