At illumyx, we spend a lot of time thinking about workplace culture. Culture can be affected by a lot of different things—mergers, organizational changes, growth, etc.—but at the root of it, culture is about the people. A healthy culture relies on people feeling fulfilled and satisfied in their jobs, and liking who they work with. Not everyone at work needs to be best friends, but there needs to be a level of respect and collaboration throughout the organization.
Sometimes, we find that the problem is at the top. It’s someone who has been there too long and no longer has the best interests of the company and its employees in mind. Or maybe they’re just not a good leader. In this article, we break down some of the red flags in leadership styles to look out for. And trust us, if you know one of these people, you already know it’s a problem.
The “Big Company” Hire
This person was brought on because of their impressive experience. They came from Unilever, Delta, Disney, Nestle, or some other big Fortune 500 company and the hiring team got excited.
We sometimes find that executives from large companies achieved their success by relying on the strong infrastructure and support teams that helped drive results. Then, when they join a smaller business, the lack of access to those resources hinders their ability to make an impact. They come in very confident but quickly realize that their big company skills aren’t as relevant as they expected without the infrastructure behind them.
The employee talent that helped get the organization to where it is, who were there long before the Big Company Hire, feel disrespected and devalued. It’s common for employees to leave the organization as a result (taking their talent and knowledge with them) which makes positive results even less attainable for the new person. With little skin in the game and a fragile ego, the Big Company Hire might also jump ship. The company is left scrambling, and a once-promising hire has now left the organization in a weaker place than they were before.
The People Pleaser
We often see this leader in small, family-owned, or private businesses that are coming into their next phase of growth. The People Pleaser needed to embrace ambiguity and uncertainty in the early stages of the company, and it has left them feeling guilty for the challenging times that their legacy staff endured. As a result, those employees get special treatment.
Because these leaders survived the early years by making exceptions to rules, it’s difficult to change their leadership patterns. Unwinding their informal agreements and personal favors seems impossible and overwhelming. Yet, a growing business means that new employees are getting left out of the fold and feeling bitter about the favored longtime employees.
The People Pleasers avoid taking a stance on tough issues to keep their original employees happy, unwittingly creating a culture of unfairness. The more this leader avoids conflict and continues to dote on their favorites, the more disharmonious the workplace becomes. The leader becomes the lid that keeps the company from growing and/or gets themselves ousted.
You hear these people coming; dictators are yellers and screamers. Trust us, they look scarier than they are. Behind many dictators is an immense amount of pressure, perceived or real. We’ve seen dictators succeed in cases like Steve Jobs, but most of the time, this leader leaves their employees fearful and reluctant to act. They create a culture where everyone is on edge, focused on trying to look good and avoid blame (instead of getting better at their jobs).
The Dictator tries to control by instilling a sense of inadequacy in those around them, often because they feel inadequate themselves. They create a toxic environment driven by fear and blame among employees. Over time, the positivity in the workplace diminishes and people start leaving.
This leader is highly deceptive. He says all the right things, supports top initiatives, and everyone seems to like him. Meanwhile, on the flip side, he is convincing his leaders not to support projects and maybe even aligning people against the teams who are driving initiatives. Conflict and chaos ensue as people pick sides. The negative environment this leader creates is so subversive that it’s often difficult to identify the problem (which is Charlie himself) and hold him accountable.
People who lead under Charlie get confused as to why things aren’t moving forward. They trust their boss to be telling the truth, so it’s hard to recognize what is going on. And when it is recognized, it’s hard to bring to light. Staff loses morale and develops apathy. They no longer have faith in their boss or initiatives, and it’s hard to shake that mentality, even as new leaders enter the organization.
The Slow Roller
This leader doesn’t support change or new initiatives but won’t ever tell you directly. They retain power by keeping their leaders happy, and so they find reasons to delay new projects. Before you know it, it’s a year later and nothing has happened. We often see the Slow Roller and Two-Faced Charlie working together as a team to derail new ideas. Although rationale might seem logical at the time (like needing more information or prioritizing other initiatives), this approach slowly but surely decreases momentum and stops change from happening. Analysis paralysis eventually wipes out the project.
Employees get fatigued and burned out in their attempt to move things forward. They begin to feel apathetic and disengaged, and nothing ends up getting done.
Sound familiar? Now what?
We’ve worked with lots of different leaders at illumyx. The most impactful leaders are lifelong learners, with a strong desire to continuously improve and keep their employees’ best interests in mind. We believe that people are the greatest asset in any workplace, and good leaders can make a difference in keeping people engaged and fulfilled in their jobs.