Top Three Traits of Best and Worst Leaders

January 16, 2023 Brent Bystedt

I've been facilitating SLII® workshops for Blanchard since 2011. During this time I have delivered more than 1000 sessions. At the beginning of each workshop, we ask participants to share their experiences working with their worst leader and best leader. Then we have them describe the behaviors of these leaders: what was it that made them the worst or the best? Finally, people share their reactions to those leader behaviors—how they felt at the time or what they did because of their worst or best leaders’ behaviors.

Over the years, I've observed several reoccurring themes in these responses.

Behaviors of Worst Leaders

I've heard shocking stories about leaders who yell, who are verbally abusive, and who are even physically abusive. Then there are the ones who are not available for their people, who don't communicate, who play favorites, or who take credit for other people’s work.

In these situations, people’s general reactions are to shut down and avoid their leader. They may try to transfer to another department or they may just leave the organization and take their talents elsewhere. If that's not possible, they give the minimal amount of effort required.

Here’s a look at our workshop participants’ top three worst leader behaviors.

Micromanaging. People who are micromanaged feel as if their leader is always hanging over them and giving them more direction than they need. When this happens, people do only what they're told to do. They feel their time and effort are being wasted and don’t feel trusted by their leader. Micromanagers often use people as scapegoats when things don't go right. That's a terrible place to be.

Not Being Available. Having a leader who is consistently unavailable causes its own kind of emotional wreckage. In this situation, people believe their leader doesn’t care about them. They don’t get the direction, support, or feedback they need to be successful. They feel like cogs in a machine. This environment, not surprisingly, results in disengagement and lower productivity.

Not Giving Feedback. The worst leader doesn’t give timely feedback or doesn't give feedback at all. When a leader doesn’t give feedback on what team members are doing well or what they need to do differently, people are left on their own trying to figure out how to do their job. This can cause them to establish bad habits that result in wasted time and effort. The outcome is usually failure, which causes the person to feel discouraged and abandoned and diminishes their trust level in their leader. 

Behaviors of Best Leaders

Someone described as a best leader lets their people know they care about them and treats them with respect. They involve team members in decision making and ask them to share ideas. Best leaders are good communicators and are available to help, which makes their people feel productive, autonomous, and motivated.

Blanchard’s research confirms this. We’ve found that good leaders inspire people to perform their jobs well, remain with the organization, be a good organizational citizen, endorse the organization, and put forth discretionary effort.

Here’s a look at our workshop participants’ top three best leader behaviors.

Setting Stretch Goals. The best leader pushes their people to accomplish more than they thought they could. This leader creates attainable stretch goals that help others grow and develop. When presenting challenges, the leader has people’s best interests in mind. The best leader is concerned about team members’ professional development and wants to make sure they are always growing.

Showing Genuine Concern. The best leader cares about their people, both professionally and personally. They focus on their team members, not themselves. They aren’t necessarily close personal friends but are concerned about their people as human beings and want to ensure they have a good work-life balance.

Giving Timely Feedback. People expect their leader to give timely feedback, whether it be a praising or a redirection. The best leaders know both kinds of feedback are most effective when delivered as soon as the behavior is noticed. They also know that when redirecting someone, it’s best to focus on the person’s behavior, not the person. Team members are receptive to their leader’s feedback because they know it comes from a place of genuine concern.

There you have it—ten years of observations condensed into a short blog post! I hope these examples have inspired you to be the kind of leader your people would describe as their best leader

About the Author

Brent Bystedt

Brent Bystedt, Virtual Practice Leader for Blanchard®, is responsible for the development and mentoring of Blanchard’s virtual facilitators. In addition, Brent is a subject matter expert on Blanchard virtual programs, assists with virtual design of off-the-shelf and custom solutions, and serves as the Blanchard thought leader for virtual training and delivery.

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