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Warning Signs of an Ineffective Leader

Originally published
Originally published: 6/9/2015

Depending on the study you read, anywhere from 66-77 percent of American employees are disengaged, doing far less than their best work. Some studies report that 4 out of 5 employees are actively looking for another job.

Unmotivated employees:

  • Take twice as many sick days
  • Are five times more likely to leave within the next year
  • Are 56 percent less likely to recommend friends use the product or service they represent
  • Don't innovate, problem solve, or take responsibility
  • Have terrible customer service

Disengaged teams cost money, time, stress, and suck the life out of the organization.

Why Does This Happen?

The most important factor affecting employee motivation is not too surprising.

Study after study continue to emphasize the role that immediate supervisors play in employee satisfaction. You've probably heard that people join organizations, but they leave managers.

This plays out in many ways, but it's very telling that 80 percent of those very dissatisfied with an immediate supervisor are disengaged.

Yes, other factors play a role, but the single factor with the most impact on your employee's engagement is…you. You have more influence on whether your employees are engaged that anything else.

It makes sense when you think about it. People experience everything your company stands for, all of the values, mission...everything, through you.

The data suggest that for the vast majority of employees, that experience is not a good one.

Are You Effective?

This is a tough question to ask your self. In my experience, most managers would rather go through the motions than genuinely take a look at their own leadership, but here's the tough reality: your team is a reflection of you.

If you want to know how you're doing, take a look at your team and at yourself. Let's look at your team first. You don't need a fancy employee engagement survey. Here are some critical indicators that your team is struggling:

  • People lack passion. They do the least they can to get through the day.
  • Bureaucracy is on the rise. People put more time into rules and process than they put into results.
  • No conflict. Important problems go unresolved, people don't have healthy dialog around ideas.
  • Unhealthy conflict. People spend time arguing about each other rather than the business decisions of where they are going or how they will get there.
  • Decisions take forever.
  • High turnover.
  • Turf wars, silos, lack of cross-functional problem solving.
  • No laughter.
  • No one fails. (Because no one is taking healthy creative risks to innovate.)

These are just a few of the signs that your team or organization needs leadership.

If you're experiencing these symptoms, before you address the team, I encourage you to examine your self. Leadership begins with the leader and you won't be able to build a strong team on a weak foundation.

You can master the essentials of influence. You can influence the people around you and accomplish significant results. You can lead.

I really believe that.

Simply because you can, however, doesn't mean you should. Too many organizations are filled with people in leadership roles that shouldn't be there.

Here are seven warning signs you can use to determine whether assuming a leadership role is a good idea for you.

1. You do it to feel good about yourself.

Some people chase leadership positions for the title.

If your self-worth is tied up in the words that come after your name on a business card, you will have a difficult time succeeding as a leader.

2. You do it for the power.

Some people chase leadership positions because they want to tell people what to do.

If you do it for the power, two things are likely to happen: 1) people will do the least they can to satisfy your power trips and 2) you'll become frustrated when you realize you don't actually have the power to make anyone do anything.

3. You do it for the money.

Some people chase leadership positions because they pay more.

This is a tough one and, along with the first two, is probably responsible for most of the poor management and leadership we experience in the workplace.

However, if you take a leadership position for the money, you will quickly find that the money doesn't equal the increase in responsibility.

4. You do it to make your father happy.

Some people chase leadership positions because their parents or another person expected them to.

If you take a leadership position to make someone else happy, you are likely to be frustrated and struggle to succeed.

5. You do it because "that's what successful people do."

Some people chase leadership positions because they've accepted a premise that success means having a leadership title.

If you take a leadership position to feel successful, you're likely to be disappointed, frustrated, and still not feel successful.

6. You do it because you want to build a family.

Some people take leadership positions because they value relationships for their own sake and want to build more of them.

If you take a leadership position to "spread the love", you will find your team loves you, but your performance evaluations don't go so well.

7. You do it because you "deserve it."

Some people take (or are offered) a leadership position because they've been a part of an organization longer than anyone else and "it's my turn".

If you take a leadership position because you feel entitled to it, you will discover that your team doesn't necessarily feel the same and that seniority doesn't equal respect or success.

What the Warning Signs Mean for You

You may have noticed that all seven of these warning signs involve your motivation…your "why". Why you want to lead will make all the difference in your success as a leader.

A powerful "why" will carry you through the many challenges, frustrations, and lonely times every leader faces.

A misplaced-"why", however, will make those challenges feel ten times worse and you'll be disappointed that things don't work out the way you thought they would.

Here's the problem:  if you lead for any of the reasons I listed, your motivation is not aligned with what you actually have to do to succeed.

Broadly, these motivations are about what I call the "Three Ps":  Power, Prestige, and Purse.

If these are your primary motivations for leading, you're going to have a tough time.

Why? Because these motivations are all about you.

In contrast, successful leaders focus on their people and on the mission.

To succeed in your leadership, you build relationships that produce results.

You create clear expectations, build systems, reinforce expectations, train people, practice accountability and celebrate. These activities serve your people and the mission…none of them serve you.

If your motivation is about you, but success requires you to serve your people and the mission, you'll end up disappointed and frustrated. No other outcome is possible.

What To Do If You Encounter These Warning Signs

If you're considering a leadership position or are in one already and you recognize one or more of these warning signs, take heart! It's not too late.

You may have started off with any of these seven, but you can choose today to focus on your team and the mission.

Be patient with yourself as you learn how to combine focus on relationships and results.

Next Steps

If you got into a leadership position for any of the warning-sign reasons and now realize that you really don't have any interest, patience, or desire to do what you'll need to do to succeed, first, let me say "Congratulations!"

I mean that seriously - it is rare for people to have the courage and self-awareness to be honest with themselves when society, parents, or their bank account says something else.

Next, I would invite you to transition out of that role as quickly as you safely can. You will find joy in doing something more aligned with your set of talents and your team will benefit as well.

In the meantime, do what you can to focus on your team and results - who knows, you might discover a passion for leadership you never expected!

If you're serious about leading energized teams that get more done, begin with your motivations. With every decision, every action you take, and every meeting you hold ask yourself, "Does this serve my people and help us achieve results?"

You're on the path to innovative, engaged, productive teams when you intentionally focus on relationships and results in everything you do.


David Dye works with leaders, managers, and supervisors who want to build teams that get more done with fewer headaches. He tweets from @davidmdye and welcomes your LinkedIn invitation. His award-winning book, The Seven Things Your Team Needs to Hear You Say is available on


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