I’m Better Than You! And Other Leadership Styles that Fail…

The Careereon Blogging Team
February 5, 2024

I’m Better Than You!

(And Other Leadership Styles that Fail)


There are many aspects to good leadership that resonate with people, including the direct peer group, reporting team members, as well as the superiors who watch how their leaders approach their work and their people. It is a delicate balance that requires strength and vulnerability, a mix of authority and empathy, with the ability and interest to establish and maintain a personal connection with everyone.

Unfortunately, many leaders don’t always understand this, particularly when new to leadership, as they try to find their way, and build the brand and persona they believe will aid their development. Emulating your own leaders can be effective, but only if you, yourself, bought into their style, and you believe you are a good judge of people and of what makes a quality leader. Leading across an imaginary line, separating the leader from their people is a risky approach. If you have had such leadership personally, you may have accepted it. But more likely, you persevered through it to do good work and get ahead. Take inventory of the experience, how you felt, what you had to do and what you got in return, and if you still feel like it’s the proper way to lead…you may want to rethink this whole leadership thing.

Still, you likely learned something from such a leader, and there is no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Take the good and use it. But recognize what was not effective and dispatch with those tactics, behaviors and the approach that you know did not work for you, and that you are likely aware did not work for your peers. If you consider yourself a pretty reasonable person, using your own judgement and compass will make it clear to you that the feelings you had working for such a leader are what your people will feel about you if you adopt the same approach. Be Yourself, Not Someone Else.

Creating or living behind that figurative wall that separates one level from another is an old school approach that prior generations did not love, but generally accepted. The more recent generations will not accept it for very long. They will fight back against an elitist or superior leadership style, or may just quietly bide their time and leave the business before long. The leader with high self-awareness, who has been open to learning through there experiences with a range of leaders, knows to eliminate walls, and lines, lead at just one level that includes everybody. If not, employee retention, engagement, satisfaction, as well as overall production will all fall short of even the lightest goals a company sets for itself to be achieve high marks from its employees.

Take a look at this article from Skyline G which cites common traits of poor leadership. 


Below are some common mistakes leaders make that drive employees to the exit, each of which can be turned around with strong leadership, knowing what pitfalls are out there, and doing the work to avoid them.

  • Imbalance between Praise and Criticism:
    • A crucial mistake that leaders often make is believing the only way to improve performance of their team, or to ‘motivate’ people is by consistently focusing on areas to improve, and what a team member is ‘not’ doing. It is with rare exception that an employee or team member has nothing to write home about, nothing positive worth calling out, thus leaving the leader with the only option being to focus on the missing pieces and pushing the employee to get better to keep their job. A company, and the leader, need to produce results, and need their people to deliver them. That is never accomplished through a culture of negativity and discouragement. The effective leader can, not only find areas of good performance to highlight, but leverage that as the starting point of their coaching program and philosophy, bridging the gap between the strengths that lead to the current areas of success, and applying similar focus and effort on the areas in need of improvement. An employee who sees that their leader knows and recognizes the positive contributions they make will more confidently accept feedback, coaching, and most tactics of motivation the leader may use. The key here is that a leader can have a fabulous, innovative ways to motivate their people, but it will be for naught if they do not begin with trust, support, and a clear message to their people that each is valued for what they bring to their work and the team.
  • Failure to Practice What They Preach:
    • Leaders will sometimes preach certain values and behaviors they expect from their team, yet exhibit behaviors that suggest they believe otherwise, or appear to think they are above the need to do so because of their standing. They’re ‘the boss’, and such rules don’t apply to them. Of the oldest lessons we all learn is that actions speak louder than words – Live It!
  • Impersonal Interaction:
    • Engaging a team on a professional level is of course important for a leader. Communicating business information and changes, setting expectations for work, and making clear the standards and responsibilities to their team is imperative. But that can’t be the only way a leader interacts with their team. Personalizing and humanizing the relationship is important as well. It does not mean hanging out on weekends, or going out for drinks each Friday. It means asking about interests, hobbies, family, and sharing theirs with their people as well. This creates a comfortable, safe working relationship where people know they can be themselves, feeling that they are not led by a company robot, but by a person, a human being, who is just like them, and fundamentally cares about what we all care about.
  • Different Levels=Different Behaviors:
    • A leader who thinks in terms of ‘levels’ will prove that to their people pretty early on. If impersonal, ‘all-business’ to the people reporting to them, stiff and stuffy and authoritative in their approach, yet become the jokester, the approachable and fun person when their peers or their boss comes around, it will cause enough heads to shake to create a nice breeze across the office. The ’Genuine Leader’ is the same to all people regardless of level. Otherwise credibility is lost with their team, which means there is no trust, less buy-in, and ultimately a disengaged workforce, poor workplace culture, making business failure all but inevitable.
  • Failure to Advocate for the Team:
    • When mistakes happen, projects or initiatives fail, or deadlines are missed, who is at fault? The leader has assessed the work, the progress throughout the project, and despite that, it still failed. A good leader will recount what transpired throughout, including their work, and the work of their team. If it is due to a lack of effort or skillset, such a leader will likely have caught it midstream and made changes in workflow or team makeup to get the project back on track and give it every chance to succeed. If in their post-mortem they see that everyone delivered what they were expected to, and did not miss a checkpoint to complete work, how do they explain to their superiors? Some leaders will always lay blame at the feet of their people, which is a huge mistake. There can be a myriad of reasons for projects, new products, changes in process or strategy, to fail. Shifts in industry, timing the market, lack of available resources, change in customer buying habits, and many more reasons, can be the major contributing factor to business failure. A team needs to know that their leader will defend them, and confidently stand up for their efforts and talents, and take ownership. Having the courage to provide their opinion to ‘the brass’ on what they believe is the source of the failure, even if it means the leader takes the fall, it is the smarter way to play it over scapegoating the team. Doing so earns the leader mile-high credibility, and likely the commitment from the team to do everything possible to make the next initiative a huge success.
  • Cross-Examination:
    • A leader who consistently positions their team, their subordinates to have to defend themselves will usually get answers, and likely the answers they want. This can often be because their people are smart enough to know what the leader wants to hear, and the path of least resistance is to give them that and allow each to go back to what they were doing. That is not only ineffective in ever gaining improvements or achieving goals, but more importantly, and unfortunately, it will very quickly create nothing but a toxic work environment. True leadership begins with the mentality of ‘innocent until proven guilty’, or more appropriately for the workplace: ‘You’re great until you prove otherwise’. Strong leadership includes a great deal of faith a leader needs to have in their people. Providing the guidance and encouragement, sharing and exhibiting belief and confidence in each team member is paramount to gaining buy-in and driving success.
  • Lack of Investment in Team Members’ Growth:
    • “I want to get ahead in this company, and need someone to advocate for me”. ,That’s leadership 101, and leaders should know this. As much as a leader may focus on the performance of a team member, they need to pay twice as much attention to what drives the person and motivates them to achieve the success that will serve as the springboard to career advancement.
Article from business.com highlighting some of the reasons employees leave their jobs: 

The role of the leader extends well beyond holding people accountability and doling out tasks and assignments. That is the definition of ‘administrative’ work, not leadership. The strong leader goes beyond task delegation; promoting mentorship, providing opportunities, or creating them when they are not readily available, and advocating for their people at every turn. The leader who empathizes with the struggles of their people, drawing from their own experience navigating office politics, making the right connections, to creating the right career strategy that has led to the opportunities they have had will put their people at ease that continued hard work, strong performance, and brand-building, combined with the leader’s support, will all lead to success both in the current role and in the career aspirations the employee has.

True leadership requires much more than being a steward and taskmaster for the business. It takes a comprehensive approach that includes a wide range of attributes a leader needs to lean on day to day to be successful. A commitment to the well-being, success, and growth of their people is critical. Consistent demonstration of empathy, personal connection, and authenticity creates the buy-in every leader hopes for. Knowing the potential, if not likely, outcome for the failure to do the right thing, to walk the walk, and to invest the time and interest in their people, it is incumbent on any leader, new or experienced to avoid the pitfalls mentioned herein. Be a leader to your people through your investment of your time, support and your advocacy, leading with empathy, inclusiveness and faith in your team members. Doing so consistently is what will bear the fruits of a positive culture, engaged workforce, and sustained success for the leader and the business overall.



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