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The Worst Leaders Aren’t Controlling. They’re Unreliable

A study of CEOs points to what it takes to get to the top as well as qualities that hurt success.

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BY Melody Wilding - 05 Jun 2018

The Worst Leaders Aren't Controlling. They're Unreliable

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Difficult personalities can make the workplace challenging, but inconsistent management is downright crazy-making. One moment you're being told to innovate and think creatively. Then the next day you're chastised for failing to following protocol when do you take a risk that's "outside the box". Or your boss may be hands-on for a week or two, only to neglect your team again for months on end.

Poor communication characterizes most dysfunctional workplaces and now, research shows just how far that impact goes. In an analysis of 2,600 leaders over a decade, The CEO Genome Project found that almost all underperforming CEOs displayed one common behavior: inconsistency.

How can you spot an inconsistent leader? Researchers Elena Botelho and Kim Powell, co-authors of the new book The CEO Next Door, identified four key archetypes:

1. The Seagull

This leader is hands-off until a catalyzing event happens. They drop by your desk to grab materials right before a meeting or respond to your emails two weeks late, only to criticize your idea then disappear again.

2. The Fireman

Yes, good leadership involves the ability to "put out fires", but that's not your only obligation. This type of inconsistent boss only shows their face once a situation has reached crisis levels.

3. The Dilettante

Leaders who chase shiny object after shiny object leave a wake of confusion in their path. Dilettantes can't commit to priorities and wear down teams who try to react to their changing focus.

4. The Hothead

Mercurial to the core, this type of inconsistent boss is like a Russian roulette. You simply never know what you're going to get: a boss in a good mood or a bad mood? Their anger is unpredictable, leaving you feeling like you have to tiptoe around them.

Botelho and Powell warn against the perils of inconsistency by pointing to the power of reliability. Reliable leaders, on the other hand, set clear expectations, practice radical personal accountability, and implement systems that help people feel safe to contribute, get feedback, and thrive. In fact, CEOs who are seen as reliable are fifteen times more likely to be top performers and get hired at double the rate.

Consistency is a cornerstone of your professional reputation whether you're on the management track or not. If you're looking to boost your reliability (and your credibility as a result), the authors share great advice:

When you're handed a project, your response shouldn't be, 'Okay, I'll get to work on it.' Say instead: 'Here's what I'm going to deliver by when. And consider it done'. And then make sure you follow through.

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