Leadership and followership
Leadership and followership

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Leadership and followership

1 What is poor leadership?

Poor leadership can be described on a spectrum. In this course, you’ll concentrate on the poor leadership that you are likely to encounter in your workplace, ranging from the common mistakes that many leaders make, to leaders who are ‘destructive’.

A shiny, black business shoe is crushing several egg shells with worried faces drawn on them.
Figure 1 Poor leadership can damage your team.

At some point in your life, a leader in your organisation, or in the public domain, will have made a decision you disagree with, or upset a group of people with a damaging comment or announcement. They may even have exhibited negative behaviours over a longer period, having a detrimental effect on the morale of you and your colleagues.

Have you ever taken a step back and wondered why they did what they did? Was it the pressure they found themselves under, the circumstances they were in, or did they lack the skills to handle the situation appropriately?

Activity 1 Your experience of poor or weak leadership

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Think of a time when you’ve felt shocked, offended, disappointed or angry at an action taken by a leader you follow.

In the box below, write a brief summary of the situation and how you felt. What do you think made it poor leadership?

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Now try to put yourself into the leader’s position. What could you have done differently?

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When you considered what you would do differently, what were the key differences? Would you use different skills, different language or a different method of communication? Would you seek out and apply knowledge/information that you feel the leader didn’t have and should have asked for?

Reflecting on how a situation could have been dealt with more effectively is important for any leader. Your leadership journal is a useful tool to use for this type of activity.

Sometimes the poor or weak leader might be you. Have you ever had feedback that surprised you? Have you ever had coaching that encouraged you to reflect on your own actions?

Professor Jean Hartley explains the importance of making time to review yourself and reflect on your leadership.

Download this video clip.Video player: lf_1_video_week4_hartley_a.mp4
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It can be quite hard to review yourself, in terms of your own leadership practices and purposes. But it's really important to do that, and to be engaged in continual monitoring of yourself in a low key way, to really think about where might you not be performing very well as a leader? Or, where could you improve? And there's lots of data- probably lots of data in your environment that will help you about that.
So it might be the body language of other people. You can sense they're not quite engaged with you. Or it may be that the dynamics of a meeting don't feel quite right. Maybe there's some rather long pauses, or people are reluctant to speak, or only the most powerful people in the room speak. Or it may be that your poor leadership is revealed because you have an angry clash with somebody. Or it may be that everybody agrees to what should be done, but somehow it doesn't get done. What's sometimes called active passivity.
So I think keeping monitoring of yourself, of the people that you're interacting with, and thinking about what's my purpose as a leader? And how far am I able to achieve that? That continual reviewing of yourself can be really important.
But you may also want to engage in other ways of reflecting. You might want to, for example, keep a reflective journal. Quite a lot of experienced leaders will use their journey home at the end of the day, whether by train or car or whatever, to just reflect on the day's events, and to think quite critically of themselves. How did I do in that? Did I put across this idea in the right way? Could I have been kinder or more diplomatic to that person? Should I have been firmer with somebody else? How far are we with the task that we're trying to achieve?
So that sense of self-reflection is very good.
And then, in addition, you may want to draw in other people to help you in your self-reflection. Maybe you have somebody who can act as a mentor to you. Or maybe you have a coach. Or you might want to participate in an action learning set around leadership to help you go over and reflect on and analyse situations that you've been in, so that you can try and improve for the next time.
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There are many things that can impact on your own leadership ability, from being forced to lead on a vision you don’t share, to a lack of confidence in your own skills and abilities and a feeling of being out of your depth. Sometimes you might just have a bad day!

Many leaders find coaching and reflection invaluable tools for reviewing their actions.

This part of the course is designed to help you recognise the wrong behaviours and consider more rewarding or successful alternatives. The leadership journal you started in Week 3 will also be a useful tool. Use it to identify where you might be going wrong and to consider ways to improve.

If you feel your leadership isn’t going well, Professor Hartley has the following advice.

Download this video clip.Video player: lf_1_video_week4_hartley_b.mp4
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If you feel your leadership isn't working very well, then you may need to analyse the situation the best you can initially to try and work out what kind of help might be useful for you. But it may be good to draw in other people, as well, to help you think about what is going wrong here.
To take the first example, it may be that you are aware that, for example, somebody gets under your skin. And you tend to be more irritable with that person than, perhaps, with other members of the team. So you might want to think about- would that be something that's worth taking to my coach? Can I think about ways to not get irritated by that person? Find a different way of working with them, or whatever.
Maybe it's, actually, you analyse that it's more technical skill that you need. Maybe you need to understand this subject more. Or you need to understand your team members more. And that would indicate that you might need to read up on something. Or you might need to spend more time with those team members to understand them and their work. So, there's probably quite a lot you can analyse yourself.
But there may also be situations where you can't quite put your finger on what isn't working. Or you think it would be very helpful to have another view on yourself and what you're doing. And, in that situation, finding a really good, trusted friend who can listen well and ask questions well. Or go and talk to a mentor. Or actually read around the subject, as well. Any of these may be quite helpful. And you may need to try more than one thing.
A lot of things that we find difficult as leaders do take months, even years, to get better at. So it's a question of- there's an expression, isn't there- fall down seven times, get up eight. And it's a question of just having another go and being kind to yourself in the process. Nobody's perfect. Every leader has flaws. So, how can you be kind to yourself and try and just get better without beating yourself up about it?
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In Section 2 you’ll explore some of the different types of poor leadership in more detail.


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