The Seven Bad Habits of Highly Ineffective Leaders

I was talking with a friend recently who had just been appointed as the CEO of a large human service organization. He was somewhat curious about his new role and asked, “What’s the worst mistake a leader can make?” Luckily, he didn’t ask me what my worst mistakes were. His question prompted me to think and so I offer for your consideration my written response, which I have titled, “The Seven Bad Habits of Highly Ineffective People.”

Each of these bad habits-mistakes-will probably result in job loss if not properly addressed. These enmeshed bad habits also account for the job switching of many would-be effective leaders.

Of the seven bad habits, the fourth, dishonesty, is probably the most egregious. Many top leaders have also lost their positions as a result of number six, being a poor communicator, but the irony is that often they weren’t given feedback about this concern.


  1. Thinking leadership is about you

Dangerous indeed is the thought that you are the most important factor in the leader/follower equation. Leadership is all about people and achieving successful results. No leader has ever accomplished a major undertaking by him/herself.


All of us have met leaders with “I” problems, so it’s no wonder that such individuals are known for their egocentric behavior, ranging from lack of delegation to lack of power-sharing. Unfortunately, authentic servant leadership seems to be out of their reach.


  1. Being a poor listener

Nothing is so frustrating as having a boss who doesn’t listen, but we are not just describing a person who may in fact be silent while you are talking. Poor listeners:

  • Are easily distracted even though you are present,
  • Always seem to be in a hurry to talk rather than to listen,
  • May not detect your level of concern or pain, and
  • Sometimes may even seem uninterested in what you are saying.


Leaders who do not listen will find themselves with followers who are talking to someone else. The resulting loss of personal contact and flow of information is not without its consequences, or perhaps worse yet they withdraw and remain silent.


  1. Being an active pessimist

No one really likes to be around a person who is always negative, constantly viewing the world around them as falling short, being less than what they hoped for or labeling everything they see as just one more problem. What’s unfortunate is that pessimistic leaders often spawn pessimists in the ranks of their followers and pretty soon large numbers of people are identifying what’s wrong rather than seeing what’s right. Pessimism can ruin relationships, demoralize staff, increase staff turnover and quite simply make the employment site an unhappy place to be.


  1. Being dishonest or untrustworthy

It’s hard to believe that some leaders may be blatantly dishonest with others—including their followers—but it happens. Dishonesty can follow many different patterns:

  • Absolute fabrication of facts
  • Purposeful misdirection
  • Exaggeration
  • Withholding information, or
  • What we simply describe as being untruthful, including “twisting the truth.”

Being untrustworthy perhaps flows out of being dishonest, but has the added nuance of being unreliable. In this instance, the habit of sloppy thinking and carelessness may contribute more to ineffectiveness, rather than just simple dishonesty.


  1. Being a poor decision-maker

Some leaders are known for their excellent decision-making skills, others not so much. There are many kinds of poor decision-makers. They range from those who listen only to themselves to those who seem to have the need to ask everyone they meet what they should do. Then there are the extremes: leaders who just “go with their gut” and those who can never satisfy their thirst for more numbers or more information.


The aftermath of a poor decision is not always immediate. We need to keep Peter Senge’s thought in mind and be careful that “today’s solutions are not tomorrow’s problems.”


  1. Being a poor communicator

Believe it or not, there are some leaders who never leave their offices when at work, and when in their offices keep the door shut. It also doesn’t do any good, however, if the leader has an open door if he or she has a closed mind.


Poor communicators manifest themselves in many different ways:

  • Always having to have the last word on every subject
  • Not knowing the audience they are addressing (including their own employees)
  • Lacking empathy
  • Not thinking communicating is important
  • Turning people off with their body language, or
  • Being “characterlogically” impatient.


Organizations with leaders, who have difficulty communicating, are more prone to rumors and gossip. What you find when employees aren’t properly informed is that they are guessing what’s going on, and many times they are guessing wrong.


  1. Having a lack of vision

Effective leaders have a sense of the future, where their department or organization is going. They know the big “why,” the purpose of their efforts and, generally speaking, so do their employees. Poor leaders don’t and neither do their employees. Poor leaders without a vision simply let life happen to them and, therefore, everything seems to be beyond their control.


An overarching vision brings people together. So it is no surprise that there are many more “free agents” in a visionless, rudderless environment. Leaders without a vision compete poorly for resources within their organization and are more likely bogged down with the details of their area of responsibility, rather than the dynamics of growth and positivity.


Note: The seven habits are not listed in any priority.




Proverbs 12:18 (NIV)

The words of the reckless pierce like swords,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.


Can't Not Do

The Scaffold Effect: Raising Resilient, Self-Reliant, and
Secure Kids in an Age of Anxiety

Harold S. Koplewicz, MD (Harmony, 2021)

This month’s book recommendation is The Scaffold Effect, written by Peter Koplewicz, M.D. Dr. Koplewicz is a child and adolescent psychiatrist who is the medical director of the Child Mind Institute in New York City. As you can tell by the subtitle, Raising Resilient, Self-Reliant and Secure Kids in an Age of Anxiety, this is not a book about leadership. In its pages, however, you will find many insights that are extremely relevant to leadership and interpersonal relationships. Even if you have no family or your children are now adults, I would encourage you to read this book. It’s that good in terms of practical tips.

Here’s the key thought: “Parents are the scaffold that provides structure and support for the child as he or she grows up. They are there to protect and guide, but they don’t impede learning and risk taking. Your scaffold exists to provide structure and support, not to control or rescue.”

Throughout the book, the author describes how scaffolds will be modified throughout the child’s maturation. In this useful metaphor, the child is the building and the parents are the scaffold that is erected next to it. The scaffold is a temporary platform used in the construction of a building. To complete the analogy, Koplewicz states that structure, support and encouragement are the pillars of the platform.  (Having worked on a scaffold, I know there are four pillars or posts making up the frame. What would you add as the fourth?)  The planks of the scaffold are patience, warmth, awareness, dispassion and monitoring, all of which are explained in the book.

The author shares many useful insights, some from his own experience, others from relevant research. What follows are some of the insights that resonated with me:

  • ”If you want to do the right thing (as a parent) too much, you can end up doing the wrong thing.”
  • “The foundation of parental self-care is being self-aware.”
  • “It’s not about your feelings; it’s about scaffolding your child to process theirs.” When children express different emotions and parents react with distress, the child learns to feel anxiety about experiencing themselves and hide their feelings. (Think COVID.)

In the chapter, “Empower Growth,” the point is well made that as parents we must modify our roles as our child grows up. We must move from being a fixer to being a consultant. It is noted that anxious parents stay in the “fix it” mode longer and have great difficulty in shifting to the consultant role. He does an excellent job in addressing the teenage years and discusses the importance of child-parent collaboration. What follows is a good example of a parent acting in the role of consultant—after their child has done poorly on a test:

“I’m sorry that happened. It sounds like it’s been really hard on you. I get where you are coming from. I have a couple of thoughts on how to handle this, but why don’t you tell me your thoughts first, and then we can compare notes and see which idea sounds like the next best step.”

I believe you will find this book easy to read and replete with helpful insights. It is a book you will want to share with others, especially young parents.

A final thought from the book that I found to be personally true is:

“One of the great and humbling discoveries of parenting is that, while we are empowering our kid’s growth, we are also learning that we, too, still have a lot to learn.”




Most portable scaffolds also utilize four outriggers at the base to increase base width, strengthening the stability of the scaffold.  To me, it would be interesting to incorporate the notion of base outriggers with the conceptual spheres of love, faith, spousal harmony and core values, important success elements not really discussed in the model on the pages of the book.

Another interesting element of many scaffolds is the presents of “tie-ins.” These are safety devices used to connect the scaffold to the building being erected, again for additional stability. What might be the tie-ins in Dr. Koplewicz’s model between the child and the parent?

If you are curious about curiosity this book is for you.

Purchase this and other recommended books at amazon, your local bookstore or through CherryHillHighTide.com bookstore.

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