jeffrey benjamin article on false leadership

12 Traits of False Leadership

Can you identify bad leadership qualities from good leadership? 

Can you spot bad leadership qualities? Many people can claim to be leaders, but they might be false leaders!

Poor leaders display several bad leadership qualities. Many people can claim to be leaders, but they might be false leaders!

Erroneous leaders tend to display multiple signs of bad leadership. Sadly, many people are fooled into following this poor leadership, only to be rattled eventually. Here is a handful of poor leadership qualities that I’ve noticed over the years. Let these characteristics be signals to recognize false leaders or when you might act like one.

1. Uses deception.

False leaders practice the art of deception. These are the people you might know that are masqueraders. Misrepresentation is displayed in everything they say, usually combined with a lack of transparency and poor communication. What they do is the exact opposite of what is said. To avoid falling under the spell of this type of bad leader, listen with your eyes, not your ears.

“Don’t find fault; find a remedy.”

Henry Ford

2. Adorns a fancy title.

Brian Tracy wrote, “Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily, even if you had no title or position.” A leader that relies on title and not on performance is not an effective leader. Best leaders know that they are only as good as their last performance. A fancy title should not gain trust. Many organizations assign big fancy titles to employees so that customers deem them important people to follow. This type of work environment and leadership style will only pad the ego. False leaders ordain themselves with a shiny title to persuade you that they are worthy of your followership.

3. Blame people and circumstances.

True leaders take responsibility, while poor leaders continually blame others. Pointing the finger at others is a sure sign of a false leader and bad leadership skills. Solution-oriented people are the real leaders in life.  Blame if you want to be lame. That is why Henry Ford, a leader in revolutionizing automobile history, said, “Don’t find a fault; find a remedy.”

4. Attempts to control.

False leaders think that people need to be controlled; that you need to force them to do something. Dwight D. Eisenhower shared, “Leadership is the art of getting someone to do something you want to be done because he wants to do it.” False leaders destroy people and team performance by attempting to control them. You can recognize an authentic leader because he wants to help you lead your own life.

“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Isaac Newton

5. Disparages others.

False leaders boast about how great they are and how everyone else is below average. The only time a true leader looks down on anyone is to lend a hand to help another person rise to the top. Sam Walton, one of the great leaders, was a true leader both in action and in his words when he said, “Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.”

6. Takes the credit.

False leaders gobble up all the glory from their team members. A true leader has the self-awareness to acknowledge friends, peers, and followers when they do a great job. Too often, people don’t compliment others for their contributions. It takes only a few seconds to offer an accolade or a few kind words of appreciation. You are practicing solid leadership when you give credit when credit is due. A deep sense of admiration and respect is built when a good leader gives credit and compliments others. The opposite occurs when a person claims all the credit for him or herself.

7. Reneges obligations.

False leaders break promises. This usually happens because of a lack of decision-making and over-committing. These bad leadership traits are often made worse when they have a track record of purposely deceiving followers. The bottom line is that true leaders do whatever it takes to make commitments happen. The best and strongest leaders don’t weasel out of promises. Effective leadership promotes positive company culture. True leaders know not to micromanage because that ultimately leads to burnout and lousy employee retention. A famous Chinese proverb best states, “Rule a kingdom as though you were cooking a small fish; don’t overdo it.”

8. Makes excuses.

Making excuses is a glaring sign of a false leader and a bad management style. Better leaders never offer excuses because they realize there is no use for an excuse. A hallmark of great leadership is taking accountability. Set yourself apart. Be responsible for your actions and your performance. Benjamin Franklin eloquently echoed, “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.”

9. Always leads.

False leaders proclaim to have all the answers. True leaders listen. Isaac Newton, a world-leading physicist, mathematician, and astronomer who discovered the Laws of Gravity, said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” True leaders listen to leaders and followers; they aren’t comfortable with the status quo. The practice of good leadership is a balance of when to lead and when to follow. Aristotle, who Plato taught, shared, “He who has never learned to obey cannot be a good commander.”

10. Disrespects followers.

As a leader, the only reason to look down on a person is when you are helping them up. True leaders appreciate their followers and hold them in the highest esteem. Incivility, rudeness, and disrespect are qualities of a bad leader. How does it make you feel when someone disrespects you? Famous baseball player Jackie Robinson eventually gained respect and created a massive following that still lives on today. He did so by showing respect when he was disrespected. The only way to get respect is to give it.

11. Denies succession.

Ralph Nader explains, “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not followers.” To grow organizations, current leaders must both target and mentor people. They encourage leadership development and look forward to the day they can level them up. False leaders rarely engage in succession planning for fear of no longer being seen as leaders.

12. Wastes time on personal vendettas.

Using a leadership position to even the score or to get back at someone is an abuse of power. This work ethic will break a company. A good leadership team knows that time is best used to solve issues and break through the challenges that concern your followers. Set aside your negative personal emotions to be a true leader.

You can now better identify the qualities of bad leadership. You can discern when someone is practicing false leadership and avoid prey to it. The real win is the self-awareness to acknowledge that you might be employing these practices and promptly eliminate them from your self-awareness to recognize that you might be using these practices and swiftly eliminate them from your habits.


Now you know how to identify bad leadership qualities

Best of success to you!

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