employee exhibiting frustration

Gut Check: What Drives You Crazy About Mediocre Leaders?

Vince Molinaro, Ph.D. Blog

employee exhibiting frustration

I spend a lot of my time talking to employees around the world. No matter what country, continent or company, one topic generates the same anguish and frustration: having to work with mediocre leaders. As these people share their stories, they do so with the same emotional reactions: disappointment, disgust, and even outright anger.

Yet, when I talk to leaders themselves, most of them tell me that they don’t want to be mediocre. Few set that as their ambition. But somehow it happens, even though companies are spending more on developing their leaders than ever before. 

Companies everywhere have a leadership accountability challenge. At a time when they need their leaders to truly step up the consensus is that they are not doing so. The reality in organizations is that mediocrity has become the enemy. These experiences are far too common; we need to turn this around or pay the price in poor company performance, low levels of employee engagement, and weak leadership cultures.

It’s time to help leaders step up. It’s time to eradicate the mediocrity of leadership that’s infected many of our organizations.

The Leadership Contract and Field GuideThat’s why I’m officially launching this week two new books: the third edition of The Leadership Contract and the companion Field Guide.  The Leadership Contract calls for leaders to commit to a higher level of accountability.  I wrote The Leadership Contract Field Guide because, as my team and I worked with clients around the world, we kept getting asked for a practical way to help their leaders become more accountable.

And I’m asking you to help me in this cause by completing this quick survey to help us understand your view of mediocre leadership.  Please share this survey with your network – you can take it here.  

From my experience, if we are to develop strong solutions to the problem of weak leadership – my life’s work – we need to understand what leadership mediocrity looks like. We can’t solve a problem we don’t understand.

In The Leadership Contract Field Guide, I describe the top ten themes of what makes managers and bosses mediocre. Here’s what I heard repeatedly in my travels.  

Mediocre leaders are:

  1. Incompetent. These leaders simply don’t have the right instincts for leadership. They make bad (and even stupid) decisions that leave a trail of disaster behind them. The worst ones are those who are inept but think they are great. No one can understand how these people were ever able to get into a leadership role in the first place.
  2. Cowards. They do not have the stomach for leadership. They always take the easy way out. They avoid difficult things. They don’t take a stand and they don’t have any backbone.  
  3. Lack of initiative. They don’t act. They are lazy and don’t work hard. They look for the easy way out of any situation. They deflect responsibility or they always play under the radar, never to be seen or heard.
  4. Immature. Even though they are adults, they typically act like temperamental toddlers. They have the emotional maturity of a two-year old: when they don’t get their way, they have a temper tantrum. They can’t handle any feedback; they get defensive and react with drama.
  5. Selfish. They are only in it for themselves, taking as much as they can along the way. They have a huge sense of entitlement. They don’t seem to care about the company they lead, the employees, or the customers. It’s always about “ME, ME, ME!”
  6. Blame others. When things go wrong, the finger always points at someone else. They never personally acknowledge their role or contribution if anything ever goes wrong.
  7. Highly insecure. They lack confidence for the job and this drives everything about who they are and what they do. They don’t trust others. They surround themselves with weak or incompetent people. They stir the pot on teams by engaging in gossip. They, in turn, create teams that are insecure.
  8. Uncivil. They regularly and routinely mistreat, disrespect, and insult others. They frequently “tear a strip off their direct reports – often in public. They are bullies.
  9. Need to be liked. They want to be your best friend in an eerie sort of way. They agree with everyone and everything. They avoid conflict or any confrontation. They never make an unpopular decision.
  10. Make excuses. There is always a reason why something didn’t work, and that reason never includes them. They never truly own the outcome of any situation.

As I write this, I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Don’t you? That’s what happens if you have to work with a mediocre leader. When I ask people how this affects them, the answers are quite revealing.  Mediocre leaders drive you crazy. They can end up demotivating and demoralizing you. They can deflate your ambitions and stifle your motivation. You lose any desire to contribute in meaningful ways to your organization.

The really unfortunate thing is that the majority of people I talk to can cite more examples of working with mediocre leaders rather than with truly accountable and great leaders.

What’s been your experience with mediocre leaders? How do they drive you crazy?

I’m conducting a survey to find out. Once you complete the survey, I would also ask that you share this blog post with your own network. I’d like to get as many responses as we can. I’ll share the survey results in an upcoming post. Take our quick survey here →

The first step towards building truly accountable leadership in organizations is beginning with a strong dose of reality – understanding how mediocrity is the enemy that’s getting in the way in your organization. Once we know that, then we can begin to address the issues and fix the problem.  Help me eradicate mediocrity in our organizations.

This week’s leadership gut check asks: What Drives You Crazy About Mediocre Leaders?


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