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How To Tell A Good Leader From A Bad One

A difficult skill to develop is the ability to determine good leadership from bad leadership.  While plenty of us have experienced both, it can be challenging to define either situation’s traits.  More often than not, we know whether we like leadership when we’re sharing it, yet lack the language or skills to describe what a leader should be and how a leader should act.  

However, there are plenty of resources dedicated to developing a more robust understanding of what we want from leadership.  Plenty of research in the last century has been dedicated to this very question to understand what creates a strong workplace culture and limits your ability to work.  There are plenty of signifiers on an excellent leader and lousy leader to look out for regardless of your field or business background.  The personality traits of a good and bad leader tend to translate across industries.  It’s imperative to remember that just because someone lacks leadership skills doesn’t mean they lack value to your company.  Plenty of experts and geniuses have been renowned for their poor leadership skills.  Michael Jordan famously struggled with connecting to his peers in a way that inspired them to be better.  It is not an indictment of Jordan’s greatness, just further evidence that a good leader and a talented team member are not always the same thing.

The first way to determine an individual’s leadership skills is to look at the team’s chemistry. For example, one person who complains about a leader probably had a nasty run-in with that leader and as a lone voice of complaint probably holds little water.  But if an entire team is complaining about an atmosphere or leader, it’s usually a fair sign that something is rotten in Denmark.  Trust the democratic process in these instances and that out of many, one idea is often accurate.  

Poor communication is a hallmark of bad leadership.  Whether it’s ignoring subordinates’ input, struggling to keep individuals aware of important policies, or just being outright rude to your employees–communication is often the first sign of a good or bad leader.  Poor leaders struggle to respect or listen to their staff’s opinions, even from those with experience that outstrips the leader.  

A great sign that a company you are looking at might have poor leadership because there is high employee turnover.  Good leadership often results in employees that are pleased with their workplace and who want to stick around to see it grow and do better.  If you are applying for a job and see that the workplace turnover is high, it may be a sign of disorganization or discord within the company.  Make sure you ask during interviews what employee turnover is like, as it is a subtle way to get a sense of its leadership.

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