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Good vs. bad leadership (and how to tell the difference)

Not all effective leadership is good. Here's how to tell the good from the bad leadership.

There are as many approaches to leadership as there are leaders, and they all have unique perspectives and methods. So how do you know which leadership styles are good or bad?


I often mean leadership in effectiveness. If a leader can produce the desired results, her leadership is generally considered good. But is that always true?


It's not that easy.


Effective leaders and good leaders are not mutually exclusive or synonymous.


Leadership is about more than the numbers

What is leadership? It’s more than simply managing a group of people or an organization or even creating a plan to achieve goals as a group. Leadership is about inspiring and motivating followers to get the job done, whatever the job may be.


Though we think of inspiration and motivation as positive words, we can just as easily be inspired by fear and motivated by anger, which isn’t such a positive way to think of them.


Good leadership considers more than just the metrics of productivity for success and adds the welfare of the organization and its people to the list of objectives.


Most importantly, good leadership keeps people onboard because they want to be there, not because they fear leaving.


There are two ways to lead: Trust and fear. As the famous Chinese philosopher Lao-Tsu said, the best leadership is so intertwined with the work that it goes unnoticed.

“To lead people, walk beside them … As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best is the people's honor and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate … When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!'”

Good leadership uses trust to lead and inspire others, while bad leadership uses fear.


The markers of good leadership are evident in the leaders and the led

When trust is at the heart of leadership, open communication, and collaboration are encouraged, along with innovation and creativity. There is a strong sense of teamwork and working with leadership rather than working for leadership. Team members feel empowered and leaders adapt to new ideas and perspectives rather than shun anything that deviates from their plan or vision.


You can always tell good leadership by the positive attitudes of the followers. Low turnover is a green flag for good leadership in an organization.


In contrast, bad leadership uses fear and absolutes. Poor leadership is often rooted in insecurity and leans on loyalty as the ultimate measure of success for those under it. Followers don’t feel empowered to speak up or do anything not explicitly sanctioned by leadership.


There are times when strict leadership can produce results, but usually, those results are short-lived and unsustainable. High turnover is a red flag for bad leadership in an organization.


Following good leadership and being good leaders is vital to sustaining long-term success and happiness.


Good leadership goes beyond simply achieving desired outcomes and metrics; it inspires. Followers are motivated to bring new ideas and perspectives through trust, open communication, collaboration, and empowerment. In contrast, bad leadership relies on fear, leading to low morale and high turnover rates.


Ultimately, good leadership is evident in positive attitudes and a sense of teamwork, which achieves much more in the long run and results in more happiness for everyone.


By Jessi Healey


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