In an article posted on his blog titled “Five Characteristics of Weak Leaders,” Michael Hyatt, who is the former Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, said, “Sometimes you learn from positive role models. Often you learn from negative ones. This is one of the reasons I love to read history — you inevitably get both.”
In our pursuit of becoming better leaders – in all areas of our lives – we most often look to positive role models, whether they are people we know and respect as leaders in our own lives, such as a parent or a boss, or if they are historically renowned leaders such as Jesus, Gandhi, or Abraham Lincoln. However, we shouldn’t overlook the profound positive impact that can come from studying negative role models and learning from the mistakes they have made as leaders.
I know that when I examine a list of positive leadership traits, I am often unsure of how well I execute certain traits or how well I exemplify them. However, when I look at a list of negative traits, and do some honest self-reflection, I can quickly pinpoint a number of areas where I am guilty of straying, and I then resolve to improve.
Hyatt, who had been reading Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, shared some of his observations about the leadership flaws of General McClellan during the Civil War. He listed the following five leadership flaws, pointing out examples within McClellan’s leadership, and discussing the significant ramification of these unfortunate traits:
- Hesitating to take definitive action
- Complaining about a lack of resources
- Refusing to take responsibility
- Abusing the privileges of leadership
- Engaging in acts of insubordination
Another article, “7 Traits of an Insecure Leader,” written by Ron Edmondson and posted on his blog, provides additional examples of negative leadership:
- Defensive towards any challenge
- Protective of personal information
- Always positions his or herself out front
- Limits other’s opportunities for advancement
- Refuses to handle delicate issues
- Makes everything a joke
- Overly concerned about personal appearance
Edmondson ends his article with this reminder: “Please understand, all of us have moments of insecurity. Leaders, especially if they want to be effective, must learn to recognize signs of insecurity, figure out the root causes of it, and attempt to limit that insecurity from affecting their leadership.”
As both of these admirable leaders, Hyatt and Edmondson, have pointed out, learning from the mistakes of others and recognizing those weaknesses in ourselves is an incredibly important part of developing into better and more successful leaders.
Are you taking time to carefully study and examine negative leadership characteristics from which you might significantly improve your impact and influence? I encourage you to take some time for honest self-reflection, and resolve to improve in those areas which you find might be reflecting negative leadership more than positive leadership. There will never be a better time to do so than right now…