There was tremendous agonizing when Steve Jobs resigned from Apple and speculation of about what would happen as the company lost the great leader who had shaped the Apple brand so dramatically for so many years. In contrast to Steve Jobs, great leaders can also turn into bad leaders. A leader you’d have followed anywhere because of their confidence, strong communication skills, and self-confidence CAN lose the handle on leadership…in a major way.

Having witnessed leaders undergo this unfortunate unraveling up close, it’s worth sharing twelve ways a great leader turns into a bad leader:

  • Ignoring the characters of the people you surround yourself with and depend on for leadership.
  • Making people selections based on the “least bad” choice.
  • When another business is in trouble, loading up on its cast-off people, thinking you’re upgrading your talent.
  • Orienting your business decisions toward building your ego & personal wealth.
  • Seeking out limelight even when it distracts from what matters to your organization.
  • Overpaying for other companies out of ego, bad strategy, or a fear there won’t be anything you can buy later.
  • When the people who’ve been smart and served you well in business battles disagree with you, don’t listen.
  • Thinking a leader can afford to not solicit input and put off making the decisions everyone expects the leader to make.
  • Overstaying your welcome. (Hint: Ask other people what “over stay” means for you specifically.)
  • Going beyond the edge of your talents. (Hint: Ask other people where the “edge” is for you specifically.)
  • Not having incredible people ready to take over when you do hit the edge of your talents.
  • When the business world views you as defeated, refusing to acknowledge at least a couple of mistakes on the way out the door.

What would you add to the list of ways great leaders turn into bad leaders? – Mike Brown


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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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4 Responses to “Great Leaders – 12 Ways Great Leaders Turn into Bad Leaders”

  1. Anne Miner says:

    Great Post Mike!

    Here’s an example of your third item … when telephone service was deregulated, we all looked forward to the new “interconnect” companies offering competition to the old monopolies. A fresh start! Innovation! Customer Focus! New leadership – Leadership from “outside”.

    And, what happened? The interconnect companies hired the laid-off “talent” from the monopoly that was losing market share … and what did we get? A whole bunch of look-a-likes who all delivered anti customer service.

    Just as you say, mistaking the cast-offs for an upgrade missed the point completely!

    Anne Miner

  2. Jim Joseph says:

    This is a great post, Mike.  I think the truth is that most of us TRY to be great leaders, but it’s not an easy thing to do every single day with all the demands we have in front of us.  I love your list — great reminders for us all.  Jim

    • Mike Brown says:

      Thanks Jim. It’s surprising how several years of lessons can all fit into a relatively short blog post. 

      For me, the lesson on the outside looking in is to not ignore the contra-signals a “great” leader might give off along the way. When they make the remark or do something that runs counter to the perception that’s been created, you have to ask if that’s a fluke or really the sign of some underlying behavior or sentiment coming through. Another is noticing when the leader’s strengths become weaknesses because the backdrop within which they’re leading has changed dramatically. 

      Hmmmm….maybe that’s another blog post?