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Posted by on Apr 27, 2010

Learning Right FROM Wrong

Have you ever noticed that there are a lot of “How to…” books and manuals in existence? Take a stroll down the “Do It Yourself” aisle of your local bookstore and you’ll find everything from “How to Install a Kitchen Sink” to “How to Invest So That You Can Retire by 25” (personal note: I don’t recommend the investing book). Conversely, have you ever noticed that there are not a lot of “How not to…” books and manuals in existence? It’s difficult trying to illustrate how not to do something.

Which leads me to my topic: all of our lives, both academically and personally, we are taught how to do things, not how not to do things. Granted, it is much easier to explain many things in terms of how to do it: how to change a flat tire, how to bake a cake, how to assemble a book shelf, to name a few.

However, when it comes to leadership, or more specifically, how to be a good leader, consider looking at it from a how not to perspective. Barbara Kellerman wrote¬† a book titled “Bad Leadership: What It Is, How It Happens, Why It Matters” that focuses on some bad leaders of the past few decades (Leona Helmsley, Andrew Fastow, Mary Meeker to name a few) and what made them bad leaders. She uses words like incompetent, rigid and callous to describe some of them. I would be willing to bet my lunch money for tomorrow that you have not used any of those three words – in this case, I’ll call them non-examples – to describe to someone what good leadership is.

Non-examples is not an idea that I am familiar with, but a person that I know and respect very much mentioned it to me a few days ago. She was referring to it within the arena of education and it got me thinking: maybe non-examples can be a good way to supplement standard leadership training and theory. Think about some managers and supervisors you have had throughout your career; I’m sure not all of them were ideal leaders. So, what did they do wrong in your opinion? Did they exemplify traits that you can clearly say to yourself, “I will not do that…”?

I’m not trying to suggest that you should re-think how you view what good leadership is. I’m simply giving you another lens with which to view leadership through.

What do you think? I invite you to share any experiences you may have had with managers and supervisors that exhibited traits and characteristics that you learned from because it was how not to lead effectively.

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