Two Sure-Fire Leadership Killers

I have been coaching and developing leaders for many years and during that time, I have found two behaviors that are “leadership killers.” They are acts that consistently, no matter who the leader is, weaken their position in the eyes of their reports and lessen their ability to lead. These leadership killers are: wanting to be a friend and orphaning instead of confronting.

Friendly But Not Friends

It’s important to realize/accept the responsibility you have as a leader that you must convey your observations, especially those that are focused on areas where employees can improve. But many times, I see the leader’s desire to be accepted by the direct report, to be considered a comrade and a friend, as something that stands in the way of delivering those observations. I counsel my clients that while it is perfectly fine to be friendly, you cannot act as their friend or they will not take your input seriously. You are the leader they are following into battle and as such, you must separate yourself so that they count on you for honest, direct input that isn’t mired in emotion.

Don’t Leave Them Orphaned

Providing the input described above can be difficult.  And so, some leaders will avoid the “tough” conversation with a direct report. Avoiding this conversation sets a precedent; it says it’s okay to keep doing what you are doing, it’s fine…when it’s really not. In a sense, you are orphaning your direct report by not interceding and letting them continue on a path towards failure without your guidance.

People you coach can be just as skeptical, jaded and fearful of being led as you are to lead them. takes courage to lead! But the big question is will you deliver frank, constructive input that will eventually help them achieve their goals, and those of your department, or will you simply set them to sea without a compass?  If you constantly choose the latter, you can expect to develop a team that will not take your orders/input to heart and will time and time again blaze their own trail.  That’s usually a recipe for disaster.

Keep interceding. Give them what they need, even if it’s not what they want. You will become a stronger leader and people with thank you for it.


6 replies
  1. Earl Loveless
    Earl Loveless says:

    Your points are well taken and there are other implications for a leader with these issues. If you become friends with your reports you lose your objectivity with all the decisions you make. The report who sees themselves as less of friend than another will stop trusting your fairness even if you are very fair. They will see any discipline you do with them as unfair. They will at that point think you can be influenced by ‘buttering you up’ rather doing the work for you. Promotions will be highly dismissed as unfair and generally the opposite you think you are achieving will be created. Be friendly but maintain a distance and don’t let yourself be trapped by this. None us are objective with friends.

  2. Jim Middlemas
    Jim Middlemas says:

    I’ve been there and done that. Reading this brings back some unpleasant memories. But that was years ago and the lessons learned were good ones. Your points are great and spot-on. I would like to add that the level of friendliness depends on how strong your leadership skills are.
    Thanks for posting this.

  3. Mary Nestor-Harper
    Mary Nestor-Harper says:

    Well said. I coach my managers and supervisors to keep a “professional distance” with direct reports, so that they can be friendly and approachable yet still maintain their leadership role and be taken seriously as a manager. This is particularly difficult with a new manager or supervisor who has risen from the ranks, and are now in a position to supervisor their former “buddies.” It’s difficult to continue hanging out with the gang on the weekends or after work, partying and then come in on Monday and have to discipline someone for coming in to work with a hangover or an hour late.

    Silence is also communication. I like your comparison to orphaning when you don’t openly communicate things that employees can improve on. In this case no news isn’t good news. I value my past managers who called me on the carpet, so to speak, and helped me see my shortcomings. They gave me a chance to learn and grow.


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