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  • David Cotti

High-functioning vs. Counterproductive Leaders


I've had the pleasure of working with high-functioning and counterproductive leaders. With enough introspection, there's an opportunity to learn and grow from all leaders. While in the U.S. Army, I strived to be a high-functioning leader. However, there were many times when I failed and exhibited counterproductive leadership traits. Leaders rarely fall neatly into one camp or another. Often, leaders have the best intentions and are unaware of their counterproductive tendencies. Consider how this may apply to you and in which of the two camps you tend to pitch your tent.

High-functioning Leadership Traits:

High-functioning leadership traits are qualities and behaviors exhibited by influential leaders that inspire and guide their teams toward success. These traits create a positive work environment and foster a culture of growth and collaboration. High-functioning leaders have a way of bringing the best qualities out of their team - viewing each team member through the lens of future potential. Ralph Waldo Emerson knew this to be true when he said, "Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be."


High-functioning Leadership Traits:

  1. Vision and Direction: High-functioning leaders envision where they want to go and can articulate that vision to their team. They set goals and provide a clear direction for everyone to follow. Do you know where you and your team are going?

  2. Empathy and Understanding: Effective leaders listen to their team members, understand their needs, and show compassion towards their concerns. They build strong relationships based on trust and respect. Are you currently fostering relationships built on mutual trust and respect? If you still need to, please get started.

  3. Communication: Effective communication is essential for outstanding leadership. Leaders must be able to convey their ideas, provide feedback, and keep their team informed about crucial matters. How can you improve communication?

  4. Accountability: Great leaders take responsibility for their actions and decisions. They hold themselves and their team accountable for their performance and results. What mechanisms are in place to hold yourself accountable?

  5. Adaptability: Great leaders are flexible and adaptable in a rapidly changing world. They can navigate through challenges and find innovative solutions. When was the last time you demonstrated adaptability?

  6. Encouraging Growth: Effective leaders support the growth and development of their team members. They provide learning opportunities and promote continuous improvement. How are you encouraging growth?

Counterproductive Leadership Traits:

Counterproductive leadership traits are negative qualities and behaviors exhibited by leaders that harm the team and organization. These traits create an inefficient work environment and hinder productivity and growth. Leaders that exhibit counterproductive traits are vital in understanding our personal and professional development.

  1. Micromanagement: Counterproductive leaders excessively control and monitor their team, stifling creativity and autonomy. When have you micromanaged a team - was it necessary? Have you been micromanaged - if so, how did that inform your performance and professional conduct at work?

  2. Lack of Empathy: Counterproductive leaders show little concern for their team's well-being and are insensitive to their needs and feelings. How much time (days, hours, years) would you spend working alongside a leader that lacked empathy?

  3. Poor Communication: Counterproductive leaders may withhold information, ignore feedback, or communicate disrespectfully, leading to misunderstandings and conflicts. Why do some leaders withhold information, ignore feedback, or communicate disrespectfully? Is there a time and place for all things?

  4. Blame-Shifting: Counterproductive leaders often blame others for failures and mistakes instead of taking responsibility. Have you ever blame-shifted?

  5. Authoritarianism: Counterproductive leaders use fear and intimidation to maintain control, which erodes trust and leads to a toxic work environment. Why do some leaders use these types of tactics?

  6. Lack of Transparency: Counterproductive leaders may keep their team in the dark about important decisions or changes, leading to uncertainty and distrust. This leadership trait speaks to poor communication. Do you have the correct team in place if you need to keep your team in the dark? Are the stakes high enough that keeping your team in the dark is required?

In summary, high-functioning leaders promote a positive and productive work environment, while counterproductive leaders create a hostile atmosphere that hinders progress and damages team morale. High-functioning leaders inspire and empower their teams, while

counterproductive leaders demoralize and impede their team's potential. Think back - dig into your perfect memory's dank, dark recesses. Let us celebrate our capacity as high-functioning leaders while actively seeking to minimize our counterproductive tendencies. Leadership is both a science and an art - a science to be routinely studied, practiced, and admired when executed with greatness. Let us move together with the intent of growth and inspiration - study the greats, for they are among us!

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