All Articles Leadership Careers Bad leadership and management advice you should run away from

Bad leadership and management advice you should run away from

5 min read


There’s a LOT of advice out there on leadership and management — almost as much as you’ll find on dating, careers, and how to raise your kids.

Actually, most of it’s pretty good, or at least not bad. I rarely come across an article in my daily SmartBrief on Leadership newsletter and say to myself “Well, that sure is a crock full of hooey!”

However, I’d recommend running away as far as you can from the following pearls of leadership and management wisdom:

1. “Ignore your weaknesses and leverage your strengths.” Try Googling any variation of this advice, and you’ll find plenty of credible sources telling you to ignore your strengths. This feel-good nonsense usually stems from a lazy misinterpretation of what’s referred to as the “strength-based leadership development” movement, made popular by Gallup, Marcus Buckingham, and countless other copycats. Gallup and Buckingham never said to ignore your weaknesses; the idea is to do whatever it takes to minimize your weaknesses (improvement, delegation, finding a different job, etc.). Ignoring a critical leadership weakness is a surefire path to leadership derailment.

2. “You need to know more than anyone who works under you.” I actually heard a senior vice president give this advice to a group of new managers. I wanted to set my hair on fire! Believing that you could possibly know more than the sum of everyone who works for you is arrogance at its worst!

3. “It’s OK to be friends with your employees.” You can be friendly with your employees, but when you are in a position that requires you to objectively hire, promote, reward, or discipline, the relationship needs to change. I wrote a post about this a while back, and there were a few comments from managers who insisted that I was wrong and they were able to do it. Most, however, agreed. You live and learn.

4. If you can’t measure it, then you can’t manage it.” This is bull — in fact, most of what we do at work can’t and shouldn’t be measured. Managers that subscribe to this advice end up paying attention to the minutia that’s easily measured and ignoring what’s really important.

5. “Don’t pay attention to criticism; it’s not your job to make everyone happy.” Managers who turn a deaf ear to constructive feedback or dissent will miss opportunities to improve, solve problems, or build coalitions for change.

6. “Leaders are born and not made.” Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I still hear this myths perpetuated, often by self-proclaimed “experts.” Perhaps Warren Bennis said it best: “The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born-that there is a genetic factor to leadership. This myth asserts that people simply either have certain charismatic qualities or not. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.”

7. “The best way to learn leadership is from successful business CEOs.” Sometimes, but not always. Steve Jobs was a visionary and incredibly successful businessman, but there are plenty of people who characterize him as one of the world’s worst leaders. I know of a CEO who handed out Job’s book to his executive team as a leadership tutorial. Pity those poor employees!

8. “No news is good news.” The higher up you go in an organization, the more likely it is that you’ll become isolated and shielded from bad news by your palace guard. Not hearing about it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist — it just means you have your head in the sand.

9. “You need to pull up their sleeves, pitch in and get your hands dirty.” While it’s good to do this once in a while, managers should not regularly be doing the work of one or two levels below them. To do so is at the expense of the unique and critical work that they should be doing as a manager, undermines their employees’ work and results in micromanaging.

10. “First in, last out.” Meaning, you need to be the first one to work and the last to leave. Managers that work insanely long hours on a consistent basis are candidates for burn-out. You’ll be less effective in the long run and set a bad example for the rest of the organization. Besides, what if one or two of your employees are following the same career advice? It could turn into a rather absurd contest to see who can be the first one to work in the morning.

What other bad leadership and management advice have you heard?

Dan McCarthy is the director of Executive Development Programs at the University of New Hampshire and runs the Management & Leadership channel of He writes the award-winning leadership development blog Great Leadership and is consistently ranked as one of the top digital influencers in leadership and talent management. He’s a regular contributor to SmartBrief and a member of the SmartBrief on Workforce Advisory Board. E-mail McCarthy.