Confessions of Bad Leaders – 6 lessons in leadership

Confessions of Bad Leaders – 6 lessons in leadership

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By Dan Vivian

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

The Serenity prayer adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous.

It’s rare to come across an event that is genuinely different. There are only so many ways one can die by PowerPoint. Refreshingly, there wasn’t a chart in sight at Wednesday’s Bad Leaders event.

This was the second instalment in the Brave Leaders series, which tackles some of the uncomfortable subjects of our industry. The first considered mental health. Sadly, I missed it, but by all accounts, it was a revelation; full of honesty, courage and apparently, a few tears.

Wednesday’s event tackled the subject of Bad Leaders. It had a lot to live up to, which I believe it certainly did.

The format was one of a sharing circle. Although this sounds a little new age, it worked well. The circle created a comfortable space for us to share some uncomfortable experiences. It’s often used at support organisations such as Alcoholics Anonymous, hence my quoting the serenity prayer at the start of this piece. A great mantra to take away, even if you do enjoy the odd glass.

We were deftly moderated by Steve Radcliffe, an expert in the development of leadership. The session was primed by two people sharing their experiences of bad leadership. Chatham House rules prevents me from going into too much detail, but both were very honest sharing their painful experiences. I particularly enjoyed one speaker’s tale of sweet revenge, about how they ended up getting their tormenter’s job.

Their stories created a rich flow of experiences and observations, providing lessons for the leaders and the led. Here’s what I learnt:

  1. Recognise the difference between leadership and management. They are not the same. MBA courses teach management, not leadership. Learn about leading, not just about business.
  2. Most of all, be consistent. We can cope with bad situations and good situations, but the worst is where there is inconsistency. This is most likely to create the conditions for poor mental health.
  3. Leadership is lonely. A trusted support team at work and at home is crucial to provide perspective.
  4. Communicate constantly. And not just the good stuff.
  5. Find a safe place where your team can provide honest feedback; not just the impressions they think you want to hear.
  6. Listen.

Thanks to The Marketing Society CEO, Gemma Greaves, and the team at The Marketing Society team for creating a brave agenda and format. It was a privilege to a be a part of it on Wednesday night.


Dan Vivian is Business Development and Marketing Director of Bristol-based agency Proctor + Stevenson, a specialist business-to-business agency harnessing strategy, creativity and technology for clients across the globe.

Image: Zvonimir Atletic | www.picfair.com

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Author: The Marketing Society
Posted: 24 May 2017
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