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7 Habits of Highly Ineffective Leaders

     If someone asks me, what makes people succeed in life, I have only one answer. That is HABIT. I am sure that the habits decide one’s future. Habits shape a person’s personality. Attitudes of a person revolve around his habits. William James referred to habit as the fly-wheel of society. When the Duke of Wellington heard someone mentioning habit as the second nature, he said: ‘Wrong. It is ten times nature’. This shows how habits transform a person to a new being.

    How to know what is a good habit? Or what are bad habits?

    It has to be decided by each one of us. Habits that make us productive and creative and that take us to our goals of life are positive habits. Negative habits are those repeated behavior that are instrumental in disturbing the pace of our journey to achieve the goals. Now, examine yourself what habit of yours is productive for you? And what makes you unproductive?

    As leader or follower, certain habits make people ineffective. You might have read the famous book by Stephen R Covey about the seven habits of highly effective people and the book by John R Covey about the seven habits of ineffective people.

    Here, let us examine another seven habits that make people totally ineffective. We can see several ineffective individuals/leaders around us. One close scrutiny of their behavioural pattern would reveal that some of their habits are responsible for their ineffectiveness. In some cases, these habits might be rooted in their personality. Seven such habits are listed below.

Making others unapproachable

    They tend to keep a distance from their subordinates. Others fear them. They fail to understand the people around them. No one gives them honest feedback. They wear the garb of a ‘serious’ task master. There will be overall dissatisfaction in people who are destined to get associated with such people. These unapproachable types wish to put a fence around their aura of inflated ego.


     A person who indulges in incessant talk and that too about himself and his merits and accomplishments   wastes his time and the precious time of the listener. One can narrate his personal views and experiences to others if that are necessary to drive in an important point or to pave way for contributions from others for the common good. Jokes and occasional gossips may be necessary to make the interaction lively and interesting, but only to a limit. But one should avoid uncontrolled bragging during conversation and meetings.

     A person who boasts too much about his capabilities and past glory, tests the patience of the listener after a certain tolerable limit. Considerable time is wasted in important interactions because of the boastful narratives of the participants.


     There are people who are habituated with the art of unending talk. For them, there is no topic about which they can’t jabber. They may make the atmosphere bubbly, but end their day without much value creation. This is an asset as well as a liability. While they can make friends easily, some of their friends would vanish in no time if they find the chat too overbearing and worthless. Lot of valuable time is wasted through such unnecessary sharing of views and opinions about anyone and anything. I used to paste a small slip on the door of my hostel room where I wrote ‘I like chatting; But not now!’ That was my strategy to avoid some of my chatterbox friends. This is not to escape from chatting altogether. But one needs to prioritize the day and allocate appropriate time for everything.

    A person becomes ineffective, if he indulges in what some people call ‘verbal diarrhoea’. The tongue deserves more rest so that the mind and ears can be directed towards internalizing the ideas and actions of others.


     Tomorrow….tomorrow …and that never comes! One of the common habits that make people ineffective is procrastination. Postponing things to a later date without any valid reason, can only make the task more burdensome and uninteresting. The best time to perform a pending task is today and today only. Procrastination due to indecisive nature is damaging because it not only delays the tasks on hand but also blocks the options for alternatives.


      There are several chronic fault-finders in our midst. Finding fault on others or on their contributions is constructive. This will facilitate correction and improvement. But, if the fault finding is based on personal perceptions and attitudes, rather than on objective analysis of facts and general expectations, then that would be destructive and de-motivating. One needs to judge others and their actions based on what they are capable of under the given circumstances and resources.

    Many a time, the fault-finders expect others to think and act in the way they are without appreciating the fact that no two personalities are alike. This is intimidating. Such fault-finders are ineffective leaders if they lead any team. People would desist from interacting with such cynical know-all types.


     I used to have the following lines put on my desk while I was in the University. ‘Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm’ (Ralph Waldo Emerson). ‘Enthusiasm is the sparkle in your eyes, the swing in your gait. The grip in your hand, the irresistible surge of will and the energy to execute your ideas’ (Henry Ford). No one can be in an upswing mood 24/7. But it does not mean that you should be in a state of mind that makes you static and passive to the happenings in society. One needs to be pro-active.

   There is this tendency of forming attitudes of ‘why should I care’ and ‘How does it matter for me’ among many people. ‘Work to Rule’ personalities might save their skin, but they are not necessarily effective individuals. They lack concern. They are impassive. They can be very pessimistic at times. It is very difficult for such persons to be creative in their work and action.

 Please all

     This is just the opposite of the habit of being ‘unapproachable’. These persons are extremely receptive to all and sundry and have difficulty in discouraging the ‘chatterbox’ and ‘bragger’. They wish to be popular and can never ‘call a spade a spade’. They don’t mind wasting their time listening to unproductive conversations. There is an eagerness to gather maximum from the eavesdroppers and they relish their gossips. They become indecisive because of their ‘please all’ habit. Such persons go to any extent to please their bosses. They eulogize the actions of their colleagues even when they clearly know that they have done blunders. They are ineffective leaders as they are scared to correct their subordinates.

Who is an ideal leader?

    People can have several excuses for their habitual behavior. No one is perfect. But a successful person is a person who strives to reduce his imperfections for achieving excellence.

   This is more important if you are a leader. One can say that everyone has one or more leadership roles to play in life.

   According to me, an ideal leader is one who is : NOT apathetic; NOT a chronic fault finder; NOT a procrastinator; NOT a chatterbox; NOT a bragger; Not unapproachable, and NOT a ‘please all’ fellow.

(Thanks to sajjive for effectively 'cartooning' on my ideas)
Related  Link: Please see my articles on Why Bosses won't smile?    and You are what your boss is!

( (c) Sibichen K Mathew)


  1. That is a good one with lots of contemporary relevance. Keep writing, Sibi

  2. Very Interesting article sir. After reading it I could identify each quality with some of my friends horrifying experiences with their bosses.

    Hopefully most of us will remain watchful and careful in dealing with our bosses and try not to absorb undesirable qualities and attitudes from him.

    Saikrishna, ACIT(U/T) NADT.

  3. Thanks Saikrishna. See also the article 'Why bosses won't smile?'in the blog

  4. I agree on almost everything. Habits makes or mars a person...

  5. Dear Mr.Mathew,
    i fully endorse your views. please keep writing.
    Joseph Lawrence
    JM Bakery Coimbatore

  6. Respected Sir,
    This article is very good treatment for me because I am patient of Procastination and Please all.


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