The June 2009 HBR has an interesting article based on the 360 degree feedback from 11,000 leaders on the shortcomings of the worst leaders. An interesting read (Via), the ten are:

Lack energy and enthusiasm. They see new initiatives as a burden, rarely volunteer, and fear being overwhelmed. One such leader was described as having the ability to “suck all the energy out of any room.”

Accept their own mediocre performance. They overstate the difficulty of reaching targets so that they look good when they achieve them. They live by the mantra “Underpromise and overdeliver.”

Lack clear vision and direction. They believe their only job is to execute. Like a hiker who sticks close to the trail, they’re fine until they come to a fork.

Have poor judgment. They make decisions that colleagues and subordinates consider to be not in the organization’s best interests.

Don’t collaborate. They avoid peers, act independently, and view other leaders as competitors. As a result, they are set adrift by the very people whose insights and support they need.

Don’t walk the talk. They set standards of behavior or expectations of performance and then violate them. They’re perceived as lacking integrity. Another article Infectious Leadership provides good insight on this critical element – we can build excitement or create a negative culture. It starts with the leader.

Resist new ideas. They reject suggestions from subordinates and peers. Good ideas aren’t implemented, and the organization gets stuck.

Don’t learn from mistakes. They may make no more mistakes than their peers, but they fail to use setbacks as opportunities for improvement, hiding their errors and brooding about them instead.

Lack interpersonal skills. They make sins of both commission (they’re abrasive and bullying) and omission (they’re aloof, unavailable, and reluctant to praise).

Fail to develop others. They focus on themselves to the exclusion of developing subordinates, causing individuals and teams to disengage.

The closing note is probably the most important:

These sound like obvious flaws that any leader would try to fix. But the ineffective leaders we studied were often unaware that they exhibited these behaviours. In fact, those who were rated most negatively rated themselves substantially more positively. Leaders should take a very hard look at themselves and ask for candid feedback on performance in these specific areas. Their jobs may depend on it.

I received a great piece of advice two years ago on 360 degree feedback. I was new into a role (4 months) and was not going to add my new teammates to my list as they were just getting to know me and would not have a track record upon which to build their opinions. My coach suggested the exact opposite. Early into a new job is a great time to get candid feedback on how people perceive you and will help you shape the new relationships. I listened to the advice and it was great. I received great insight into how people perceived me and used the feedback in future 1:1s to openly talk about where I was developing.

But the first step is what is noted above ….. you have to be willing to take a hard look at yourself and accept the feedback, not rationalize it.