Leaders are judged not only by the effectiveness of their leadership, but also by the leadership demonstrated by their direct reports. Effective leaders – who lead other leaders – know to keep their eyes wide open and the ears tuned to the right frequency so they know what's really going on.

It's easy to see what you want to see, or what you want instantly report wanting you to see it. The leaders who report to you want to impress you, get it right and show that they are delivering. This means they might protect you from their mistakes, blow up the good parts and downplay the bad, or get rid of areas where they don't excel.

Moreover, it is all too easy to have firm opinions about colleagues, especially if you have been working together or being friends for years. A strong bond can mean that you are reluctant to see (or act) when you feel their leadership is not achieving the goal. It is essential to be open to the warning signs that something is not working. Here are ten signs to watch out for.

  1. Inconsistent Behavior
    Notice how the leader (your direct report) behaves towards you, when there are other people around, and in meetings with their colleagues or team. Consider whether their behavior is consistent or if it changes based on who is in the room.
  2. It's Always About Them
    The leader never acknowledges their team's efforts, always talks about themselves and what they need, and always makes sure they look good. It's about them winning and coming out on top.
  3. It's never their fault
    The leader is reluctant to admit mistakes and tries to blame others to ensure that there is little or no control over how to change or improve. Likewise, their team seems to struggle to regroup and learn when things go wrong.
  4. They will not compromise
    They are unwilling or find it very difficult to change their mind, and always try to get what they want, be it through resources, rewards, or approval of ideas. They rarely, if ever, compromise.
  5. They don't support themselves
    The leader is overly accommodating and unwilling to support what they stand for, so they don't support their team and what they need.
  6. The leader's team is MIA.
    You rarely interact with their team, and when you do, the employees seem misinformed and reluctant to talk to you. They seem to lack coherence and focus, so you get the feeling that there is no "team." Your immediate supervisor never delegates meetings (involving you or more senior stakeholders) to their team members.
  7. Concern for their team is missing
    When you ask about their team, the leader always insists that everything is going well. They never ask for advice or help, and any issues you raise about their team are put aside.
  8. They play favorites
    The leader always promotes one person on the team above the rest and only delegates the good work or rewards to that one person.
  9. They do not support their team
    Team members are rarely promoted, suggesting that the leader may not be good at coaching and development. The team is also not diverse and inclusive, indicating that the leader may only hire people who fit a particular mold.
  10. The team seems stuck
    The work does not come with a high quality and standard, so there is a lot of post-processing and long hours, which can be a sign of stress and poor leadership focus.

Warning signs are just that, and ideally they should be validated through formal sources. As a senior leader, what you say and do defines your leadership reputation and ultimately shapes work culture. It is your responsibility to tune in to the correct frequency and when needed be prepared to change the channel you are listening to.

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