Leadership Caveat Dispositions: Ten Negative Characteristics of School Leaders and Approaches to Resolution

Jan 26th, 2016 | Category: Church Work Professional, Faith/Learning, Research in Education
By Daniel R. Tomal

The topic of school leadership has been widely studied for years. Researchers have studied and proposed a variety of leader theories and models ranging from situational leadership, styles, traits, emotional intelligence, servant leadership, motivation, sociological needs, capability, gender differences, and core competencies (Dreyfus, 2008; Sergiovanni and Starrate, 2004; Herzberg, 1966; Maslow, 1943; Tomal, 2007; Intaliata et al., 2000; Vroom, 1964).

For example, the topic of leadership competencies alone has been explored by numerous researchers and has been further subdivided into the broad areas of cognitive, emotional, intelligence, and social intelligence competencies (McClelland, 1973; Boyatzis, 2011; Spencer and Spencer, 2004; Laguna, et al., 2012; Levenson et al., 2006). These leader core competencies that have been identified and differentiated as essential knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors impact not only the effectiveness of the leader, but the performance of the leader’s employees as well.

Other theories emphasize the importance of leaders having flexibility in adapting their styles to meet the needs of employees. Situational leadership, Theory X and Y, and the Managerial Grid are but a few of these popular theories (Hersey and Blanchard, 1969; McGregor, 1960; Blake and Mouton, 1964). Other theories stress the importance of leadership and visionary positions of organizational goal setting and change such as transformational leadership and management by objectives (Burns, 1978; Drucker, 1973; Odiorne, 1965; Zenger and Folkman, 2009). All these theories emphasize the association between leadership styles and competencies and the impact on employee engagement and motivation.

While there are many theories and models on school leadership, the topic of negative leadership dispositions has not been as widely studied. Based upon the author’s consulting work in education and business, an array of leadership caveat dispositions has been developed. These dispositions are negative traits and behaviors that the author has observed in leaders. The descriptor “caveat” has been included as a caution to leaders so that they become aware of the dispositions and resist the tendency to fall into the trap of employing them in a habitual manner. There are ten leader caveat dispositions which have been listed and described in Figure 1.

The first disposition is called need for control. This disposition is characteristic of the leader who holds tightly to reins of work processes and decision making. They often need to provide personal input to others’ work and give final approval for all matters. Team members often feel undermined, frustrated, and stifled with this type of leader given they lose much of the freedom and autonomy to do their work. These leaders are often oblivious to their style and impact to team dissatisfaction.

The second disposition is called need to be right. These leaders tend to exhibit an insatiable desire to be correct in their statements and decisions. Their characteristics include: they are often highly opinionated, stubborn, closed-minded, and that they are frequently preoccupied with gaining acceptance from others. Team members often avoid giving opinions and challenging these leaders given they undoubtedly will over rule them and be unwilling to compromise.

The third disposition is need to feel superior. This leader typically has a high-self image, assertiveness, and a sense of arrogance. He or she may exhibit feelings of high self-importance, competence, and place a higher value on his or her own ability than the ability of the team members. As a consequence, these leaders may tend to consciously and unconsciously belittle their team members.

The need to avoid conflict is the fourth disposition. Typical characteristics of this leader include avoiding confrontations, procrastinating, and seeking compromise when in disagreement with others. This type of leader values supportive relationships and cooperation. They often fail to make decisions or confront issues even if it may cause disruption or ill feelings. The result of this disposition is that team members often feel powerless to deal with conflict situations and, therefore, issues often go unresolved.

The need to fear rejection is the fifth disposition. This leader typically has a strong desire for individual and group approval. He or she often displays low self-esteem, lacks confidence, and is often seen as being over-accommodating. The leader may become overly dismayed if team members do not accept personal ideas. In essence, these leaders want the team members to like them and place a high value on compromising and accommodating in order to obtain high acceptance. Therefore, team members may be able to manipulate this leader given they know he or she avoids group disapproval.

The sixth disposition is called the need for controversy. This leader tends to thrive upon drama and suspense in the workplace even if there are negative consequences. This leader may participate in gossip and regularly contributes to the organization’s communication grapevine. He or she may even purposely instigate interpersonal conflicts to provoke controversy among team members. As a consequence, team members often feel pitted against each other and lack efficiency and productivity.

The need for affirmation is the seventh disposition. This leader has a high need for personal acknowledgment and acceptance of their actions by the team. He or she typically displays a sense of insecurity and tends to overly collaborate on issues in order to obtain consensus. This leader often seeks personal accolades, kudos, and approval from team members. Therefore, team members may view this leader as lacking strong leadership and as being too indecisive which stifles team performance.

The eighth disposition is the need to build ego. This leader tends to be ego-centered, flirtatious, and somewhat narcissistic. He or she often seeks self admiration, personal loyalty, and praise from team members. If this leader senses a team member is not loyal, he or she may retaliate against the person. With this type of leader, team members typically are guarded in their opinions for fear of upsetting the leader.

The need to feel influential is the ninth disposition. This leader typically desires to make a personal difference and be admired for personal achievements. This leader may display charisma, political savviness, and be seen as placing more importance on achieving personal accomplishments and recognition than the mission and goals of the organization. In essence, this leader wants to leave “his or her mark” on everything. As a consequence, team member may feel exploited knowing that the leader’s motives are more self-serving than for the team or organization.

The last disposition is the need for attention. This leader desires to be the center of attention and in the spot light—an almost celebrity status. The leader often shows craving for being a topic of interest and values the attention from being talked about. The need to feel special and to be “set apart” from others is of personal value to this leader. As a consequence, team members may frequently feel persecuted by the leader’s constant attention which is often at the expense of others.

Figure 1. Leadership Caveat Dispositions:

Disposition Characteristic
1. Need for control. Holds tightly to reins of work and decision making.
2. Need to be right. Has an insatiable desire to be correct.
3. Need to feel superior. Has excessive high-self image and self importance.
4. Need to avoid conflict. Avoids confrontations and interpersonal disputes.
5. Need to fear rejection. Seeks approval and is over-accommodating.
6. Need for controversy. Thrives on drama regardless of the consequences.
7. Need for affirmation. Seeks acknowledgment and kudos from team.
8. Need to build ego. Displays ego-centrism and narcissism.
9. Need to feel influential. Desires admiration for personal achievements.
10. Need for attention. Seeks to be the center of attention and main focus.

The first step for any effective school leader is to become aware of these dispositions and to recognize the negative consequences they can have on team members and the organization. School leaders may be unaware that they are exhibiting one of more of these dispositions. As a result, they may develop “blind spots” on how their own negative leadership behaviors contribute to inefficiency, low morale, and lack of productivity in the team and organization.

One way to understand whether a leader is displaying any of the dispositions is to complete a personal assessment on the dispositions. The school leader can rate each of the dispositions and also ask the team members to rate the school leader as well. This probably is best done anonymously to avoid potential for bad feelings and to obtain an unbiased assessment be the team members.

Afterwards, if the school leader identifies any dispositions, he or she should work on overcoming them. The use of professional coaching can assist the leader in recognizing these dispositions, impact on the organization, and reducing or eliminating them. By avoiding these dispositions, the leaders should not only improve their own effectiveness, but make a positive difference in team performance, morale, and organizational productivity.

The performance of any team is often highly dependent upon the effectiveness of the leader. Good school leaders not only need to inspire good performance in team members they need to avoid actually undermining teamwork and productivity through their own unconscious negative dispositions. The effective school leader is one who is willing recognize and eliminate the practice of these negative dispositions.

In summary, the leadership caveat dispositions are an array of negative characteristics that all leaders should avoid. Becoming aware of these ten dispositions through self reflection and professional coaching can assist school leaders in reflecting upon their own performance and giving insight into areas to improve upon. The understanding of the dispositions can also provide a basis for further understanding leader traits, attitudes, and behaviors that influence the morale and productivity of the workforce.


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Author Information

Daniel R. Tomal, Ph.D. is a Distinguished Professor of Leadership at Concordia University Chicago where he teaches leadership and research in the doctoral program. He has authored 19 books and over 200 articles and studies, testified before the US Congress, consulted for numerous organizations, and made guest appearances on many national television shows. He may be contacted at Daniel.Tomal@cuchicago.edu.

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