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12 Most Common Complaints of Leaders

Complaints are common in leadership. Chances are if you’re a leader you will receive complaints. Hopefully, you work for an organization that serves more than a customer service department, and  instead, continue to support you rather then investigate every single complaint. In my own experience, I have found that the complainers are louder then your biggest fans even when they are a small minority of the population.

Being a good and effective leader doesn’t mean you won't receive complaints. You can't make everyone happy nor should this be your primary objective. You will be misunderstood no matter how clearly you communicate. Don’t be afraid. Don’t take it personal.  You are not perfect. No one is. Frustrating? Of course, it is. Can you learn to be a better leader by thinking through frequent complaints? Of course, you can.

Ron Edmondson did some tremendous work here. See his list below.  

Several months ago I began compiling a list of some of the common complaints I hear. I grouped some of them together for brevity and went with the top 12, most repeated. I personally believe I am less likely to improve where I don’t know I need to improve. This was an awareness exercise for me as much as anything.

Here are 12 common complaints about leaders:

1. Controlling

All the decisions are decided and announced. No one gets to provide input.

2. Defensive

The leader challenges every challenge. You can’t talk to him or her about a problem. They refuse to be wrong or admit anything is wrong. (As if we can refuse to be wrong, right?)

3. Stuck

Some leaders love routines and structure so much that they never attempt to move things forward until they are forced into change. They are always playing defense…never offense.

4. Fearful

Whether because of people pleasing or lack of faith, the leader suffers from risk aversion to the point of crippling the team.

5. Lazy

It’s not do as I do…it’s do as I say…because I’m not going to do anything.

6. Unpredictable

There’s never a dull moment, but not in a fun kind of way. The leader is inconsistent and causes people to always be on edge.

7. Never satisfied

It doesn’t matter how large the win, instead of lingering in celebration, this leader is always asking “What’s next?”

 8. Unclear

When they give direction or cast a vision, it’s never understood by the one supposed to implement. Confusion leads to frustration. 

9. Prideful

They take all the glory. Enough said.

10. Indecisive

These leaders can’t make a decision. And everyone waits. And waits. And everything stalls.

11. Distracted

Sometimes leaders appear so busy that those trying to follow don’t believe they ever have their full attention. 

12. Phony

 This leader’s personal life and the one seen by those closest to the leader doesn’t match the public persona the leader displays.

You may be wondering, which of these would be complaints about my leadership? Probably many of them at different times.  If I had to guess, however, if you surveyed the people I’m attempting to lead, they would probably point to three initially.

Never satisfied, unclear and distracted.

Often, though I have no problem making decisions, I can easily get locked into minutia if presented with too many options and appear indecisive.

I am aware of these areas and continually attempt to address them in my leadership. It’s an ongoing process.

Now, on behalf of leaders, as a word to those trying to follow, let me say that many of these complaints are often false assumptions. As I have observed in my own leadership, many times the leader is totally unaware they are perceived in these negative ways. And, most, if they knew, would make some attempts to improve in that area of their leadership.

 Leaders, the word for us is that we must work to become more aware of what is being perceived that usually isn’t being spoken.

 If you are uncertain…ask. Hand this list to some on your team and ask them to identify one or two they think you could work to improve. You’re not asking them to complain…just to give you honest, helpful feedback.

 So, leader, be honest, which of these would most likely be the complaints said about you?

What are some other complaints you’ve seen waged against a leader…fair or unfair?