Signs of Bad Leadership

The cost of lousy leadership adds up quickly, impacting company growth, employee morale, and the productivity of middle managers. Bad leaders are also toxic to company culture and employee well-being, which affects employee retention and brand reputation. Understandably, signs of bad leadership are among the reasons employees leave.  

Everyone in the organization, from entry-level employees to senior managers, should learn to recognize the warning signs of a bad workplace and the qualities of a bad leader.  

What is bad leadership?

If you’ve ever experienced the qualities of a bad leader, you know it. When we talk about “bad leadership,” we’re referring to leaders who don’t have the skills or style to guide and motivate their teams effectively. Bad leaders lack empathy, play favorites, communicate poorly, or are just plain difficult.

Good leaders inspire and motivate their team to work towards a common goal. They’re approachable and transparent, and they build team trust.

But leadership is a combination of both skill and style, and a bad leader often lacks both. They may not have the technical know-how to make informed decisions, have poor interpersonal skills, and struggle to connect with their team. In short, a bad leader can bring a team down and create a toxic work environment. 

The impact of bad leadership

Bad leadership has serious negative impacts on a workplace. Employees who don’t feel valued or respected are less likely to be invested in their work and may even start looking for new job opportunities. This lack of engagement can result in lower workplace productivity and employee engagement. And when people struggle to work for a bad leader, it can lead to a decline in employee well-being and employee burnout.

And let’s not forget about quiet quitting. That’s when employees disengage from their work and mentally check out, even if they haven’t officially resigned. They may stop putting in extra effort or seeking new challenges. In the worst-case scenario, quiet quitting can lead to high turnover rates, which is costly for any organization.

Characteristics of a bad leader

Knowing the signs of a bad leader is essential because these leaders can significantly impact your organization. But sometimes, bad leadership can be challenging to spot. So, let’s review some of the most common signs of bad leadership:

1. Poor communication

Effective communication builds more robust, more engaged teams. But when leaders struggle with communication, it directly impacts performance and trust. From being transparent and clear to listening and responding to employee concerns, leaders must focus on their communication skills. 

2. Lack of empathy

Great leaders use empathy to understand their employees. When leaders are empathetic, they can offer more meaningful solutions to business and employee needs. Examples of compassion in the workplace include:

  • Asking about different perspectives.
  • Considering others’ needs before your own.
  • Having a sense of humor. 

Bad leaders, on the other hand, cannot see any different perspectives besides their own. They need help appreciating, recognizing, and supporting employees correctly. In return, employees lose engagement and trust. 

3. Avoids conflict

Avoidance is another sign of bad leadership. When leaders avoid conflict, problems fester and grow. It creates a lack of trust throughout the organization, which makes it difficult for leaders to engage and inspire people to follow their direction. 

Successful leaders embrace conflict and address problems early and openly. It creates a more positive work environment and builds team trust. When leaders tackle tough issues head-on, they demonstrate their leadership skills and position themselves for success.

4. No accountability

When leaders aren’t accountable, it can seriously impact the organization. Employees may lose faith in their leaders, and they may start to question their decisions and motives. A lack of accountability can also create confusion and resentment within the team, eroding the foundation critical to effective collaboration and teamwork.

Accountability is a crucial component of effective leadership. When leaders are accountable, they take responsibility for their actions and decisions and follow through on their commitments. This type of behavior sets a positive example for the team, and it helps to build trust and credibility.

5. No self-development or growth

Bad leaders who lack personal growth can struggle to adapt to new challenges and innovations. It has serious consequences for employees and can negatively impact the overall health and success of the organization.

When leaders invest in their personal growth, they are better equipped to handle challenges and make informed decisions. They also become more effective communicators and better problem solvers. Leaders also set a positive example for their team by continuously learning, growing, and improving. 

Learn more: Guide to Employee Training and Development Programs

6. Fear of change

Much like resisting self-growth, a fear of change is a typical characteristic of bad leaders. The inability to adapt to change impacts a leader’s ability to inspire employees and think creatively about the future. Sure, change can be scary. But it’s inevitable, so it’s wise to learn to be flexible and roll with the punches. 

7. Lack of vision

When leaders are afraid of change and growth, they may also lack vision. And when leaders don’t have a clear vision, neither will employees. Getting stuck in the past and a “we’ve always done it this way” mentality limits employees’ eagerness to contribute fresh, new ideas. A lack of vision undermines a leader’s ability to create positive change and drive their organization toward success.

8. No transparency

Being transparent in the workplace means being open and straightforward with employees. When employees feel included in important decisions, they feel like true partners in the business — and more connected as a result. They’re also more likely to align with your organization when change occurs, even if they don’t totally agree with the methods.

A common characteristic of a bad leader is a lack of transparency, which can lead to a breakdown in trust. It can be difficult for employees to know what is expected of them, which leads to confusion and inefficiencies. 

9. Bad time management and delegation

Bad time management and the inability to delegate are among the qualities of a bad leader. These skills are essential for effective leadership because they demonstrate a leader’s ability to prioritize, manage resources, and empower their team. Without good time management and delegation skills, leaders can quickly become overwhelmed and ineffective, hindering their ability to drive results and achieve success.

10. Micromanaging

Micromanaging is a sign of a bad leader for several reasons. When leaders micromanage, it indicates they don’t trust their teams. This can lead to a lack of confidence and motivation among team members, who may not feel valued or appreciated. It also stifles creativity and innovation. Micromanagement is also time-consuming and prevents teams from working effectively, leading to missed deadlines, decreased productivity, and an overall decline in morale. 

11. Inability to follow

Most great leaders learned a thing or two from other people. They didn’t just fall into a leadership position; they followed the lead of others while trying to learn as much as possible along the way. 

A bad leader, however, doesn’t try to learn from others and doesn’t follow other people’s directions easily. Plus, not taking a step back hurts a leader’s ability to promote collaboration and empathy amongst their employees. 

12. Setting unrealistic expectations

When leaders have difficulty delegating tasks and managing time, it causes unrealistic expectations for everyone. This negatively impacts individual performance levels, causes team stress, and can impact company profitability. A bad leader creates unnecessary stress for customers, managers, and investors by overestimating employee workload capacities and making unrealistic expectations. Naturally, always coming up short leads to morale, goal setting, and satisfaction issues. 

13. Failing to drive a people-first culture

Leadership impacts company culture in a significant way. They can intentionally build a people-first culture or let a culture emerge on its own. Either way, every company has a unique culture. 

A people-first culture makes employees feel valued, appreciated, and empowered to do their best work. With higher levels of engagement, employees want to stick around, be more productive, and even refer their friends. Smart leaders know this, and they use culture as a competitive advantage.

When leaders aren’t intentional about driving a people-first culture, they risk high turnover, low productivity, and a drop in employee morale. That’s why a failure to drive a people-first culture is a sign of a bad leader. 

14. Lack of presence

A lack of presence is a common sign of a bad leader. Leaders who are not present and engaged with their team send a message that they are uninterested or uninvolved in what’s happening around them. This can make employees feel like they are not valued or supported, which can lead to low morale, decreased motivation, and a lack of engagement.

15. Disregarding the consumer

Consumers are the lifeblood of any business, and leaders who don’t prioritize their needs and opinions are likely to struggle to achieve success. When leaders disregard the consumer, they miss valuable feedback and insights that can help them improve their products, services, and overall customer experience. When leaders ignore the consumer, they also risk losing their customers’ trust and loyalty, which can significantly impact their ability to drive sales and achieve long-term success. 

How to deal with bad leadership in the workplace

Dealing with bad leadership in the workplace can be challenging, but it is vital for maintaining a healthy and productive workplace culture. Here are some ways that an organization or leader can address bad leadership:

  • Address issues directly: Have a private and honest conversation with the leader in question, and provide clear and specific feedback on their behavior.
  • Get input from others: Seek out the opinions of other team members and stakeholders to get a complete picture of the issue and its impact.
  • Provide training and development: Offer leadership training and development opportunities to help leaders improve their skills and behavior.
  • Involve human resources: Consider involving human resources to mediate the situation and ensure appropriate steps are taken to address it.
  • Evaluate the leader’s role: Consider re-evaluating the leader’s role and responsibilities and potentially reassigning them to a different position or team.

Gauge leadership influence with Top Workplaces 

One of the qualities of great leadership is listening to and acting on feedback. Rather than guessing what employees think about your leadership, ask them. Employee engagement survey insights provide people in leadership positions with the quantitative and qualitative data they need to confidently lead and take actionable steps forward.

Know where your company leaders excel and where there is room for improvement. Start by measuring employee engagement with a third-party, research-backed survey. Nominate your company for Top Workplaces, the leading award program that offers valuable employee survey insights and high-profile employer recognition. 

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