Low morale, stress, burnout, and conflict. When a bad leader is in control, there are often distressing consequences for team members. And the outcomes are just as devastating for the organization. Decreased productivity, staff turnover, and unhappy customers are just some of the knock-on effects of bad leadership.
While there are plenty of highly effective leaders out there, it’s also true there are far too many bad ones. Some bad leadership traits are easy to spot, but others are less obvious.
Here we explore the bad leadership behaviors you need to look out for. Plus, we suggest some actions you can take to deal with the problem. There are helpful tips and advice whether you are an HR manager, disgruntled team member, worried business owner, or a leader who wants to assess their skills.
10 Bad Leadership Behaviors
So, how do you spot a bad leader? Here are ten tell-tale signs of potential bad leadership styles.
1. Poor Communication Skills
Effective communication skills are a must-have for any leader. They need to communicate in a variety of ways with a diverse range of people. Plus, a good leader can get staff on board with the company’s mission, values, and goals. They provide a clear sense of direction and convey how the team and its individuals contribute to the big picture.
Poor communication from a leader will see the team falter. Productivity dips, deadlines are missed, and tasks go uncompleted. Some team members may even question the company’s whole purpose and their reason for being there.
If you think you are lacking in this department, check out these 17 sure-fire ways to improve your communication skills.
2. Lack Of Listening Skills
Just as important as communication is the ability to listen. After all, effective communication isn’t one-way traffic only. The best leaders know that everyone has a contribution to make. Sometimes one insight is all it takes to spark a breakthrough moment.
Unlike bad leaders, good ones encourage all team members to contribute with active listening skills. They check for understanding, paraphrase, and summarize what’s been said. And they are aware of the impact of body language and adopt a friendly, open demeanor.
However, a leader – especially a senior executive – must accept that they will never be just one of the team. By definition, leaders have power and authority, which means some employees will hesitate to give honest feedback. You may need to explore other ways of gathering that feedback. Anonymous employee surveys and pulse checks are one way to demonstrate active listening that makes staff feel more comfortable.
3. My Way Or The Highway
Bad leaders are often inflexible or even arrogant. They know best and refuse to budge.
However, being a great leader is all about bringing the best out of the team. If employees lack the autonomy to get on with the job and, yes, even make mistakes, they won’t remain engaged and motivated. Worse still, bad leaders with a my-way-or-the-highway mentality often stifle creativity and innovation. And that is terrible news for business.
4. Tendency Towards Micromanagement
Everyone has encountered a micromanager at some point in their career. Another bad leadership trait, micromanagers have to retain control at all times. Even the tiniest action must be cleared in advance. The bad leader may be a perfectionist, or they may lack confidence in their leadership abilities. Either way, for team members, micromanagement leads to frustration and resentment. And for the organization, it means delayed decision-making and bottlenecks in getting things done.
This type of bad leader may feel satisfied when everything is done according to their preferences. However, for the company, micromanagement hurts team morale and productivity.
5. Lack Of Recognition
Managers failing to recognize employees for all their good work is a major gripe for many workers. When it comes to good working relationships, recognition and thanks go a long way. One study discovered 40 percent of workers would put more energy into their work if recognized more often by leaders.
And this example of bad leadership significantly impacts team performance. Instead of high satisfaction scores from employees and customers, the opposite is true. According to Gallup, workplaces with a strong culture of recognition also have better safety records and fewer accidents.
6. Disrespecting Employees
Rude, bullying behavior is unacceptable in a leader. So too is discrimination of any kind or preferential treatment of individuals. And if the results of one recent study are anything to go by, disrespecting employees may be more widespread than anyone would want. A survey by ResumeLab found that 72 percent of respondents have been treated with disrespect or rudeness by leaders. And 83 percent said this had a negative impact on them.
Treating employees equally and with fairness and respect is a must-have quality for all good leaders. Anything else is a clear sign of bad leadership.
7. Failure To Accept Responsibility
The buck stops with the leader. They should take responsibility for outcomes, both good and bad.
Bad leaders are quick to blame others when things go wrong. Instead of taking the initiative and correcting a problem or resolving an issue, they point the finger at others. However, like all great captains, a leader needs to remain on deck even when the ship is sinking.
8. Lack Of Presence
Bad leaders often fail to set the right example. You can hardly expect team members to work long hours to get a project over the line if you slope off home at 5 pm. And Friday afternoons spent on the golf course will be unpopular with staff back in the office. Resentment and anger inevitably set in.
Whatever the company’s expectations are, good leaders model the right behaviors. They are seen to be contributing and putting in as much effort, if not more.
9. Conflict Avoidance
Even in top-performing teams, conflicts inevitably surface from time to time. It might be a direct conflict with an employee or a dispute between colleagues.
Bad leaders tend to stick their heads in the sand and avoid the situation. They pretend that everything is OK and think that the problem will eventually go away. However, a conflict that is allowed to fester can quickly become a destructive force. Resentment, unpleasantness, and pent-up frustrations are unavoidable.
By contrast, good leaders know that unresolved conflicts need to be addressed. They approach the situation with an open mind and are proactive in finding a resolution.
Unpredictable, inconsistent bosses are hard to work for. If a leader’s response to bad news or a request for help depends on their mood that day, the team is constantly walking on eggshells. And the mixed messages make it doubly hard to get anything done.
Every good boss provides predictable, measured leadership. And this consistency ensures there is a clear framework within which staff can quietly get on with their work.
Tips On How To Cope With A Bad Leader
The first thing to remember is that bad leaders are not necessarily bad people. For example, your boss may not realize they are a poor communicator because no one has told them before. Plus, many bad leaders display the behaviors we describe as a defense mechanism. They may lack confidence in their leadership abilities and so are full of self-doubt. That opens up the possibility for change with a bit of self-awareness.
For HR managers and business owners out there, this is good news. With training and development, some bad leadership traits can be turned around. Employee pulse surveys and 360-degree reviews can help you assess the state of leadership in your business. And you can use the feedback and data to draw up an action plan to turn bad leaders into good ones.
If you find yourself in a team headed by a bad leader, it can be demoralizing and frustrating. You may feel powerless and as though you are navigating a tightrope without a safety harness. Quitting and finding another job isn’t always an option. Challenging though it is, there are some actions you can take to deal with a bad leader.
Take control by clarifying your leader’s communications. Keep a written record of your one-to-ones. And when discussing work projects, repeat back any instructions so you can be sure there’s no misunderstanding.
This technique works well for poor communicators, micromanagers, and if there is any kind of dispute.
Approach Your Manager
It may be possible to raise poor leadership examples directly with your manager in an open conversation. Not every bad leader is amenable to this. However, it can be helpful for those bosses that lack insight.
When talking to your manager, try not to blame or accuse. Instead, calmly explain how their bad leadership behaviors are impacting the team and organization. A frank conversation may be all that’s needed to improve the situation.
Tempting though it is to even the score by taking advantage of sick days or flexible hours, this often just escalates the situation. After all, you need to maintain good working relationships with your co-workers as well. And a dip in performance could affect your employer reference should you decide to leave.
Don’t Take It Personally
A bad leader’s behavior is not a reflection of you. So, try to keep your emotions in check. You can’t control the actions of a bad leader, but you can control how you react. An emotional outburst in the heat of the moment can make a difficult situation much worse.
Talk To HR
If the bad leader affects team morale and performance, it’s worth speaking to HR. The HR team should have systems in place to support you. This is especially so with bad leaders who disrespect staff. This example of bad leadership needs to be tackled head-on.
And if a lack of employee appreciation is a company-wide issue, HR could consider addressing that on a corporate level. Many companies use the intranet to support an employee recognition scheme. Intranet newsfeeds and shout-outs on business IM are easily implemented ways to give workers that all-important public thank you.
Take Care Of Yourself
Dealing with a bad leader is stressful, so make sure you look after your physical and mental health. Eating healthy, getting plenty of fresh air, and exercising helps reduce stress and worry. Furthermore, talking to a friend or loved one about the situation makes all the difference.
Bad Leadership: Main Takeaways
In one recent study, 75 percent of US workers said that their boss is the most stressful part of the day. And research from Gallup discovered that one in two employees had left a job to get away from their manager.
It’s clear bad leadership is a widespread problem. For business owners, HR managers, and employees, identifying the problem is the first step. The tell-tale signs we have highlighted will help you assess the state of leadership in your organization. For more guidance on how to develop a positive company culture, check out our dedicated blog post here.
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Thanks for reading and your kind words