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The Top Signs of Poor Leadership
by Olivia Durden; Reviewed by Michelle Seidel, B.Sc., LL.B., MBA; Updated March 06, 2019
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Leadership is one of the most important factors determining the success of a company. Poor
leadership can seriously affect employee morale and even cause the company’s bottom line to
plunge. Bad leadership leads to poor employee retention and demotivates the remaining
employees, causing them to be much less productive than they would otherwise be.
Bad Leadership Examples
It is important to know what the traits of a bad leader are so that they can be noticed early
enough and taken care of before the business suffers. When you can spot a bad leader, you can
avoid the pitfalls that would make you a bad leader in your own business and also recognize it in
your managers and strengthen your own leadership as well as that of your managers. Here are
some prominent examples of bad leadership:
There is No Team Chemistry
If only one person in a team complains about the leader, then the problem is likely to be isolated
and to exist only between the two of them. However, when multiple team members complain
about the leader, and usually about the same things, as well as members of other departments and
even clients, then you know something is wrong. Many leaders react to this by hiding their head
in the sand and waiting for it to go away. Unfortunately, it likely won’t. Problems rarely go away
before they are solved. If left unsolved, the problem will only get worse.
Since team chemistry is very important in any office, poor leadership can lead to a breakdown of
the team altogether, with some workers even leaving the company. This causes reduced
productivity and a weakened bottom line.
There is No Communication
A bad leader will not listen to their subordinates. They do not value any input from their
employees. They will typically ignore emails and messages from their employees and spend long
periods away from the office. Such leaders will place a low priority on listening to their
employees, even cutting them off when they are speaking in order to speak themselves.
A poor leader will not have any regard for staff opinions, even if those opinions are coming from
staff members with extensive skills and experience in the matter being discussed. As a result,
they may miss opportunities to do things in better and more efficient ways. Poor leaders will also
typically fail to pass on information to their employees about policies and procedures that they
must follow and then often scold or punish employees when they fail to follow them.
There is High Employee Turnover
Employee turnover is a very strong sign of poor leadership. Employees are unlikely to leave the
workplace if they are happy with the place and satisfied with the work they are doing. If these
needs are not met, then the employees will leave at the earliest opportunity of greener pastures.
A bad leader will not listen to employees who signal that something is wrong. This failure to pay
attention often further demotivates employees, leading to unhappiness and dissatisfaction with
their work. Even if the work itself is enjoyable to the employees, the work environment will be
non-conducive to them, and they will leave as soon as they can.
The Leader Tends to Micromanage
A micromanager is simply a leader who can’t resist the temptation to control and direct the
tiniest actions taken by employees. They want to be involved in just about everything their
employees do, and the effect is stifling.
On the one hand, a micromanager will feel satisfied because everything will be done just how
they want it. On the other hand, micromanagement can breed resentment in the employees as
they feel monitored as if they were children. They will feel a lack in both autonomy and
responsibility, and they will come to resent the work that they do. Quite often, micromanagers
are the way they are because they are insecure about their abilities, or they are simply afraid of
giving up their sense of control.
The Leader Has No Vision
Employees enjoy working for a leader with a clear and persuasive vision and a well-defined way
to get there. They buy into the vision more than anything else, in some cases even settling for
much lower pay than they would get elsewhere simply because they can see that the company
they are working for has a bright future, or they believe in its mission.
When a leader lacks vision, he or she is likely to lack a lot of other important qualities as well,
such as priorities, inspiration and focus. Because they do not have a sense of direction, their
employees won’t have a sense of direction either, which will lead them to exhaustion and a lack
of productivity.
With an unfocused team taking on unproductive tasks, there is hardly any impact for the
company, and it seems to wallow in stagnation. The result of this is usually high employee
The Leader Has No Clear Expectations For Their Employees
An employee that does not know what is expected of them can end up feeling frustrated, and this
will ultimately affect how well they carry out the tasks assigned to them. A poor leader will not
tell their employees the deadline for a project or might tell them but fail to tell them what their
goals are for the project. Or they might keep moving the deadline around and leave the
employees in a state of confusion.
The details of the project might be vague, which makes it very hard for employees to know what
is important and to set the right priorities as they carry out the project. The leader might also not
assign tasks to different members of the team, leaving the team in utter confusion – dooming the
project before it even begins.
The Leader Has Favorites
Of all the signs of a bad leader, this may be one of the hardest to notice. A bad leader will often
have highly specific preferences for a particular style of work, a particular communication
method or one approach to problem-solving over another. There is nothing wrong with being
specific. However, it becomes poor leadership when it causes the leader to completely ignore the
contribution of some team members and favor others instead.
In some cases, the leader doesn’t even know that they are playing favorites. They are simply
acting on their biases, and the resulting actions are skewed in a particular direction. In the worst
case, the leader knows exactly what they are doing but continues to do it anyway.
The Leader is a Bully
This is the most obvious sign of a bad leader. A bad leader may bully and intimidate employees,
threatening them with termination if they do not do the work to the leader’s satisfaction. Bad
leaders will often scold their employees for their mistakes in public and even criticize them for
aspects of their personality or appearance, rather than the work that they are doing.
Employees who find themselves working in an office where the leader is a bully will often feel
demoralized and leave as soon as they get an opportunity. Productivity will go down, and the
bottom line will eventually follow. In the worst cases, the negative environment can cause
extreme stress in employees and lead to negative psychological issue
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