6 Common Traits of Bad Leadership (and How to Fix these Poor Leadership Qualities in Your Organization)
You’re working diligently at your desk when your manager stops by your cubicle with yet another business initiative they want you to spearhead (remind you of anyone?). What he doesn’t realize -- or take the opportunity to look into -- is that you’re already leading the efforts on several side projects, in addition to your day-to-day tasks. “He means well,” you rationalize, this is an “opportunity.”
And while that might be true, it doesn’t make up for bad leadership -- especially when employees’ relationship with their boss is a leading reason they decide to leave a job. According to a 2016 survey by Paychex, 44.6 percent of the 2,000 employees surveyed said they left their previous job because they didn’t like their boss. Recent research into employee satisfaction reinforces the data. A study of 2,500 US workers last year, more than half said the people they worked with and their immediate boss were more important to their job satisfaction than whether they were interested in their work. (Statista Research Department, Nov 4, 2020)
Poor leadership qualities take on many forms and qualities and are critical to address to improve company performance and employee retention. If you're in a position of leadership and want to improve your leadership skills, or are assessing leadership abilities and bench strength and where to improve it at your current company, here are some of the common traits to look out for:
1. Poor Communication
Leadership at every level requires clear and effective communication. Poor communications in your bosses' management style manifests in vague project deliverables, poorly defined timelines, and ambiguous roles and responsibilities. At a higher level, poor communication can come in the form of unclear team values, culture, vision, and goals. Team members take direction from good leaders, and being a great leader means taking the time to ensure that the status quo is one that inspires self confidence and a strong work ethic among your team.
Just as important is how communication skills come into play during the day to day of work. Poor communication in a work setting can manifest in different ways. Some common signs of bad leadership include passive aggressive communication, failure to own up to mistakes, not listening to concerns, or creating an intimidating work environment.
Passive aggressive communication
This is a big part of disintegrating relationships. Poor leaders are indirect with how they communicate, which is a negative trait for the work environment. Even though what is said doesn't sound confrontational, it is not clear to the person on the receiving end.
Failure to accept responsibility
The “he said, she said" games do not work well when fostering team cohesion among employees. Especially in a setting where there are usually levels of leadership, blaming others does not create a solution and only reflects bad leadership. Lack of responsibility can make situations unclear, tensions higher, and lower team performance.
Not listening to an individuals’ concerns
Lack of listening is one of the main factors of poor communication. Communication is a two-way street, and if someone feels they are not being listened to, they quickly feel disconnected and disregarded. Someone who feels like their input does not matter will not care to improve relations or work hard to complete their work. Everyone wants to feel heard and recognized, so be sure to address all concerns to improve communication. The team is more important than the self. Taking a "my way or the highway" approach to work is a sign of a bad leader and will only foster resentment among team members.
Intimidating work environment
Along the same veins, an intimidating work environment is damaging to communication because the side that feels intimidated will not feel comfortable addressing their concerns or needs. Some might think that intimidation and fear are good leadership qualities, but it actually has a negative effect on team members because they become more concerned with pleasing someone than doing their job. Team members should feel comfortable expressing their opinions and personal goals. Having the space to do so are signs that the company values every individual and not just those at the top.
How to become a better communicator
If you are being led by a bad leader with subpar communication skills, take actions that will help you get clarity as well as support the leader. First, ask clarifying questions that don’t threaten, such as: “to make sure I deliver my part of the project on time; can you confirm what you need from me and by when? “ or “I am very excited that we are launching a new product. Would you help me understand how this product fits into our bigger goals?” This helps them better clarify what they may want from you without accusing them of being unclear. In this way, the bosses are also receiving subtle hints about what differentiates a poor leader from a good leader and can help them develop their leadership style over time.
Watch your tone
Coming at them in an accusing manner can really rub off the wrong way, even if they are bad leaders. It can often be intimidating to reach out and communicate with your higher-ups, but it encourages a better work environment. Sometimes leaders are not aware that their communication is lacking, and one person reaching out could completely change this. You also don't want to take a "my way or the highway" approach, but rather open up a dialogue about improving overall team performance. It's annoying to manage your superiors, but they may also be in the process of identifying their own leadership traits and need some patience from the team.
2. Poor Influencing From the Top
Good leaders are able to engage, share, involve, and connect with their team. A leader’s ability to influence combines a combination of qualities, including trust, communication skills, knowledge, and the ability to negotiate. Poor leaders are limited to leveraging the hierarchical power and authority, which are characteristics that hamper productivity in the workplace. Furthermore, someone who depends on their positional authority vs their ability to engage and create inherent motivation in others is a bad leader who risks alienating their team and peers and undermining their own long-term success.
As well as the inability to motivate employees, bad leaders feel that they can act in any manner they want, when the reality is that the actions of a leader are actually more scrutinized. Little interactions with team members can differentiate bad leaders from great leaders. If you are building up your track record as a leader, it is even more important to watch your actions and be the best influence you can be.
How to improve your influence in the workplace
It can be difficult to influence your employees, especially in a position of power. You want to make sure that it is not your authority that is influencing their behavior. Recognize and have the self awareness to know that being in a position of leadership comes with some inherent characteristics that you can then use to be more effective. Some leadership qualities to improve your influence in the workplace include:
Lead by example
As a leader or as a team member, you should lead by example. This includes both your actions and your words. If a leader constantly comes in late or act intimidating to others, managers below them may start to act in a similar manner. In addition, be clear about your requests and intentions. In doing so, you're setting a precedent for how you would like communications to be like going forward. Good leaders will find ways to address concerns without attacking the other person, whereas a bad leader will lack the tact needed when they identify that something is wrong.
This is incredibly important for leaders. Since they may not always work in the same environment as others, it is important for communication. Constantly showing up and showing that you care will let you earn respect as well as improve relationships. Some things are better said in person and not trickled down or said in an email. A bad leader will be consistently absent, but showing up physically shows that you care to make relationships with others in the workplace.
Improve workplace dynamics
This is a given, but many leaders brush this off. Even though it may not be part of the business or task, in order to foster a welcoming and successful workplace, leaders must develop meaningful and respectful relationships with others. People are influenced by people they look up to and respect, not fear.
3. Lack of Strategic Thinking
Leaders who lack strategic thinking skills lack the ability to think through things and identify practical steps required to fulfill their objectives. This is a sign of bad leadership, since those in charge are meant to lead the team to success. Of course, no one has all the right answers, but being able to think strategically is a skill that can be practiced and learned. A big part of the downfall of a poor leader is that they rely too much on themselves to make a decision, rather than being methodical about the work. Strategic thinking not only involves the leader but also the organization, team members, and environment surrounding it.
How to become a better strategic thinker
Some leadership qualities around strategy to keep in mind are:
Especially in a workplace where there is a lot going on, the ability to anticipate different scenarios and problems helps you prepare. Being prepared lets you better address the situation and handle all types of problems. Some ways to do this is to talk to people who have experience or research and plan ahead of time, rather than being content with the status quo, since you never know when things will change.
Challenge own and other’s ideas
This is an important trait of a good leader. Even though it is important to listen and address other people's concerns and ideas, the ability to challenge those ideas helps the team grow. Anyone at the company should be able to bring up new ideas to improve company performance. Think about approaching the company like an entrepreneur; there are always different ways to "hack" your work and it's important to take informed risks.
Make tough calls and decisions
This is also easier said than done, but experience and trust in your team helps in times where tough calls are needed. This is another time when you have to put the team before the self. The fact of the matter is that leaders will always have to make decisions that affect people, and compromising is sometimes a better outcome, even if that means some people won't be happy. The other side of the spectrum of fear-mongering is being a people pleaser, which can be a sign of a poor leader as well.
Keep the bigger picture in mind
A common mistake when making decisions is a narrow outlook. To be able to strategically think, taking a broad outlook and asking the right questions to the right people is necessary. Poor leadership will lack the foresight to look on a bigger timeline and to assess the forest, not just a tree or the leaves.
4. Poor Time Management / Delegation:
Poor time management usually manifests in the form of last minute rushes to meet deadlines and leaders who take on too many things. Effective leaders are able to plan and delegate so that each person is clear on their role and delivers accordingly. Often times people try to put too much work on themselves, or push all the work on others. Effectively delegating the work helps everyone get their work done on time.
How to better manage your time
Keep everything organized. Communicate with your team to see if they need more time or help with the tasks that have been assigned. An effective leader isn’t afraid to get their hands dirty; in fact, they willingly get down in the trenches with employees and are open to hearing their team's opinions on how things should be managed.
How to delegate
Similarly, over time, if you communicate effectively, you will be able to better assess the tasks and delegate the right amount to the right people. Great leaders understand the importance of recognizing talent within a company and will not be afraid to let someone else take on responsibilities and the credit for a good idea. If you are in a leadership position, such as being the CEO of a company, your success hinges on the success of the whole team, not just the work that you do. A bad leader will want to do everything by himself and take credit when the company is doing well, but forgets that the onus is on him if company performance is subpar.
5. Poor Conflict Resolution Skills
Whether it’s avoiding an office conflict or an important project that may affect others, avoidance is a common sign of a bad leader and is another example of poor leadership influencing team culture. Instead of addressing grievances directly, bad leaders take the easy way out by brushing things under the rug.
“It is usually in cases of stress or confrontation that a leader shows him or “herself to be strong or weak,” says Patrick West, founder and CEO of Be The Machine. For employees, when a leader fails to solve a problem or does not “support subordinates, the perception of the leader is forged. But the most glaring moment is when a boss elects to avoid or not confront a sticky situation. When that happens, a boss is clearly weak.”
How to better handle conflict in the workplace
To better handle conflict in the workplace it is better to address the problem head on. There is no need to go about it in a roundabout way. A good rule of thumb is to determine what caused the conflict, so it is better avoided next time. The five different conflict resolution methods are:
This type of behavior only works in some cases, and in others, it may lead to worsening of the situation. For smaller situations or more personal ones, withdrawing from the conflict may be smart. When emotions are high, sometimes the conflict is not able to be resolved. Even though this method is called avoiding, the problem should still be addressed at an appropriate time.
This method requires cooperation from all parties. This method is great for the workplace since employees can learn to work together and resolve situations even if they do occur.
This method is only effective or used if a decision is needed immediately. Usually this method uses a position of power to resolve the conflict and is not always helpful in the long run. Do not use this method if you are not knowledgeable of the situation and if there are other methods you can use.
This method lets everyone voice and resolve their concerns. This method usually results in a stronger team collaboration and requires more cooperation. This is a great method, however, do note that it takes a bit of time.
This method is similar to collaborating, but the end result is more of a middle ground. This method is great for tougher situations since both parties need to make some sort of sacrifice.
6. Lack of Leadership Development
Often employees who perform very well as individual contributors are “rewarded” with leadership or management roles. The downside of their success is that they are often not ready for the role of leading and managing others. Not preparing new leaders for their job sets them up for failure and also failure of the people they lead.
As a leader looking to promote employees who are new to leading others, it is critical to invest in their leadership development. Oftentimes people are pushed into a leadership role just because it needs to be filled based upon their success in their current role. Promoting someone without preparation is gambling on their success and success of the company. Ensure the success of people who are taking on a promotion or expanded role with the leadership development support they need. .
How to empower leaders
To prevent promoting someone into a leadership role they’re not quite ready for, offer leadership development opportunities, such as mentorships or job shadowing, to potential leaders before promoting them. This gives them a taste of what to expect and informs whether or not they can succeed in the role. Just like how there is a probation period for most employees, this should be a part of a leadership role as well. Proper training is essential to fostering effective leadership qualities.
“We must look beyond performance in the current role, and assess potential for “excellence in the new role,” says Sternberg. When you start focusing on “potential, you begin looking through a different lens, and something really “interesting happens. You’ll notice that some employees who are not stars in “their current role have the potential to be stars as leaders. They’re better “coaches than players.”
A good leader is not defined by the position you hold in your company; it starts by having self awareness of your actions within a larger organization and how you can influence everyone around you, no matter what level of the company their position is in. It is important to remember that everyone has qualities that lend itself to being a good leader; the idea that only some are born to be leaders should be replaced with the notion that everyone can learn to be one.
That said, it's not a bad thing if you're not formally recognized with a title in a company either. Leadership qualities can come from all facets of an organization, and little actions can bubble up to the top to improve company performance and employee satisfaction overall. Regardless if you're a team member or a manager, HR leader or even the CEO of a company, keeping these poor leadership qualities in mind will help you avoid common pitfalls and know what to look for as you're building your career.