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Traits of a poor leader

“A bad leader can take a good staff and destroy it, causing the best employees to flee and the remainder to lose all motivation.”

We all have witnessed great leaders who inspire others through leadership traits like integrity, delegation, communication, self-awareness, gratitude, influence, and empathy. Unfortunately, many of us have also witnessed the opposite. How do you recognize a leader who is lacking in the skills to provide a strong stable positive work environment?

In my career I have been fortunate to work alongside some outstanding leaders and some not so outstanding. One of my favorite mentors and direct supervisor was Dr. David Robbins who taught me the right way to lead. He also showed me that bad leaders demonstrate many of the following traits.

Bad leaders often come from a background where they have failed to follow others. It is impossible to lead others if you have never successfully followed someone. Bad leaders fail to understand when others demonstrate more knowledge and expertise on an issue, it is best to let them take the lead. Good leaders know when it is time to follow others. It is okay to acknowledge that someone knows more about a subject than you do. It is the leader who pretends to be knowledgeable and fails to let others lead, who is doomed for failure.

“People don’t leave bad jobs; they leave bad bosses.”

Often when leaders fail to let others take the lead, they are seen as micromanagers who fail to relinquish control to their staff. The staff is often forced to get approval for every action for fear of reprisal from the leader. An unpredictable boss leads to employees holding back on sharing information they deem important because they are afraid of the reaction from the boss. The boss who reacts with the first thought that comes to mind instead of thoughtful assessment, demonstrates poor leadership qualities. Staff witness that lack of process and fear their reaction to bad news.

Bad leaders are often poor communicators. Leaders must be able to effectively communicate to a wide variety of constituents and in a wide variety of ways. A leader with poor communication skills will fail to share the organization’s goals, mission and strategy in a manner that allows the organization to achieve them.I once had a leader give the same speech about the future of our organization over a long time. It was to the point that those in the audience were mouthing the words along with them. Being able to communicate effectively, both verbally and in writing, is a must for any leader. Poor leaders fail to allow their messages to evolve over time.

Good leaders know when and how to communicate. Their messaging is professional and is done during business hours. I received a text message from a supervisor at 2 am in the morning asking the same question they had asked twice in emails and once in a phone call the previous day. Leaders who repeat themselves and need to have the same questions answered three or four times bring up the question of their mental competence.

“Without a plan, even the most brilliant business can get lost. You need to have goals, create milestones, and have a strategy to set yourself up for success.” -Yogi Berra.

Bad leaders never accept blame. Great leaders have the mentality that the buck stops with them. Poor leaders have the mentality it is never their fault. They are skilled at deflection and placing blame on someone else. How many times have you seen constant turnover in a position only to hear the leader talk about how this person failed to produce or was not up to par? Bad leaders are skilled at helping their bosses forget they hired the staff and placed them in the position they were in. Their failure to mentor or supervise is as much at fault as the employee they are blaming.

Bad leaders set unrealistic expectations. Setting expectations that are impossible to meet are demoralizing for a team. Having four projects on the table with a staff designed to carry out the mission of one is a recipe for failure. Leaders who over promise and under deliver leads to staff dysfunction and morale issues. These are the same leaders who are quick to claim the ideas of others as their own. Leadership who makes promises to staff and then is unable to deliver them, are viewed as dysfunctional and dishonest.

“The biggest concern of an organization should be when their most passionate people become quiet.” -Tim McClure.

Bad leaders focus on self instead of team. I once had a friend tell me their leader told them how they were being judged on the employee's work. How they needed to perform for their boss! Yet they failed to entertain and endorse the plan or progress they were making that the leader had asked for. Everything centered around the leader. They failed to be forward looking and thought that everything needed to be done as it always has been regardless of the change and innovation needed. All success should ultimately be a team success. All failures a team failure.

Bad leaders undermine their staff by constantly breaking the chain of command and going to those beneath their leadership team directly with needs or questions. The chain of command is broken often by leaders who have no respect for the authority of those under them. They allow those under their direct reports to undermine and complain directly to them.

Poor leadership will often rationalize poor or unethical behavior from themselves or others. Watching the older male leader who can’t stay out of the young female’s staff member’s office is a sure sign you have a leadership issue. Sooner or later this type of behavior will catch up to them. Bad leadership allows it to happen and fail to listen to criticism about it.

Some leaders will latch onto certain staff members and tell you how much they are needed by the organization. I had a leader once tell me how we could never afford to lose employee A or employee B and how detrimental that would be. Unfortunately, I spent most of my time mentoring those employees because of the stress and frustration this leader placed them in. Bad leaders excel at creating problems and then setting themself up to be the hero to solve them.

“To build a strong team, you must see someone else’s strength as a complement to your weakness and not a threat to your position or authority” -Christine Caine.

The problem with bad leaders is they are consumed with how they appear to their colleagues and superiors. They have an inability to measure success and panic at the first sign they are being judged by others in a negative light. Poor leadership and bad supervisors lend to making for a stressful work environment. For most Americans, their boss is the most stressful part of their day. Team effectiveness training is important for all organizations to determine if your boss problems are caused by systemic issues or poor leadership.

Here’s hoping you are one of the 50% who get one of the good ones.


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