10 Signs of Bad Leadership—And How to Become a Better Leader

Nobody wants to possess bad leadership qualities. A great leader can set the tone for a team, department, or even an entire organization – their influence can help everyone else become better.

Unfortunately, that’s also true in reverse. Bad leadership behaviors can create a toxic environment that will have employees running for the door. Want proof? According to our research, 44% of people cited their boss as the primary reason they’ve left a job.

Chances are you’ve had a bad leader at some point, too – but hopefully, you’ve never been one. But if you’re worried, keep reading to find out what employees rank as the top 10 bad leadership qualities and learn how to avoid them.

What is Bad Leadership?

Bad leadership happens when a leader doesn’t support their team. Ultimately, this can lead to drastic outcomes—particularly if the business's goals and mission get lost along the way. Being a good leader isn’t always easy, and does require a well-rounded set of skills.

Poor leadership comes with many traits – and it’s easy to spot if you’re in the environment and presence of a bad leadership style. It’s not as simple as just having a negative attitude or not giving enough support. Below you can discover some common traits of a bad leader.

What Are Some Bad Leadership Qualities?

Do you know what qualities make a bad leader? According to the BambooHR Bad Boss Index, here are the top 10 things a bad leader does:

  1. Takes credit for employees’ work
  2. Lacks trust in employees
  3. Overworks people
  4. Refuses to advocate for employees’ compensation
  5. Hires or promotes the wrong people
  6. Shifts blame in disputes between clients and employees
  7. Fails to provide direction
  8. Micromanages
  9. Focuses on employees’ weaknesses more than their strengths
  10. Fails to set clear expectations.

Some of these might come as a shock. For example, some leaders might fail to provide direction because they think they’re letting their team have creative freedom. Being a good leader requires finding a good balance, such as offering the right amount of support without micromanaging.

What Communication Skills Are Most Important for Leaders?

If leaders are going to be effective and successful in their position, they need to have advanced communication skills that adapt to the various communication styles of different audiences.

To do this, you must first understand how you typically communicate your vision and ideas. When you speak, observe how others respond to you to get an idea if they respond positively. If they don’t seem to be listening or engaged, you may not be communicating in a way that suits your audience.

Second, you must know your audience, and experiment with different communication styles for each. For example:

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8 Ways to Communicate Like a Good Leader

What Causes Poor Leadership Behaviors?

Most poor leadership isn’t intentional – no one wants to be a bad leader. But it can be easy to fall into bad habits.

Here are some common root causes of poor leadership qualities:

Can You Reverse Poor Leadership Qualities?

Good news if you’ve slipped into some poor leadership behaviors, oftentimes, encouragement and patience are all that you need to improve as a leader. But sometimes, more drastic steps must be taken to get the results your organization needs from you.

Here’s what you can do to improve as a leader:

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How to Avoid the Top 10 Bad Leadership Behaviors

Even if you recognize some of those poor leadership behaviors in yourself, it’s not hopeless. Try some of these ways to reverse and avoid those behaviors – you and your team will notice a positive difference.

1. Give Your Employees Credit

Imagine being an employee who put in their absolute best work and extra hours of time on an assignment and then… your leader takes all the credit in the next company meeting. Ouch.

As a leader, you might think that when you look good, the whole team looks good. But try thinking of it the other way around: when your team looks good, it shows you’re doing an excellent job of leading them. Even a little recognition goes a long way, so keep track of who is working on what and be sure the people who put in the extra effort get the pat on the back they deserve.

2. Trust Your Employees

Unless you hired people for the wrong reasons (another poor leadership behavior) you hired your employees because they’re smart, capable people who have the right skills to do their work. Trust them to do it!

If an employee gives you a reason to not trust them, have a conversation and try to get things back on track. Trust goes both ways – the more trust you put in your employees, the more they’ll trust your guidance.

3. Encourage Your People to Take a Break

Getting assignments shipped on time and done well is important: it’s what employees are getting paid to do. But people have friends and family and hobbies, too. Plus, everyone needs a break sometimes.

Stanford University Graduate School of Business reported that the effects of burnout in the US costs $190 billion in health care expenses, as well as 120,000 stress-attributed deaths. So, you aren’t doing your company any favors by asking your people to burn the midnight oil.

Be realistic about what your employees can get done, encourage them to use their PTO, and when you notice an employee has been putting in excessive overtime, have a one-on-one with them about how you can help them manage their workload.

4. Have Open Communication About Compensation

As a leader, you need to be prepared to talk to your employees about compensation. You also need to either fight for them to get the pay they deserve or be able to communicate to them why they’re paid what they’re paid.

When it comes to compensation conversations, leaders should be prepared to:

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5. Share Reasoning for New Hires or Promotions

This one is tricky because “wrong” can be subjective. What your employees might see as bad leadership qualities could be a difference of opinion. But if you make sure employees are equally considered for promotions and you’re thoughtful about who you bring onto your team and why, you’re likely to be seen as a good boss.

When someone is hired or promoted, it’s good practice to share the reasoning behind your decision with the rest of your team. This can help ease any doubts that arise in the team, as well as showcasing how they can progress their career paths.

6. Own Decisions Between Employees and Clients

Is the client always right? Are your employees always right? The reality is, neither of them is always right – and this is another place where communication is key.

Your employees want you to have their back, but if you get put in a situation where you need to side with a client, communicate openly with your employees regarding your decision and don’t throw anyone under the bus. A great leader doesn’t shift the blame – they take responsibility for the actions of their employees.

7. Create a Clear Path for the Team

As a leader, you should be setting a clear path for the team. When you see an opportunity to teach your employee something new, go for it! People want to learn under your leadership and will value you as a mentor if you can help them grow their careers. A good leader is able to provide critical feedback that supports the progress of the team, and not just say what they think people want to hear.

8. Set Employees Free to Do Great Work

It’s not your job to babysit your team – and your employees don’t want that either. Don’t micromanage every step of their projects but instead, provide initial insight and support to help them get underway.

It can help to discuss with your team just how much they want you to be involved with projects. Overall though, let them take ownership of how they reach the final product. They deserve the opportunity to achieve amazing work by themselves.

9. Praise Employees for Their Strengths

According to Harvard Business Review, the ideal praise-to-criticism ratio is 5:1. It would be overkill to keep track, but if you’re regularly giving your employees praise, they’ll be more receptive when you need to offer constructive criticism.

10. Help Employees Set and Achieve Goals

Employees should know what is expected of them from day one. Start by setting goals during the onboarding process, and continue by setting new goals and checking in with employees during one-on-ones.

Final Thoughts: Communication is the Key to Good Leadership

You’ve probably noticed that a running theme for correcting these bad leadership qualities is communication. One of the best practices you can implement as a leader is regular one-on-ones with your employees. This opens up a dialogue between you and your employees so they can tell you how things are going on their end and you can give each other constructive feedback.

Show your employees you care about them, their career goals, and what they want from their jobs. It will go a long way toward creating a positive experience for both of you.

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