HR Insights 5 min

The Top 10 Bad Leadership Behaviors (And How to Avoid Them)

March 10, 2020

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 is 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 percent 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 behaviors and learn how to avoid them.

What Are Some Bad Leadership Behaviors?

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 employees and clients
  7. Fails to provide direction
  8. Micromanges
  9. Focuses on employees’ weaknesses more than their strengths
  10. Fails to set clear expectations

How to Avoid 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.

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 are 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 will trust your guidance.

3. Allow 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 burnout costs the United States $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:

  • Give context about how and why decisions regarding compensation are made
  • Ask questions about your employees’ career goals so you can help them get where they want to go
  • Check in on employees after a raise is given or if one is denied

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 behavior 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, it’s less likely you’ll be seen as a bad boss. When someone is hired or promoted, it is good practice to share the reasoning behind your decision with the rest of your team. Not only does this ease doubts among your people, but it can show them how they can progress in their own careers.

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. As a good leader, you should be able to give critical feedback that helps your employees progress, not just say what makes people happy.

8. Set Employees Free to Do Great Work

You’re not your employees’ babysitter and they’re not interested in being babysat. As a leader, you are there to provide initial direction and insight, not to hover over every step of your employees’ projects. What matters most is their final product; how they get there, for the most part, is up to them. Discuss with your employees how much they want you to be involved in certain projects. Whether it’s something new or something they’ve done 1,000 times, they deserve the chance to do amazing work on their own.

13 Ways to Get Employee Reward and Recognition Right
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9. Give Employees Praise 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 are 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.

Communication is the Key to Good Leadership

You’ve probably noticed that a running theme for correcting these poor leadership behaviors 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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Danielle Cronquist

Danielle Cronquist is a copywriter for BambooHR. Her six years as a professional writer are supported by a degree in English with a minor in editing. At BambooHR, she focuses on creating content that gives people the tools and knowledge they need to do great work and create great workplaces.