Blog Leadership

What Is Bad Leadership?

While some decades ago, the common successful leader was autocratic, controlling, and power-driven, today these leaders are considered to represent bad leadership. Additionally, bad leadership is not only about micromanaging or poor communication, but also about behaviors with good intentions.

We wanted to explore these questions further: What can be considered as bad leadership? Can bad leadership be unintentional? What are the reasons that lie behind leadership failures?

Although this is a topic worthy of a long novel, we’ll try to explore the key aspects of these questions with this 5-minute blog.

Elements of Bad Leadership

Bad leadership can be defined differently by different people; after all, not all leadership styles suit all organizations, situations, or people. To get started, we asked Chat GPT and Gemini to look at recent resources and gather a few common traits of bad leadership. Well, we got more than a few—here’s what they proposed:

  • Micromanagement
  • Poor Communication
  • Unrealistic Expectations
  • Indecisiveness
  • Failure to inspire or motivate
  • Negativity and blame
  • Refusal to accept feedback
  • Lack of accountability
  • Resistance to Change
  • Discriminatory practices
  • Lack of empathy and emotional intelligence
  • Overemphasis on hierarchy
  • Self-serving behavior

And probably there’s more to it… However, you can most likely agree with at least some of the issues listed. In short, bad leadership could be considered as the kind of leadership that doesn’t help the organization and its people to grow and succeed but rather hinders progress.

Bad Leadership Is Often Unintentional

When hearing the words “bad leader” you might think of someone mean and selfish, but bad leadership is often unintentional. Executive advisor and author Liz Wiseman refers to “bad leadership” as “diminisher leadership”. According to Liz, diminisher traits are very similar to the ones we listed above: micromanaging, blaming, bad communication, not listening, etc. But what Liz underlines is that most diminishing leadership comes with good intentions.

“The vast majority of diminishing happening inside our workplaces is done by the Accidental Diminishers—managers with the best of intentions, good people who think they are doing a good job leading. Accidental or not, the impact on their team is the same: Diminishers only get ½ of the true brainpower of their people.”

Liz has identified 9 traits of an “Accidental Diminisher”:

  • Idea fountain: Leader who shares new ideas all the time can cause confusion and stop employees from coming up with new ideas of their own.
  • Always on: Leader who is too energetic and talkative can be exhausting because they take up all the space.
  • Rescuer: Leader who fixes all things and solves all problems can leave individuals feeling helpless and stop them from fixing their own problems.
  • Pacesetter: Leader who sets a cracking pace can make people feel they can’t keep up and make employees lose momentum.
  • Rapid responder: Leader who jumps to immediate response can make their employees stop offering their own ideas and insights.
  • Optimist: Leader who is all ‘we can do this’ can result in the team seeing the leader as out of touch and unrealistic.
  • Protector: Leader who is over-focused on making a safe, nice experience at work might prevent growth through necessary conflicts.
  • Strategist: Leader who builds a compelling vision alone, and expects the team to follow without including the team in the big thinking.
  • Perfectionist: Leader who wants everything to be perfect can leave employees feeling they’re never good enough.

As you can see, there can be a fine line between good and bad leadership practices. These seemingly well-intentioned traits Liz has identified can actually cause harm to organizations and teams.

Reasons Why Leaders Fail

Now that we’ve established some general ideas of what bad leadership is, it’s important to take a look behind the curtains. Are there some general reasons for leadership falling short?

Firstly, it’s good to keep in mind that the job of a leader is not an easy one. As a recent article by the HBR states, the number of direct reports for an average manager has increased by 2.8 times over the last six years and the operating environment has required leaders to make a series of pivots. Leaders are reported to suffer from stress and fatigue, and almost half feel they can’t offer support to their direct reports. These factors are already causing many leaders to fail.

But are there some other common issues that could predict the risk of a leader’s failure? The same article in HBR suggests the top four predictors of risk of manager failure are:

  • When Managers Lack Self-Awareness: Managers who are unaware of their own strengths and development areas are nearly three times more likely to fail as those who possess this self-awareness.
  • When Empathy Is a One-Way Street: While managers are principally accountable for building an empathetic team environment, empathy is a two-way street; a lack of team empathy increases the risk of manager failure by 3.7 times.
  • When Manager-Employee Relationships Are Unproductive: Only 47% of employees say they derive valuable outcomes from interactions with their managers; managers whose direct reports can’t derive value from their interactions are 2.7 times more likely to fail.
  • When Employees’ Work Doesn’t Align with Goals: When managers do not align their employees’ work with both organizational and career goals, they are 2.4 times as likely to fail.

Again, it’s good to keep in mind that there are numerous reasons why leaders fail and they are very dependent on the company and situation in question. For example, an article in Forbes lists that leaders fail 1) when they surround themselves with ‘yes’ people, 2) when they’re too enamored with their ideas, 3) when they refuse to admit when they’re wrong, and the list goes on. However, it could be concluded that leaders often fail due to a fundamental disconnect between their personal management style and the actual needs and dynamics of their teams and the organization.

But the next question is: how can you avoid those pitfalls and become a better leader? That’s a topic worth exploring more in-depth, so we will do that in our next blog. Stay tuned!


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