No one thinks they are a bad leader.
If you ask any leader that question, rarely will you find someone who says, “Yes, I’m a terrible leader”. It just doesn’t fit with who we are as humans.
Even the “worst” leaders will often think they are awesome.
The danger is, if we don’t examine ourselves and see how good or bad we are, we can easily be living in denial. We could be hurting ourselves, our team, and our company, and we wouldn’t even know it.
This article isn’t meant to say you are bad at what you do (despite the title). Its purpose is to help you recognize areas as a leader that you can grow in.
And you know what? Even if you find that you are “bad”, that’s okay. Why? Because if you recognize it, then you can take steps to do something about it.
And that is a great first step to being a good leader.
What’s in this article:
In this article, we will dive into 141 signs that you are a bad leader (or just need to grow). We will look at the negative habits, activities, and attitudes that ineffective leaders have and use.
As you read these, take the time to examine yourself and see if you exhibit any of these signs. If you do, that’s okay. Just make a plan and do something about it. If you need extra help, send a message or leave a comment and we’ll be glad to help guide you along the way.
And note: some of the signs are similar, but they are written in different ways to hit different points or to see it from a different perspective.
Let’s dive into it!
You don’t take ownership (responsibility) for all that happens with and under you
Good leaders take responsibility. Bad leaders blame.
As the leader you are ultimately responsible for all that happens under you. If the team fails, you need to take responsibility and look at what you can do to keep that failure from happening again. Casting blame is a great way to ensure the same problems keep happening.
You think leadership is all about you, your goals/agenda, your ego, and your looking good, not about the team and its mission
Good leaders focus on the good of the team and the mission you and your team are pursuing. A bad leader focuses on themselves and how they can work the situation out to their benefit.
What the team does well, you take the credit. When the team fails, they get the blame.
When the team does well, a good leader passes on the credit and praise to their team. Their focus is on the good of the team and the mission. A bad leader takes credit and ignores the team.
When the team does poorly, a strong leader takes responsibility and action to fix the problem. A bad leader casts blame and focuses on making themselves look good.
You feel threatened by strong leaders or those under you who do a good job
Good leaders hire people better than them, grow those under them, and help those under them be the best they can be.
Bad leaders feel threatened by others and focus on undermining those who do well or only hiring people that are worse than them.
You are defensive when others give you feedback
Good leaders welcome and encourage feedback, even negative feedback because they know it’s how they can grow and improve. They have a growth mindset.
Bad leaders do the opposite. They avoid feedback. They argue and get defensive when anyone gives a hint of them doing something wrong or imperfectly. They have a fixed mindset.
No one gives you feedback or bad news
If people fear talking to you because they fear receiving negative repercussions, they will not give you feedback or give you any bad news.
That is dangerous because you may be thinking everything is peachy while the world is falling apart beneath you.
Good leaders create an environment where feedback and the sharing of every kind of news are welcomed and encouraged.
You never listen to and ignore feedback – you always think you are right and everyone else is wrong
Ego, and arrogance, are a great danger to leaders.
Good leaders know they always can grow and learn and improve. They are willing to listen to feedback so that they can get better.
People feel like they have to step on eggshells around you
If you have created an environment where everyone steps on eggshells afraid of upsetting you, you are failing as a leader.
When you ask to talk to someone or ask where someone is, the automatic response is fear/concern and “What did they do?”
If the response you get is “What did they do?”, that is a good sign you have created a negative environment created with fear.
People’s initial reactions shouldn’t be fear that someone is about to get a “talking-down to”. If that’s the case, you’ve got some work to do.
No one offers suggestions, ideas, feedback, or pushback
Good leaders create an environment where suggestions, ideas, feedback, pushback, and so on are welcome and encouraged. People feel safe sharing those thoughts without feeling they will be shot down or have other negative repercussions.
Bad leaders create an environment where people fear sharing ideas. They know if they say something others don’t like, they will get shot down, maybe insulted, judged or given other negative mental, emotional, or physical repercussions, and it’s not worth speaking up.
You really think everything, the turnover, bad performance, etc., is someone else’s fault.
Again, good leaders take responsibility. If you really think everything is everyone else’s fault, you need to do some examining of yourself.
People nod yes when you tell them something but then always go do something else
If people always tell you yes but do the opposite, you have created an environment where they see you as a bad leader who does not accept pushback, feedback, or disagreement. They also likely see you as incompetent.
No one knows what to expect from you day in and day out
Good leaders have good self-awareness and regulation of their emotions. Bad leaders do not. Bad leaders are volatile and can swing from happy one day to “yelling” at everyone the next. No one knows what to expect.
That’s not good.
You hide your faults/failures
Bad leaders feel like they must hide their faults or failures because it will make them look bad. Good leaders know hiding faults and failures is what makes you bad. They are real about their faults and failures so they can get help to overcome them and because it shows them being human and real.
You are afraid to ask for advice because you think it makes you look bad
Good leaders ask for advice and look for improvement. Bad leaders let their pride get in the way and stay bad because they never seek advice.
You undermine those above or below you to make yourself look good
Good leaders are about the success of the team, the organization, and its mission. They know when the team succeeds, they succeed.
Bad leaders are always looking at how to make themselves look good. They undermine others to try to make themselves look better.
You withhold information from other people as a play for power, a feeling of control, or to set up others for failure
Since good leaders are about the success of the mission and team, they are quick to share information that will benefit the team and help them succeed. They are very transparent about what is going on.
On the other hand, since bad leaders are about promoting themselves and not the team or mission, they will hold on to information. It could be the feeling of a sense of power having the information, or it could be that it’s a power play, or it could be that they are setting someone else up for failure so that they can continue to “look good”.
Whatever the reason, bad leaders are slow or hesitant to share information.
You must show your power somehow, change something, implement something, or tweak it, just to show you are in charge
Good leaders welcome and encourage others to take initiative. They aren’t threatened by other people’s ideas or initiatives.
Bad leaders feel threatened. If they don’t shut it down completely, they tweak it or make a change just to show that they are the ones in charge. They may feel they won’t look like a leader if they don’t do “something.”
You feel like everything must fit into your perfect little box on how you think things should be
You have a set way how you think things should be and you aren’t flexible on it. Everything has to fit into your tiny little box. You don’t accept that other people may have different ideas or ways of doing things or even that your way may not be the best way (or may even be harmful).
Good leaders focus on the overall objective and mission and are flexible on how their team implements and accomplishes that goal. They don’t feel threatened by other people’s ideas or plans.
When there is something you don’t know, instead of just saying “I don’t know”, you make it up or pretend you do know (and even make decisions based on those made-up reasons)
Good leaders are willing to say “I don’t know”. They know by admitting they don’t know, they then can learn and make better decisions.
Bad leaders fear looking “dumb”, so they make things up. This, of course, keeps the “leader” ignorant, and bad decisions and directions are then made from that ignorance.
Instead of admitting a mistake on an action or decision, you double down and keep driving forward
Maybe it was a software purchase that cost a lot of money, a product change, or a hiring decision. Whatever it was, when it turned out not to be the best decision, the bad leader double downs and ignores the evidence because they don’t want to have made a mistake or look bad, or it could be because then they would have to admit they wasted a lot of time or money on something that didn’t work.
Good leaders don’t dig those holes (or at least they do their best to avoid it). When they make a decision or take action, they examine the evidence to see how it does. If it turns out it’s not working like they thought it would, they examine why and adjust. They don’t keep going because they already started in that direction or for fear of “looking bad”.
(Hint: What really makes you look bad is when you double down on something bad when everyone else sees it. It makes you look good when you recognize and admit it.)
You try to create cliques and get people on “your side” or pit one group against another (you create dissension and cause drama)
Good leaders aren’t about cliques or groups or “sides”, they are about the good of the mission and team. If there is dissension, they work hard to figure it out and remove it. They know a good team will have disagreements, but they will work those disagreements out appropriately and focus on the good of the team, not “you vs. me”.
Bad leaders live in the drama. They may waste so much time trying to turn one person this way that they never get their actual job done. They are about themselves and their goals, not the company or the team, or its mission.
The fact that they are about “sides” in the first place likely shows they are a bad leader.
You play favorites
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t spend more time with one person over another or invest in others over others. Sometimes that is wise and helpful for the situation. If someone is new, you may spend more time with them. If someone is a high producer, you may invest in them in different ways.
What it does mean is that you shouldn’t play give certain tasks, give special attention or praise, etc. based on who you like and don’t like or to curry favor.
You tolerate gossip in your organization
Gossip can be a cancer to a company. When people are talking about each other instead of to each other, it destroys trust, lowers morale, and lowers productivity.
Good leaders do not tolerate gossip and definitely don’t tolerate it themselves. They teach, encourage, and require people to handle disagreements appropriately.
They also create an environment of trust and transparency and appropriate disagreement.
You talk negative (gossip) about members of your team
Instead of dealing with the problem or talking to the person, bad leaders talk negatively about members of their team. They may spread rumors about them or just insult them in front of other members. (This is a great way to destroy morale and lose great workers).
Good leaders avoid gossiping and talking negatively about others. If they talk about others, it’s in a positive light. If there is a problem with someone, they talk to the person, not to everyone else.
You talk negatively about those above you
Bad leaders talk negatively about or trash those above them. They may disagree with a plan or goal or what they did, so instead of discussing it with them (or even if they do), they then go and trash talk them to their team.
When they do this, the negativity spreads. It will hurt morale and productivity. If you aren’t supporting the upper team and its goals, neither will your team.
You yell at your team
If you yell at your team, that’s definitely a failure as a leader. Yelling usually shows you as out of control and you have an inability to handle the issue correctly.
When you resort to yelling, you’ve already lost.
You talk down and negatively toward your team
There’s a difference between correction and talking down and being negative. When someone fails at a task or doesn’t do something like you want them to do, if you put down and trash them, you are failing as a leader.
Good leaders help guide their team members in the correct action. If they failed a task, they look at why and work toward solving it. Good leaders look at themselves as well to see if there was something they should have done better.
Bad leaders trash, insult, talk or put down their team when they fail.
You create an atmosphere of fear
Bad leaders create an atmosphere of fear. People are afraid to make mistakes, to take risks, or to put themselves in a position where they could fail out of fear of reprimand, scolding, negativity, and so on.
Good leaders create an atmosphere where it’s okay to make mistakes, take risks, and fail. Their team is encouraged to innovate and try new things. They know that if they make a mistake, they aren’t going to be put down or judged.
Good leaders encourage a growth mindset.
Infighting is part of your organization’s/team’s environment
Bad leaders don’t unite their teams toward a common goal. There are often silos and “you vs me” mentalities. Their team members begin to focus on themselves looking good or their personal goals and not the good of the team or mission.
They don’t teach their team how to handle disagreement or conflict or create an environment of respect toward disagreement.
Good leaders don’t tolerate infighting. They create an environment of healthy disagreement and teach their staff how to handle conflict appropriately. They unite their team under a common goal, and their focus is on the good of the team and mission, not themselves.
You are negative about the company’s goals, etc., and you share those opinions with others
There may be times when you don’t understand or agree with what upper management does. You may not agree with the goals. As a leader, however, your reaction will flow over to those under you.
If you are negative and put them down and don’t support the effort, neither will your team. Productivity toward those goals will be low and morale will be more negative.
Good leaders, if they disagree, try to understand the “why” of the task or goal. If they don’t understand, they ask.
Even if they disagree, they don’t trash talk or speak negatively about it, but they find ways to support it and encourage their team to as well (unless it’s immoral, unethical, etc.).
If they think their goals will be detrimental to the company or team, they will discuss it with upper management, not to everyone else.
You have a high turnover under you
If you have high turnover in your team, that’s a good sign to look at yourself and see what about you is causing that turnover.
Employees are generally negative about where they work (or morale is negative)
Generally, people leave because of leaders/managers, not because of pay or benefits or the company itself.
If your team has low morale and is generally negative about the company, see what you have done to contribute to that. Are you being negative? Have you created an environment of low trust or an atmosphere of fear?
Employees are miserable at their jobs
Again, most people leave because of leadership/management – people. Why are they miserable? What kind of environment have you created?
People are generally motivated by a sense of autonomy, mastery, and purpose (check out Daniel Pink’s book Drive). Do you provide that for your team?
Or are they given no autonomy in their work, no chance to really grow, improve and become masters in what they do (or in their career), and there is no purpose (or they don’t see any purpose) in what they do?
You don’t show any trust toward your employees
Do you show trust to your employees? Do you let them take risks and allow them to make mistakes that they can learn from?
Or do you control everything? Do you make all decisions come through you? Do you micromanage everything they do?
You micromanage your employees
Micromanaging shows a giant lack of trust in your employees (and in your ability to lead). If you feel you must micromanage your employees, then you have either hired the wrong people or you have not trained them well enough, or given them opportunities to shine.
Micromanaging also limits your ability as a leader because you are caught in the minutia of what everyone else is doing instead of the bigger-picture tasks you should be focusing on.
Good leaders train their teams, delegate tasks, and help their team blossom.
You criticize others in front of others (you give public reprimands)
There may be times to correct someone – but not in front of other people.
Good leaders pull the team member aside and talk with them one on one. They deal with the problem individually.
Bad leaders, on the other hand, reprimand their team members in front of others. This creates ill will and ill feelings, and it keeps others from wanting to risk failure or mistakes (which kills innovation and new ideas).
You intentionally shame or humiliate people
Similar to above, if you intentionally shame or humiliate people – let’s just be real – you are a bad leader.
You don’t like dealing with people’s issues
That’s unfortunate because as a leader that is a major part of what you do. The whole purpose of a leader is to influence and guide others toward a goal or mission. Without people, you can’t be a leader.
If you just don’t know how that’s okay – you can learn. You may not “like” it now because it’s unfamiliar. That’s okay.
And, the truth is, certain aspects of people’s issues you may never like (such as firing someone). That’s okay, too – as long as that doesn’t keep you from doing what you need to do.
Negative conflict/drama permeates the organization/team and is never dealt with
Conflict is part of everyday life, but there is a right way to deal with it.
Bad leaders tolerate negative conflict and drama in their teams. In fact, they may even encourage it or participate in it.
Good leaders don’t tolerate it. They put an end to drama and negative conflict. They teach others how to handle it correctly and expect others to do so. They also handle conflict appropriately themselves.
Triangulation is when you are the third person in someone’s issue with someone else. Instead of talking to the other person, they talk to you.
While there may be times when it’s okay for people to come to you about an issue with another person, in general, they should take the issue to the person, not you.
Triangulation wastes your time and can create extra drama where there shouldn’t be.
You have silos within your team/organization
Silos are where each group has its own identity and goals, and the mentality is one group vs. another. Sales vs. Marketing. Research vs. IT.
Silos are never good and never okay. All are on the same team for the same purpose. Silos work against that.
If you have silos in your company, you need to examine yourself and your actions to see how you have allowed those to be created and what you need to do to fix it.
When an issue arises that you should deal with, you avoid the issue (you avoid dealing with problems)
Good leaders deal with problems in a timely manner. When something comes up, even if it is uncomfortable, they take action and handle it.
Bad leaders run from problems. They don’t want to deal with them, so they avoid them. This usually leads to the problems becoming worse, and it also leads to lower productivity, morale, and so on.
It also creates an environment where behaviors that shouldn’t be allowed are. It’s tacit approval. If you don’t tell someone that they shouldn’t be doing something, by not correcting it, you are saying it’s okay to them (and the rest of the team).
You avoid confrontation
Part of being a leader is dealing with issues and confronting people when they need to be confronted (the correct way, of course).
Good leaders, though they may not enjoy it, do it. They confront. They deal with the issues and problems.
Bad leaders rationalize, make excuses, and run from confrontation.
You are never vulnerable
Bad leaders try to put on a show that they are perfect and never make mistakes. They may try to cover it up and never admit or show that they messed up.
They are afraid that if they show they are human, if they make mistakes, or if they open up in different ways, it will make them look bad, so they hide it.
Good leaders, on the other hand, know that they aren’t perfect, and they aren’t afraid to hide it. They know a great way to connect and build trust with people is to admit their weaknesses and when they make mistakes. They know being vulnerable makes them look stronger, not worse.
You avoid the tough conversations
Tough (or hard) conversations make a bad leader feel uncomfortable. To avoid the discomfort, they avoid the conversation. It could be a conversation about a failed objective, firing someone, dealing with conflict or behavior in the team, or something else.
Whatever it is, to avoid the ill feelings that come with the conversation or the response they may receive from the other person, they avoid the conversation altogether. –
Good leaders still may feel uncomfortable, and they may not like the responses they may receive; however, they don’t avoid the conversation. They have it.
Many good leaders also separate the other persons’ emotions from themselves. They don’t allow other people’s responses to affect their emotions, their self-worth, or who they are.
You lack tools for the tough conversations (you don’t know how to deal with conflict)
Part of the reason you may avoid tough conversations is that you don’t have the tools to have these types of conversations. Maybe you were never taught or didn’t realize it was something you needed to learn.
No sweat. Take the time now to start learning. Implementing won’t always be easy, but you will learn and get better the more you do it.
You collect all the actions you think people did wrong and wait to tell them all at once when it benefits you or when you reach your peak (e.g. you gunnysack people’s mistakes)
When someone does something wrong or something is off, a good leader doesn’t wait to talk about it. They ask the person(s) about it, find out what happened, and then help them work toward a solution.
Bad leaders avoid the conversation. They just take note of the mistakes (or perceived mistakes) that people make. When the time comes down the road, whether it’s the opportune time to put the other person down or discredit their idea or distract from the main issue, or the bad leader just happens to reach their peak of frustration, they let out all the wrongs (or perceived wrongs) this person has done for who knows how long.
That’s completely unfair to the other person, to the issue at hand, and it shows a great sign of failed leadership.
You are a poor listener (you don’t listen to others’ opinions, you focus on what you want to say instead of what others are saying, etc.).
It’s hard to build influence and relationships or to move things forward as well as you could if you are a poor listener.
If all you care about is your opinion, and you ignore others, people will stop sharing ideas with you. People will also think less of you as a leader, and your influence and ability to drive change will diminish greatly.
You think everything is hunky-dory while everything is falling apart beneath you (you are blind to what is going on and don’t check to see)
It can sometimes be hard to know what we don’t know, but we need to be diligent to learn those things. If you are a good listener, humble, and keep your eyes and ears open, you will know better when things are good or things are heading south.
A good leader also solicits input from those around them so that they won’t get into those kinds of situations. And, if they are told things are negative or there is something wrong with their actions, they don’t get defensive about it – they listen, consider it, and apply what they need to grow.
You don’t get help to see your blind spots
Good leaders know they have blind spots. They know they are bad in areas and may not see it. They seek counsel and feedback from others so they can improve the areas they are blind.
Bad leaders are oblivious to their blind spots. They think, from their perspective, everything is okay, so they drive forward and never look for feedback on the areas that could be hindering them.
When you confront someone about an issue, it always becomes a heated argument
If every confrontation or disagreement you have led to a heated argument, that’s a good sign you need to work on your communication and conflict skills.
Good leaders know how to listen and disagree appropriately. They also know how to help guide discussions and team meetings where disagreement is encouraged and welcome because they know different viewpoints help bring about the best results.
You go into a confrontation situation assuming you know everything and/or you are right
It can be easy to go into conflict assuming you know everything there is about the situation, the other person’s actions, and the other person’s intentions. However, that’s not true.
We only see a small piece of the picture. Good leaders go into conflict with listening ears to learn about the situation and what they don’t know. In the end, they still may be right, but they take the time to listen and seek to learn before deciding.
Bad leaders go into these conversations assuming they know everything. They don’t listen, and it causes issues and hurt feelings because of that.
You hold mistakes against people (and bring them up when convenient)
Bad leaders hold mistakes against people. They never let them go. When opportune times, they bring up the same mistakes over and over to put the other person back in their place or to try to discredit them or their ideas.
Good leaders deal with the mistake and move on. What’s it’s dealt with, it’s over. It’s not brought back up.
The purpose isn’t to show that people have made mistakes in the past, the purpose is growth and moving forward.
People feel they are penalized, judged, or thought less of when a mistake is made
Granted, in some situations, mistakes can be major issues, and they should be dealt with appropriately. However, in general, mistakes are just part of the path of growth and mastery.
If people feel they are going to be penalized or thought less of when they make a mistake, they are going to avoid taking risks, trying new things, or being innovative out of fear of those penalties. They will just do what’s easy and what they know they can succeed in, so less progress is made.
You keep track of all wrongs people do
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep good records of behaviors or actions. This is a different kind of record-keeping.
This kind of tracking is where you record all the wrongs and mistakes people do and hold on to them. When an opportunity arises for your benefit, you bring those mistakes out against the person to discredit them or for whatever negative reason you have.
Good leaders don’t do that.
Instead of dealing with the person who caused the problem, you make a new bureaucratic rule that affects and hurts everyone
This happens WAY too much in government-related institutions. Someone does something wrong. Instead of that person being dealt with directly (or looking at their poor hiring policies), they create a new “rule” to deal with it.
Over time, that institution is filled with all these rules that hinder productivity and hurt morale.
Good leaders deal with the person who caused the issue. They also look at themselves to see if expectations or guidelines weren’t clearly presented. If needed, depending on the situation, they may examine their hiring/firing policies to see how they can be improved.
They may make a new guideline if needed, but it’s in a way to help promote productivity and build trust, not hinder it.
Bad leaders avoid conflict and just make new rules.
You don’t speak up when you disagree with those above you
Bad leaders fear disagreeing or upsetting those above them out of fear of their jobs or the person’s response. They allow poor or harmful plans to go unchecked because they are afraid to speak up.
Good leaders are willing to speak up. If they feel a plan will lead in the wrong direction, they are willing to give their input. They know there are times and ways to be tactful when disagreeing or bringing up issues, but they do bring up the issues that need to be addressed.
You don’t speak up when you disagree with your team
Weak leaders let others run over them. They are afraid of how others may react, so they don’t disagree. Instead of leading the team forward, they let themselves be led, even if it’s in the wrong direction.
You are a yes-man/woman
Instead of being a leader, speaking up, and standing up for what is right or against what you think might be harmful, you just say yes. You always agree with the “boss-man/woman”, because you think it will curry favor or make you look good.
Good leaders don’t always agree. They are willing to speak up when needed and go against the flow if it’s the right thing to do.
Your ideas or your plans or goals are your “babies”
Your ideas/goals/plans are your babies. They are your pride and joy. They are perfect. You don’t want or allow or tolerate any other opinion or disagreement about them because they are yours, and you know they are great.
(Then you wonder why most of your plans fail or don’t go half as well as you think they should….)
You don’t encourage disagreement (with you, others)
A good leader welcomes disagreement. They don’t hold on tightly to their ideas because they know other people’s input only can improve those ideas.
They welcome (appropriate) disagreement on their team. In fact, they encourage it for the same reasons. They know when they can openly disagree with one another and share their viewpoints, it helps make the ideas better and reveals possible flaws. Plans can then be more carefully and successfully executed.
You love bureaucratic rules and bureaucracy (or create rules from above without needed input)
Rules for the sake of rules are never good. Everything should always help people be more productive, not hinder productivity.
Rules shouldn’t be created because of distrust or bad hiring/firing policies. Rules should be created to make the business more efficient and effective, to help people be on the same page, and so on.
Rules should also be made (in general) with the input of those who are affected by it. Too often people on high create these rules to “solve problems” that hinder progress and sometimes lack common sense. They are too detached and distant from the “problem” to know how to really solve it.
You love rules more than people
If you care more about the rules and that your people explicitly follow them more than you do the people who work with/for you, you’ve got problems.
Your meetings waste a lot of time and/or go nowhere
Good leaders set agendas, start on time, and end on time. They don’t dilly-dally or waste time. They know that wasted time in meetings leaves less time for productive work. They don’t call a meeting unless it is really needed.
Bad leaders waste time. They go off on tangents, chase rabbits, and joke around. They may start late “waiting” for everyone. These meetings may not even need to be meetings – they could have been emails or quick chat.
You spend too much time in useless meetings
Sometimes you can’t help it – you are required to be at certain meetings. However, good leaders ask themselves, “Do I really need to be at this meeting?” If not, they see if they can remove themselves from that meeting. They also don’t call meetings unless it’s important or necessary for them to do so.
You call a meeting for everything
Many issues or situations can be handled by phone call, a quick chat, or email. Good leaders don’t waste their team’s time with pointless meetings.
You have unorganized meetings
Good leaders set agendas, have a clear path, and stick to it. They don’t waste time or come up with topics after the meeting starts.
People leave meetings unclear or confused
Good leaders clearly set who is responsible for what and by when. Decisions and directions are clear. There is a follow-up.
Bad leaders don’t do that. Team members leave unsure of who is responsible for doing what task when it’s due, the why of the task, and so on.
People don’t know what’s going on (you don’t know how to/don’t communicate)
If people don’t know what is going on in the company or with the team, you either don’t know how to communicate, or you just don’t communicate.
Clear and consistent communication is very important. People should know what’s going on. They should know the why’s of what they are doing.
When you don’t communicate, that is how rumors start. Something will be communicated. The question is will it be the truth or something else because you didn’t speak up.
You are not sure of your mission or goal (you have no clear direction)
This could be 2 ways: you are unaware of the mission of the organization or the goals you should be pursuing as a leader, and/or you have not cast any vision or goals for your company/team.
It’s hard to lead people in a direction if you don’t know where you are going. If you don’t know where you are going, you kind of need to figure that out.
Your team is not sure of the mission/goal /direction
If your team is unsure, it’s either because you are unsure yourself or you have not communicated it clearly and as frequently as needed.
Your team cannot be very productive and cannot move forward without the direction they need to go.
You haven’t shared your vision or goals for your team (there’s no unifying vision)
Ideally, you should have a unifying vision for the whole organization. Whether you do or not, you should still have one for your team.
Good leaders, even if they are taking goals from above, make them their own, create their own goals based on those, and help their team unify around that purpose.
You don’t share the why
One of the 3 main motivators for humans is purpose. People like to know the why of what they do.
Good leaders know this. They share the why of the tasks, especially if the task seems unimportant. They help the team understand the why of what they are doing.
If a new procedure or task needs to be done, good leaders help their team understand the why behind it.
You don’t show how the team’s individual work attaches to the vision (there’s no meaning in their work)
Purpose is one of the 3 main motivators. Good leaders help their team understand how what they do individually connects with the overall vision and purpose of the company. They help them see the meaning and purpose behind what they do.
You have no central mission/goal: everyone is pursuing their own thing
Good leaders share a central vision/goal/purpose/mission for their team. The whole purpose of leadership is to influence others toward the accomplishment of a goal.
Without a central purpose, everyone begins pursuing their own goals. This not only leads to much lower productivity and work scattered in different directions, but it also brings about silos, which are deadly to businesses.
Employees are frequently confused about what to do
If employees are frequently confused about what they should be doing, there is a lack of clear direction and instruction.
Good leaders give simple, clear instructions to their team. They make sure the team understands what the task is, who is responsible, and by when. They give whatever support the team member needs in able to succeed.
You never delegate (you do it all yourself)
Good leaders know that to be effective, they need to delegate tasks to others. They do what only they can do and pass on other tasks to their team. They give clear directions and expectations, and they give whatever support the staff needs to succeed.
Bad leaders don’t trust their teams. They feel like they must do everything themselves. They are unproductive because they spend so much time doing what other people could be doing just as well or better.
Bad leaders may also be poor teachers or communicators because, if the staff fails to meet the task when they do give them, it’s usually because of a lack of communication, instruction, or guidance from the leader.
You just pass tasks on to others that you don’t want without any expectations and oversight
Leaders need to be strategic on what tasks and how they pass on to their team. Just passing on tasks you don’t want and not giving any expectations or oversight is a recipe for failure.
You provide little/no oversight of your employees
There are two aspects to this: delegation and general supervision.
In delegation, a leader needs to provide oversight. They give a task, they set expectations, and they follow up. That makes sure the team member understands the task, what to do, and by when.
Bad leaders just pass tasks on and are completely hands-off. They don’t check on the task or make sure the staff has the resources needed to accomplish it.
Also, part of being a leader is ensuring your team is moving in the right direction. It may look different per member, but there is always some aspect of oversight. At a minimum, a leader should set clear expectations, and a deadline, and connect with the team member when the task or project is finished.
If it is a less experienced or new team member, you probably want to provide more oversight than that.
Much of what you do comes off as disorganized (and looks like you don’t know what you are doing)
Each person is different and their personalities are different. Some are more organized than others. There’s no problem with that.
However, if you come off as unorganized – go to/start meetings unprepared, have trouble finding paperwork when needed, and so on – it hurts your influence and image as a leader.
You are disorganized
Okay, let’s face it. We each have our own level of organization, but if you are completely unorganized, it’s going to affect you as a leader. You will waste time, and productivity, and diminish the influence you have on others.
You don’t actually want to lead (you get upset when you actually have to do your role. You want things just to happen by themselves with no oversight, action, or input)
If you really don’t want to lead, then remove yourself from the leadership position. All you will do is destroy your team and hurt your business avoiding leadership responsibilities.
You’re just coasting
Maybe you’ve been in the position for years. Maybe you are getting near retirement. Maybe what you did in the past “worked”.
Whatever the reason, instead of taking an active role as a leader, driving change, and pursuing goals, you are just coasting.
Good leaders don’t do this. They know that change is part of what they do and they continually pursue greatness. They are actively moving their team toward their goals.
Bad leaders just coast. They try to maintain the status quo and hope everything stays the same. They don’t take much effort to move forward.
What bad leaders often don’t know is when they coast, they fail. They start rolling backward and end up like many companies that fail because they just coasted and wouldn’t grow or change.
You won’t accept innovation or counter ideas- you crush innovation and don’t like change or new ideas
You like the way things are. You don’t want things to change. Any ideas counter to the way “it’s always been done” is crushed. You don’t accept ideas counter to what you think is the best way.
Good leaders not only accept but seek out counter opinions and ideas for innovation. They know the only way to stay on top and ahead is to keep growing, changing when needed, and moving forward.
Your favorite sayings are “We’ve never done it that way before” and “That’s always how we’ve done it”
Bad leaders don’t like change. They want to keep things the way they’ve been. They stick their heads in the sand like an ostrich and hope everything turns out okay.
Good leaders know that what worked yesterday may not work today. They are constantly on the lookout for new ideas and ways to grow. “We’ve never done it this way before” and “That’s how we’ve always done it” is not in their vocabulary.
Your mentality is that your employees are lazy and you have to control them
You generally get what you expect. If you treat them like they are lazy and inept, the good ones will leave and you will be stuck with exactly what you are expecting.
Good leaders show trust in their team. If the team is failing, they look at themselves first to see how they can better set expectations, train, hire/fire better (if needed), and so on.
You have low expectations of your team
You get what you expect. If you have low expectations for your staff, you generally will get low results from your team.
Expect the best from them, and they will often rise high to meet those expectations.
You operate from a compliance and control mentality
Brene Brown in Dare to Lead says that we do this when we “reduce work to tasks and to-dos, then spend our time ensuring ppl are doing exactly what we want, how we want it – and then constantly calling them out when they’re doing it wrong.”
This is a failing mentality.
You lead by command or position, not by influence
Bad leaders think their leadership comes from their position. They think everyone should just do everything they want just because they are “in charge”.
Good leaders realize great leadership comes from influence, not position. They know position only gets them so far. They focus on building relationships, trust, and influence with their team and lead by influence, not position.
You think your leadership is based on your “leadership style”
This is a fallacy that’s spread a lot on the internet. Leadership is based on principles, not style, personality, or insecurities.
Good leaders know these principles and follow them. They know they may have certain tendencies or ways of doing things based on their personality, but they focus on principles, not “style”. They recognize that if one of their “tendencies” or leanings counters a principle, it’s the principle that matters, not their “style”.
You think you are only one leadership style
This is another misnomer spread. If you have been taught that you are a certain style and you need to follow your style, ignore that advice.
Most of the styles have principles you should be doing as a leader. You aren’t just one, and then “switch” to another when needed. That’s silly. They are tools to use as you go, just different parts of being a leader.
Bad leaders focus on one leadership “style”.
Good leaders know that they aren’t just one style, but implement the different techniques and strategies in their everyday leadership. They recognize they may lean certain ways because of their personality, but they also know their leanings don’t matter if it contradicts good leadership principles.
You don’t take time to build relationships
Good leaders build relationships with their teams. They know their names and learn about them. They know that caring for their team builds influence.
Bad leaders think relationships don’t matter. They just tell people what to do and expect them to do it. They expect people to follow them just because they are the “leader”.
You see your people as objects and tools, not people
If you see people as objects and tools to accomplish what you want, you are not a good leader.
Good leaders see people as people. They build relationships and influence. They know that they get the best from their people when they treat them as people.
You don’t know anything about the people who work under you
Unless you are new, you should know the names of your people and at least some basic details about them. If you have worked for months and still don’t know their names or other simple details, you are not doing well in building relationships or influence.
You think being a leader, “the boss”, is just telling everyone else what to do
Leadership is much more than just telling people what to do. You may get some stuff done because of your position, but your team productivity and morale is not going to be high, and your influence will definitely be low.
You make all decisions without ever talking to anyone else
Good leaders know there are times they just need to make a decision – and they do. They also know there are times when they should get other people’s input. They know by allowing other people to give input, helps to create buy-in into the decision.
Good leaders know if they take the time to listen to their team before a decision is made, and they build that trust and influence, that when the times come they just need to make quick decisions, and their team will trust them and be there for them.
You make all decisions come through you first
Good leaders decentralize. They set expectations, train however they need, and then trust their team to make decisions in the areas that they work in.
They trust their team to make good decisions. If they don’t, then they work through the problem with them. If the team member is new, they may provide more oversight, but they still put it in their hands.
They know that if they make every decision pass through them, it will bog down decision-making, hurt productivity, and hurt customer satisfaction. They also know the ones dealing with the problem often know more about the problem than they do.
Bad leaders don’t trust their teams. They make all decisions that pass through them first. In their effort to make sure everything is “right”, they end up hurting productivity, morale, and customer service, and they can easily make harmful decisions as they are often detached from the actual issue.
You let everyone else make decisions so you don’t have to
Bad leaders fear making the wrong decision or looking bad if things don’t go the way they should. So, instead of making a decision, they always let others make the decision. That way, if things are so south, they can blame them and not themselves.
You think you know what is best because the boss
Just because you are in a leadership position doesn’t mean you know everything or even what is best.
Good leaders take time to receive counsel and input from others. They know people at the front may have better perspectives than they do sitting back. They also hire people better than them in different areas.
You have a little arrogant “I’m a Leader now” attitude
Just stop. Please. Humility is a great thing. It will help you in many ways.
You aren’t something “special” just because you are in a leadership position.
You don’t listen to others’ input; you always go with what you think is right
Bad leaders think they know everything and just make the decision. Good leaders take time to listen to other people’s input.
You base everything on assumptions instead of facts
Good leaders take the time to examine the issue or decision and look at the facts. They look at what the assumptions are for the decision. They know their assumptions may be wrong.
Bad leaders just assume there are right and dive into a decision without looking at the assumptions. They don’t separate assumptions from facts.
You don’t take time to work through a decision (you don’t take time to plan it out, look at assumptions, look at possible causes of failure, best strategies, pitfalls, etc.)
It depends on the situation and the time one has to make the decision. Good leaders, if able, take time to analyze the decision. They look at potential pitfalls or causes of failure. They examine their assumptions. They look at possible strategies. They collect input from others, from those who agree, and especially from those who may disagree or see issues with the plan.
Bad leaders don’t do this. They think it’s a great decision, so they push it without really examining it.
You are indecisive (you have a hard time making decisions)
There are times when it’s wise to take extra time to make a decision – but you still have to make a decision. Bad leaders may use this as an excuse. They have a hard time deciding, or they don’t want to deal with the consequence of being wrong. They may be afraid of “looking bad”, so they avoid making the decision.
Good leaders will take the time needed to examine the decision, if able, but they are also good about making the decision. They know not deciding is a decision – you are deciding to do nothing – and they know that not deciding is often worse than if they made the “wrong” choice.
Good leaders also know they will likely never have 100% certainty for a decision, but they make their best choice and go with it. They may examine it along the way and make changes as needed, but they don’t let the fear of the unknown or making a mistake keep them from making the decision.
You use positional power to push around what you want
If you use positional power to push what you want, you are a bad leader. You may get what you want to happen, at that time, but you kill your influence with the people who work with you, and you will likely lose their respect.
You surround yourself with yes-men/women
Bad leaders surround themselves with people who always agree with them. They want what they want, they believe their opinion is the best, and they don’t want anyone to disagree with them.
Good leaders intentionally surround themselves with varying opinions. They want to hear if their idea is a bad idea or the possible negative consequences or outcomes that could happen.
They know having differing opinions is the best way to get the best ideas and plans. They encourage those around them to disagree with them. They may even ask people to play devil’s advocate for that purpose.
You think the rules don’t apply to you
Good leaders don’t think they are above the rules. They follow the same rules their teammates follow.
Bad leaders don’t. They think they are above the rules. They may write up someone for arriving late, but then they may be late themselves, but that is okay, because “they’re the boss”.
You bask in all the leader perks
This isn’t saying you shouldn’t ever use a leadership “perk”. However, bad leaders often take these with a sense of arrogance.
They get a special parking spot. They get the special line or whatever it is. They begin feeling they are above the others who don’t. That’s not okay.
Some of the best leaders are those who don’t take the “perks”. They don’t put themselves above those who work for them.
You think are better than those beneath you
Bad leaders think that, just because they are in a leadership position, they are better than those beneath them. They look down on them, treat them differently, or even avoid them. They don’t realize that they are killing their influence and power as a leader.
You think because you are in a leadership position, everyone should just do as you say
Bad leaders don’t understand the difference between leadership by position and leadership by influence.
Good leaders know that the best leadership is through influence.
Good leaders are flexible. They know situations change or that new information comes in and that may cause the action plan to change. They also know that just because it’s not their preferred method it doesn’t mean it won’t work or isn’t the right way. They are flexible in how they and other people do things.
Bad leaders can’t roll with the changes. They are stuck in the way they want things. They get upset when someone or something messes with that.
You feel you must do the work yourself, do the work of those under you, for it to be right
This shows a lack of communication, training, and delegation skills. Good leaders know to be effective, they set clear expectations, give simple, clear instructions, and they enable others to do the work they need to do.
Good leaders know if they try to do everything, everything will be bogged down. It’s also NOT leading.
Bad leaders don’t trust their team, or they just do not know how to communicate, teach/train, or delegate. Because of that, they think the fault is the team, so they try to do it all themselves.
You haven’t read a book or done anything to grow or learn in quite a while
Good leaders continually seek to grow and learn. They read, watch videos, go to conferences, listen to podcasts – whatever they can to better themselves. They know they always can improve and seek to do so. They prioritize and set aside time for learning, growth, and professional development.
In fact, many top CEOs read at least 1 book a week.
Bad leaders don’t. They don’t prioritize it or make time, or they are too arrogant and think they know everything they need to know. What they don’t realize, however, is that when you aren’t moving forward, you are falling behind.
You think you have leadership all figured out
If you think you have leadership all figured out – you don’t.
Good leaders are humble. They understand that however good they are, there is always room for improvement.
They know, too, that they may not know what they don’t know. They seek to find it out.
You don’t encourage/offer opportunities for your team to grow
Good leaders are about helping their team be their best. They give them opportunities that challenge them to help them grow, mentor them where and when needed, and provide encouragement and opportunities to help them move forward toward their goals and in their career.
Bad leaders drive forward without thought toward the growth of their team.
There are no signs on how to advance, no development path given, and employees/your team feels stuck
Good leaders provide opportunities for growth and advancement (as much as it is possible for them to do). They know mastery is one of the main motivations of people, and they help their team move toward it. Their people do not feel stuck because they get the opportunity to grow and advance.
Bad leaders ignore this. They just expect people to do their jobs and don’t pay attention that when people feel stuck, they are likely to move on to somewhere else.
You never ask questions
Good leaders constantly ask questions. They know they don’t know everything, so they ask questions, get feedback, collect input, and learn.
Bad leaders just talk. They think they know all they need to know so they don’t ask questions.
Employees are caught by surprise by performance reviews
When an employee goes to a performance review, they should have a really good idea of what’s going to be said on their performance review. They should have had conversations and updates about their work throughout the year, and if there was an issue, that should have already been communicated.
Bad leaders may only give feedback once a year (or they do it very infrequently). Instead of discussing an issue with the person when it happens, they wait for the yearly review to discuss negative or bad areas. Often these employees go into it thinking they are doing well only to find out then that there are issues.
Good leaders provide frequent feedback. The frequency may vary depending on the person, but feedback is frequent and timely. If there is an issue, they don’t wait, they call the person in and talk with them and figure the issue out. If they do well, they don’t wait to tell them, they praise them for their success in a timely manner
You wait till the yearly performance review to give feedback
Good leaders give feedback frequently and timely. They want the best from their employees, so if there is an issue, they help the person overcome it early on.
Bad leaders avoid giving feedback. They often wait till the yearly review before letting their team or employees know how they are doing.
You never give employees feedback, so they don’t know where they stand
When employees aren’t given feedback, they may not know where they stand. They don’t know if they are doing good, bad, or mediocre. That lack of knowledge can be frustrating and lower morale.
With good leaders, employees know where they stand and keep working to grow and improve.
Employees don’t know what their job duties actually are/what their most important tasks are
As crazy as it may seem, many employees don’t really know what they are supposed to be doing. They have a basic job description, but when it comes to the day in and out, they don’t really know what they should be focusing on.
Even if they have a general idea, they may not know what their most important tasks are. They don’t know what tasks are a priority and which are secondary.
Good leaders make sure employees know what their job duties are and how to prioritize their duties.
Employees don’t know what’s expected of them
This can be related to what tasks are most important or to what detail or level the work is supposed to be at.
Good leaders set clear expectations of the task/project they are assigning. The employee/team member knows what the end product should look like when it’s due, and what’s expected.
Bad leaders give general instructions, have in their mind what they expect, and then criticize the employee for not meeting the expectations they never expressed.
You leave your employees/team uncertain and unclear
It could be that they don’t know what directions to take, what their job is, what the ultimate goal is, what the mission is, what their next steps are, how their work contributes to overall work, the importance of their work, why they do what they do, what their most important job is, what exactly their job is and isn’t, what they are graded on in their performance review, what expectations are, areas where they need to grow, areas they do well, how their job ties into the company’s vision, mission, and goal, and so on.
You only give negative feedback
Good leaders focus on the positive as much as possible. They look for areas that their employees are doing well in and praise them. They do correct them when needed, but they seek to help push them forward, not push them down.
Bad leaders do the opposite. They look for and only talk with employees about what they do wrong. They look for any slip-up or anything that’s off and makes sure to criticize it or point it out.
You don’t know how to motivate your employees
Bad leaders think if they use the carrot and the stick, they will motivate their employees to do whatever they need them to do. They may think yelling and criticizing them will motivate them, only to hurt motivation instead.
Good leaders know that while carrots and sticks work on rare occasions, in most cases, autonomy, mastery, and purpose are the major motivators that drive people. They work hard to help their team have and pursue these.
They also watch out for morale drainers, like gossip, lack of transparency and clear communication, and so on.
Your team does not feel adequately rewarded
If your team doesn’t feel they are adequately rewarded, they may begin to feel demotivated.
Good leaders know this doesn’t mean they have to offer monetary or other such rewards. They know praise is a powerful reward. They also know helping their team see the impact of their work also helps them feel rewarded and motivated.
Bad leaders continually drive their employees without any regard for recognition of their employees’ work and impact.
You have unrealistic expectations for your team
Bad leaders may have unrealistic expectations for their teams. They underestimate the time and effort it will take, and when the team doesn’t perform, they blame the team. They may even expect overtime, etc. to make up for that “failure”.
Good leaders know they may underestimate the time and effort, but they look at all sides of the issue when their team doesn’t perform. If they had unrealistic expectations, they learn from them and adjust their expectations. They also are good about listening to their team’s viewpoint about the amount of time and effort it will take.
You and your time have a constant backlog of work
This doesn’t always mean something negative. It could be that you are understaffed and overworked.
However, it could also mean that you do not know how to prioritize and/or are poor at time management (and guiding your employees in both of them as well).
If you are constantly behind because you don’t know how to organize, manage time, prioritize, and so on, you are being a bad leader.
You and/or your employees/team have problems with quality or the ability to meet commitments
If you OR your team have a problem with the level of quality or the ability to meet deadlines, that problem is on YOU. You are the one in charge, so it’s your responsibility that the level of quality and timeliness is met.
You solve everyone’s problems for them
Good leaders help their employees solve their own problems. They don’t do it for them. They know if they solve everyone’s problems, they are wasting time doing what others should be doing. They may guide them in the process and help them through it, but they are teaching and training them to be able to handle problems on their own.
Bad leaders try to do all the problem-solving themselves. As Blanchard, Oncken, and Burrows say in their book The One Minute Manger Meets the Monkey, they are taking everyone’s monkey. They get overloaded and are less productive on the items THEY should be doing because they spend so much time on the monkeys.
They are also keeping their employees from learning and growing and thinking.
You never get any work done because people keep coming to you about all their problems
There’s a line here that can be crossed. IF there are major issues, you do want people to come to talk to you about them. You want to know what is going on in your business or team.
However, you also want your team to be able to handle most of the problems they are facing. If your team is always coming to you about their problems, you’ve probably set the tone that you will solve all their problems for them, and they don’t have to solve them.
Good leaders want feedback, but they also enable and guide their teams to solve their own problems.
You have poor emotional intelligence
Daniel Goleman in his article in HBR’s 10 Must Reads On Leadership states that the most effective leaders are those with emotional intelligence.
Good leaders have good self-awareness. They recognize their emotions and, as Goleman states, “recognize how their feelings affect them, other people, and their job performance.”
Bad leaders don’t recognize when they are angry, or upset, how different events impact them, and so on.
Good leaders not only recognize their emotions but manage them. They aren’t slaves to their emotions. They feel like everyone else does, but they control how they respond to those emotions.
Good leaders have a drive to achieve. Goleman states that they “are motivated by a deeply embedded desire to achieve for the sake of achievement” and they have a “passion for the work itself – such people seek out creative challenges, love to learn, and take great pride in a job well done.”
Good leaders can recognize how others are feeling and empathize with them. Goleman states that “empathy means thoughtfully considering employees’ feelings – along with other factors – in the process of making intelligent decisions.”
Good leaders have and use good social skills. Goleman states that “It’s not a matter of friendliness…rather, is friendliness with a purpose: moving people in the direction you desire.”
Social skills are the ability to communicate and connect with others. It’s hard to be a leader and drive people forward if you don’t know how to connect and communicate with them.
You don’t take the time to consider other people’s thoughts and emotions
Good leaders also take into account people’s emotions and perspectives when making decisions. They know that a good decision that everyone hates or that brings a lot of negative emotions may not be the best decision.
They understand the importance of relationships, influence, and trust, and that showing empathy is a big part of building those.
When you speak, you are confusing and complicated
You must be able to break down concepts so others can understand.
Good leaders know that instructions should be simple and clear. When it gets long, complicated, and convoluted, people are more likely to be confused, make mistakes, or not take action at all.
You focus on problems instead of solutions
Good leaders look at the problems, they examine what they need to, but they focus on solutions. They don’t get caught up in the problem.
Bad leaders get stuck in problems. They may constantly be looking for and at problems and never see solutions.
When you are so focused on problems or finding problems, it can sometimes be hard to see solutions.
You care only about the results
Results are important, but good leaders know that when they care about their people, they get the best results.
You don’t know your strengths and weaknesses
Good leaders take time to examine themselves and know what their strengths and weaknesses are. If they don’t know, they can’t maximize their time or delegate their weaknesses.
You get caught in the details, the minutia, and don’t step back to see the bigger picture
Good leaders avoid getting caught up in the details. They make sure they can step back and see the whole picture. They know if they get caught in the details, they may not see the whole picture and then can’t direct and guide the team anymore.
Bad leaders get caught. They may feel like they have to do everything or be involved in all the details, or they get too attached to the details. Whatever the reason is, they get stuck and then can’t see the big picture.
Without the big picture, they can’t effectively guide their team in the direction they need to go.
You got defensive about some of the items on the list because they hit a little home
If you got defensive, it probably means it hit home. It may be a weakness of yours. It doesn’t mean you are a bad person, it just means you need to grow.
Don’t run from it, because then you will keep making that mistake. Instead, learn from it and do better.
You read this whole article and don’t do anything about it
If you read this article, saw some areas of work (or saw yourself as perfect), and maybe even became defensive about some, then do something with it!
If you don’t or aren’t willing, that could also be a sign.
What’s your sign?
We’ve just gone through a LOT of signs of bad leaders. Did you see yourself in any of these?
If so, don’t fret. It doesn’t mean you are a bad leader destined to be a bad leader (that’s a fixed mindset), it just means you are human (congrats) and you have room to grow.
Take what you learn and start working on these areas. Before you know it, that sign won’t be yours anymore.