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General Leadership

7 Traits of Bad Leadership: How to Recognize and Address


The vast and complex world of leadership comprises a multitude of traits and characteristics that can drive success or lead to ultimate failure. Being an exceptional leader can inspire and motivate, but the impacts of bad leadership can lead to damaging effects on teams and organizations. Recognizing and understanding these traits is foundational to effective leadership. Let’s explore becoming better, more informed leaders.

Trait 1: Lack of Vision

person holding eyeglasses
Photo by David Travis

One of the key traits of bad leadership is a lack of vision. A leader without a clear vision is like a ship without a rudder, drifting aimlessly in the sea. A lack of vision can cause confusion and demotivation among team members, as they are unsure of where the organization is heading or how their work contributes to the bigger [1] picture.

Without a clear vision, employees may feel lost and disconnected from their work. They may struggle to find meaning and purpose in what they do, leading to decreased engagement and productivity. A leader needs to be able to articulate a compelling vision that inspires and guides their team towards a common goal.

To address this trait of bad leadership, leaders should take the time to develop a clear vision for their organization. They need to think about the long-term goals and objectives and communicate them effectively to their team. By sharing a compelling vision, leaders can inspire and motivate their employees, giving them a sense of purpose and direction.

In addition to developing a vision, leaders should also provide regular updates and feedback to ensure that the team is aligned with the overall goals. They should communicate the vision in a way that resonates with each team member, highlighting how their individual contributions are essential to achieving the shared objectives.

Leaders should also be open to feedback and allow their team members to contribute to the vision. By involving employees in the process, leaders can foster a sense of ownership and commitment to the vision, increasing their engagement and motivation.

Overall, a lack of vision is a significant trait of bad leadership that can have detrimental effects on the organization. Addressing this issue requires developing a clear and compelling vision that inspires and guides the team towards a common goal. By effectively communicating the vision and involving employees in the process, leaders can create a sense of purpose, leading to increased engagement and productivity.

Trait 2: Lack of Self-awareness

One of the most significant traits that contribute to bad leadership is a lack of self-awareness. Leaders who lack self-awareness are unaware of how their actions and behaviors impact others and may have a distorted perception of their own strengths and weaknesses. This lack of self-awareness can lead to a host of negative consequences for both the leader and their team.

When leaders are not self-aware, they may exhibit behaviors that are off-putting to others, such as being overly critical, dismissive of others’ ideas, or unapproachable. They may also have difficulty receiving feedback and may become defensive or resistant to making changes.

Additionally, leaders who lack self-awareness may struggle to understand the impact of their actions on their team members. They may inadvertently create a toxic work environment by failing to recognize and address issues, or they may be unaware of the level of stress or dissatisfaction among their team.

To address the lack of self-awareness in leadership, it is crucial for leaders to engage in self-reflection and seek feedback from others. By taking the time to reflect on their own actions and behaviors, leaders can gain a better understanding of how they are perceived by others and identify areas for improvement.

Leaders should also actively seek feedback from their team members and be open to receiving constructive criticism. This feedback can provide valuable insights into blind spots and areas for growth.

Leaders should make an effort to create a safe and supportive environment where team members feel comfortable providing feedback. By creating a culture that values open and honest communication, leaders can encourage their team to share their perspectives and help them become more self-aware.

Finally, leaders can engage in professional development opportunities, such as leadership training or executive coaching, to further develop their self-awareness and leadership skills. These programs can provide valuable insights and tools to help leaders become more effective and self-aware in their roles.

Lack of self-awareness is a significant trait of bad leadership. Leaders who are not self-aware may struggle to understand their impact on others and may exhibit behaviors that are detrimental to their team. By cultivating self-awareness through self-reflection, seeking feedback, and engaging in professional development, leaders can address this trait of bad leadership and become more effective in their roles.

Trait 3: Ego-driven Behavior

One of the most common traits of bad leadership is ego-driven behavior. When leaders let their egos take control, it can have a detrimental impact on both themselves and their team.

Signs of Ego-Driven Behavior to Watch Out For

1. Taking credit for others’ work

A leader who constantly seeks recognition and takes credit for their team’s achievements is exhibiting ego-driven behavior. This can create a toxic work environment and demoralize team members.

2. Refusing to accept feedback

Ego-driven leaders often believe they know best and are resistant to feedback or suggestions from others. They may dismiss the ideas or opinions of their team, hindering collaboration and innovation.

3. Micromanaging

When a leader micromanages every aspect of their team’s work, it shows a lack of trust and a need for control. This behavior undermines the autonomy and creativity of team members and can result in decreased productivity.

4. Ignoring the needs of others

Ego-driven leaders are often more focused on their own needs and priorities than the needs of their team. They may ignore the concerns or ideas of others, leading to resentment and disengagement among team members.

5. Making decisions based on personal gain

Leaders who make decisions solely based on what will benefit them personally are exhibiting ego-driven behavior. This can result in decisions that are not in the best interest of the team or organization.

Steps Leaders Can Take to Overcome Their Ego-Driven Tendencies

1. Practice humility

Recognize that you are not the sole source of success and acknowledge the contributions of others. Take time to reflect on your own limitations and be open to feedback and suggestions from your team.

2. Empower your team

Trust your team members to make decisions and take ownership of their work. Delegate tasks and responsibilities, allowing others to contribute and grow. This will foster a sense of autonomy and ownership among team members.

3. Seek diverse perspectives

Actively seek out different perspectives and opinions, and listen to feedback from your team. Create an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas and concerns.

4. Focus on the bigger picture

Shift your focus away from personal gain and prioritize the needs of the team and organization. Make decisions based on what will benefit the team as a whole, rather than just yourself.

By addressing ego-driven behavior and prioritizing the needs of the team, leaders can create a more positive and productive work environment. This will ultimately lead to better outcomes for both the team and the organization as a whole.

Trait 4: Dishonesty: the Downfall of Many Leaders

One of the most detrimental traits of bad leadership is dishonesty. When leaders lack integrity and engage in deceitful behavior, it can have serious consequences for both employees and the organization as a whole.

Dishonest leaders put their own interests above the needs of the team and the organization. They may lie, cheat, or manipulate information to achieve their own personal gain. This behavior not only erodes trust within the team but also undermines the overall credibility and reputation of the leader.

When leaders lack integrity, it creates a toxic work environment where employees feel undervalued and exploited. They become demoralized and disengaged, leading to decreased productivity and an increase in turnover. Employees want to work for leaders who are honest, transparent, and trustworthy.

Dishonesty also has a ripple effect on the organization as a whole. When leaders engage in unethical behavior, it can lead to legal ramifications and reputational harm. Customers, clients, and stakeholders lose trust in the organization, which can have long-lasting consequences for the business.

To address this trait of bad leadership, leaders must prioritize integrity and honesty in their actions and behaviors. They should lead by example and hold themselves accountable for their actions. This means admitting mistakes, taking responsibility, and being transparent in their communications.

Leaders should create a culture of honesty and openness, where employees feel comfortable speaking up and providing feedback. They should actively listen to their team members and address any concerns or issues that arise. By fostering a culture of integrity, leaders can rebuild trust and create a positive work environment where employees can thrive.

Dishonesty is a major red flag for bad leadership. It erodes trust, undermines productivity, and damages the overall reputation of the leader and the organization. By prioritizing integrity and honesty, leaders can create a positive work environment that fosters trust, engagement, and success.

Trait 5: Lack of Accountability

Leaders who exhibit traits of bad leadership often lack accountability for their actions. They fail to take responsibility for their mistakes, refuse to acknowledge their shortcomings, and avoid the consequences of their poor leadership. This lack of accountability can have a detrimental impact on the organization and its employees.

One common trait of bad leadership is poor communication. Leaders who fail to effectively communicate expectations or provide clear feedback demonstrate a lack of accountability for their role in fostering a healthy and productive work [3] environment. They dodge difficult conversations, ignore employee concerns, and create an atmosphere of confusion and conflict.

Another characteristic of bad leadership is a lack of integrity. Leaders who lack integrity fail to set a good example for their employees and disregard ethical standards. They may engage in dishonest behavior, take credit for others’ work, or manipulate information to further their own interests. This lack of accountability for their actions erodes trust, damages the organization’s reputation, and undermines employee morale.

Indecisiveness is another sign of bad leadership and a lack of accountability. Leaders who struggle to make decisions or constantly change course without clear justifications leave their team members feeling uncertain and unsupported. This lack of accountability for their decision-making creates frustration and impedes progress.

Failure to delegate authority is yet another trait of bad leadership. Leaders who are unwilling to delegate tasks or give their team members autonomy demonstrate a lack of trust and accountability. They may micromanage their employees, stifle creativity, and hinder individual growth and development.

Resistance to change is also characteristic of bad leadership and a lack of accountability. Leaders who refuse to embrace new ideas or innovative approaches hinder the organization’s ability to adapt and thrive in a changing landscape. Their unwillingness to take risks and explore new possibilities demonstrates a lack of accountability for the organization’s growth and success.

Lastly, bad leaders often struggle with conflict resolution and avoiding conflict altogether. They fail to address conflicts within the team or between team members, allowing tensions to escalate and negatively impact morale and productivity. This lack of accountability for addressing and resolving conflict creates a toxic work environment and [2] further damages relationships.

It is essential for leaders to recognize and take accountability for their actions and the impact they have on their employees and the organization as a whole. By acknowledging their mistakes, seeking feedback, and actively working to improve, leaders can demonstrate their commitment to personal and professional growth. This accountability is crucial for fostering a healthy work environment, promoting employee engagement and satisfaction, and driving organizational success.

Trait 6: Inflexibility

One of the key traits of bad leadership is inflexibility. Leaders who are inflexible in their approach and unwilling to adapt can have a detrimental impact on their team and the organization as a whole.

Signs That a Leader May Be Inflexible

1. Resistance to Change

Inflexible leaders are often resistant to change, clinging to traditional methods and strategies. They may be unwilling to consider new ideas or approaches, which can hinder innovation and prevent the organization from keeping pace with industry trends.

2. Lack of Adaptability

Leaders who are inflexible may struggle to adapt to new circumstances or unexpected challenges. They may stick to predetermined plans or routines even when they are no longer effective. This rigidity can limit the organization’s ability to respond to evolving situations and can leave employees feeling frustrated and unheard.

3. Reliance on Control

Inflexible leaders often feel the need to maintain strict control over processes and decisions. They may be hesitant to delegate tasks or empower others, fearing a loss of control. This micromanagement style can stifle creativity, hinder employee growth, and limit the overall effectiveness of the team.

4. Difficulty Embracing Different Perspectives

Inflexible leaders may have difficulty accepting and incorporating different perspectives or feedback. They may dismiss ideas or suggestions that don’t align with their own opinions, leading to a lack of collaboration and stifling a culture of innovation and inclusivity.

Strategies to Become a More Flexible and Adaptable Leader

1. Embrace Change

Start by recognizing the value of change and the importance of staying agile in a dynamic business environment. Make a conscious effort to be open to new ideas and approaches, and encourage your team to do the same.

2. Seek Input and Feedback

Actively solicit input and feedback from your team members and colleagues. Be open to different perspectives and consider their suggestions. This not only promotes a culture of collaboration but also allows you to gain valuable insights and make more informed decisions.

3. Empower Others

Learn to delegate tasks and empower your team members to take ownership of their work. Trusting others to take on responsibilities and make decisions allows you to focus on strategic initiatives and fosters a sense of autonomy and growth within your team.

4. Continuously Learn and Grow

Stay curious and committed to your own personal and professional growth. Continuously seek out opportunities for learning, whether through reading, attending workshops or conferences, or seeking mentorship. This commitment to growth will help you stay flexible and adaptable in the face of new challenges.

Trait 7: Poor Communication Skills

black corded telephone
Photo by Quino Al

One of the most prominent traits of bad leadership is poor communication skills. When leaders struggle to communicate effectively, it can lead to a host of problems within an organization. Here are some common communication issues that contribute to bad leadership:

1. Lack of Clarity

Poor leaders fail to clearly convey their expectations or provide adequate feedback to their team. This lack of clarity can result in mistakes, low-quality work, and conflict among employees.

2. Ineffective Listening

Bad leaders often have poor listening skills and fail to truly hear and understand their employees. When leaders don’t listen, they miss out on valuable insights and perspectives that could help the team function better.

3. Lack of Feedback

Giving feedback is essential for employee growth and development, but bad leaders neglect this important aspect of leadership. Without feedback, employees don’t know how to improve or reach their full potential.

4. Poor Conflict Resolution

Conflict is unavoidable in any workplace, but bad leaders have difficulty resolving conflicts in a healthy and productive manner. This can lead to damaged relationships among team members and a toxic work environment.

5. Unprofessional or Inappropriate Communication

Bad leaders may engage in unprofessional behavior, such as making inappropriate comments or gestures. This kind of communication creates a hostile work environment and undermines trust and respect.

6. Failure to Communicate Vision and Goals

Effective leaders ensure that employees know and understand the organization’s vision and goals. Bad leaders, however, fail to communicate these important elements, leaving employees feeling lost and unmotivated.

Improving communication skills is crucial for addressing these issues and becoming a better leader. By actively listening, providing clear feedback, and fostering open and respectful communication, leaders can create a positive and productive work environment. Additionally, leaders should seek professional development opportunities to further enhance their communication skills and become more effective leaders.

Understanding and recognizing the traits of bad leadership is a critical step towards fostering a positive and productive work environment. It’s important to remember that leadership is not just about getting the job done but also about building relationships, creating an atmosphere of trust, and promoting personal and professional growth among team members.

Ultimately, good leadership is about putting the needs of the team first, driving towards a compelling vision, and creating an environment where everyone can thrive. So, let’s keep learning, growing, and leading with purpose and integrity. Together, we can create a brighter and better tomorrow for our organizations.


[1] 15 Ways To Identify Bad Leaders
[2] Impact of Toxic Leadership on Employee Performance – PMC
[3] Measuring the Impact of a Bad Boss – Training Industry

Max Johnson

Max Johnson is currently a Vice President at a Fortunate 100 company. He has also held multiple leadership positions at two startups previously. When he is not busy working, you can find him surfing at the beach or skiing in the mountains.

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