First Published on Linkedin By our Guest Contributor Robert Olszak 

Of course, the title of this article is a little tongue and cheek. Not everything I have come to know about effective leadership influence has been learned from bad bosses. However, it is sometimes easier to be acutely aware of bad leadership versus good leadership.

One of the primary responsibilities of leadership is to create more leaders. When I have consulted with organizations, they point to a lack of leadership or even bad leadership as the root cause for their mediocre results.

It is quick and effortless to cite bad leadership as the driving force for deficient performance. After all, companies link their culture to their leadership. The logical inference is that if the culture is suffering then weak leadership is at fault.

As a previous employee within a large corporation, I witnessed firsthand the impact of weak leadership. Bad bosses come in all shapes and sizes and their legacy upon a thriving enterprise can be cancerous. As I reflect upon my experiences with both effective leaders and ineffective leaders; I learned equally from those who tested my resolve with their bad managerial behaviors.

If your business has leaders with the traits below then it is time to make tough decisions about whether to invest in their development or take the necessary steps to remove them from your company. As I opened with, if your leaders are not creating the next generation of leaders then they are failing you, your employees and your customers.

Here are some of the more prevalent bad traits exhibited by weak and ineffective leaders:

1.      Ego-driven: A leader who believes they know it all and have nothing left to learn lacks the ability to contribute to the long-term success of an organization. They possess an attitude of they are always right, not to be challenged, and it is the responsibility of their team to adapt to their style. This leader is disengaged, lacks vision, and fails to inspire the actions of others towards goal attainment.

2.      Close-minded: When leaders fail to see the future, they are not equipped to grow their teams or the business. A person who cannot lead themselves will not be able to lead others. Regardless of their knowledge, resourcefulness, or business savvy; if they remain resistant to change then they will force their own undoing. This type of leader resides in their comfort zone with the belief that, “we’ve always done it this way and it has worked so there is no need for change.”

3.      Unethical: Leaders need to understand the challenges their team faces. When they become removed from the day-to-day demands of their employees’ roles and responsibilities – managing strictly by the numbers – goal attainment is an all or nothing proposition. Quickly processes are abandoned for immediate results. Unethical decisions become commonplace as the need for self-preservation is the overarching focus. Likewise, the impair the judgment of those they lead serving as a catalyst for unethical decisions at the lower levels of the organization.

4.      Pessimistic: Often ineffective leaders demonstrate an attitude of pessimism. They do not embrace new challenges. Change is met with resistance and they do not accept new or opposing views. In a climate of negativity, employees are unmotivated to work towards achieving goals. More importantly the leader misses critical opportunities to improve processes, create a culture of collaboration and drive business growth.

5.      Insecure: Insecurity is easily masked by other more familiar traits such as micro-managing, demanding perfection, blaming others for failures, making assumptions, and bullying employees. Rather than spending time with their team members they tend to spend more time behind closed doors sucking up to their boss. This type of leader will often deflect responsibility for failure and assume credit for success.

6.      Uncaring: Employees will be burden with personal emergencies. When the bottom-line takes priority over the needs of an employee, even good employees will become embittered and resentful. A leader who cannot exhibit empathy or sympathy for a distressed employee can erode the fabric of an engaged workforce. A boss who is calling an employee at the hospital to find out when they will be returning to work is clearly demonstrating that they do not care about the well-being of their employee. It sends a message that the business is more important and no employee wants to work for someone who refuses to care for their needs.

7.      Lazy: This is likely the most deceptive trait yet if you have worked for a lazy boss it is easy to spot. A lazy leader is a genius at looking busy. They move quickly throughout the office, they are always on the phone, they shuffle papers around on their desk, and will have a full calendar. The illusion is to look important without adding any true value. When you ask them a question they don’t have an intelligent answer. Employees are forced to take on additional responsibilities to compensate for their leader’s inability to work smart. Mistakes are frequent.  This type of boss subscribes to the belief that they have paid their dues and they don’t have to work as hard as everyone else beneath them.

8.      Impulsive: A leader who is impulsive lack emotional intelligence. Employees walk on pins and needles never knowing what type of mood their boss is in. Erratic tantrums, rash decisions, over-reacting, and short-sightedness plague the work environment. They have a myopic view of leadership that substantiates their sense of entitlement and abuse of power. An impulsive leader can also lack vision, diplomacy, interpersonal skills, effective communication, respect for others and self-awareness.

9.      Favoritism: At some point we have all run across a scenario where someone we work with is viewed as being the boss’s favorite. In these instances, we blame the colleague more than the leader. Favoritism as a negative trait is less about the employee on the receiving end and more about the bad leadership practices of the boss. When leaders rely on favoritism to get things done it is rooted in their own immaturity – not being able to separate work relationships from personal relationships. Favoritism can severely undercut the team morale when promotions, bonuses, recognition, and other incentives are not fairly offered.

10.  Undisciplined: An undisciplined leader fails to anticipate issues before they arise. They are more reactive than proactive. Solutions offered diagnose symptoms of problems rather than the root cause. In addition, this negative trait impairs the ability of the leader to provide effective coaching, mentoring, and training of direct reports. Like being lazy, they don’t work smart but can often be working hard. Leaders who are undisciplined do not respect their employee’s time. Meetings get rescheduled, due dates constantly change, priorities are miscommunicated, expectations change frequently, and chaos is common.

Whether you are a leader or an aspiring leader, I am certain you can add to this list of negative traits serving as a warning sign for employees who are forced to work for a bad boss. Even highly effective leaders can temporarily exhibit one of these traits but their own commitment and self-awareness will quickly redirect their behavior. Bad leaders don’t know that they are bad or more importantly don’t care that they are not effective in their ability to positively influence others.

I recently read an alarming statistic that said 77% of employees who work for a bad boss have higher levels of stress and those with leaders who use tactics like bullying are 60% more likely to suffer heart trauma. In this light, bad leadership is more detrimental then just creating a toxic work environment.

To this end, if your company is having a challenging time attracting or keeping top talent then look inside at the effectiveness of your leadership team. Do you have “bad bosses” guiding your ship? If so, it is time for quick action.

Thanks to our guest contributor:

Robert Olszak is the founder of Core Impact Consulting, with over 24-years of experience in leadership training and development. He has worked with clients both domestically and internationally providing leadership coaching to advance organizational objectives. If you have a business need requiring staff leadership development, coaching or training you can contact Robert for a free consultation at

Photo by José Martín Ramírez C on Unsplash

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