HomeAnalysisCharacteristics of poor leadership

Characteristics of poor leadership

Poor leadership surrounds us, it is a fact of life. The notion that poor quality leadership has negative effects for individuals and organisations is not new.

Poor leadership is undoubtedly one of the most ubiquitous potential stressors in the workplace. We may find that the two most obvious reasons behind poor leadership are due to the fact that leaders may be abusive, aggressive, or punitive, and leaders may simply lack appropriate leadership skills.


An incompetent leader may, for example, not be comfortable with technology or may not have the foresight to see challenges on the horizon. Whatever the issue, this leader’s lack of ability will have a negative affect on the team.

Some followers may take advantage of the leader’s incompetence, while others may not perform optimally simply because the leader is incapable of challenging them to do their best. The result can be a dysfunctional team, where few goals are accomplished.


Rigid leaders, unlike incompetent leaders, are capable of doing all that is necessary for the team to succeed. In the case of a rigid leader, the problem lies in the fact that the leader is unwilling to do the things required in order for the team to succeed.

The key to the leader’s evolving role always lies in understanding what the team needs and does not need from the leader in order to perform (Katzenbach and Smith, 1993), so leaders that are not willing to adapt and evolve pose a significant threat to their team’s success. An unwillingness to change can be an attractive attribute to some followers and can lead the entire team towards solutions that are unimaginative and even counterproductive.


Even the most talented leader can lead a team to foreseeable disaster due to a lack of control. An intemperate leader is like a gifted child who is incapable of controlling his or her basic desires, thus cannot achieve the higher goals of the team. The leader’s position of power may be used as a tool to satisfy the leader’s personal desires.
The end result can be devastating to the group through the loss of time and effort on things unrelated to the end goal.


Compassion and empathy towards fellow team members is what leads to trust. Trust is essential if a team is to”be comfortable being open, even exposed, to one another around their failures, weaknesses, even fears” (Lencioni, 2005)). Teams must be able to make progress; a good leader must ”put team performance first” (Katzenbach and Smith, 1993).

A callous leader will destroy any goodwill that exists amongst team members, leading to a fundamental breakdown of trust. The result is often that nobody will be willing to take risks or put forward new ideas for fear that the leader (or the entire team) will react with contempt or scorn.


Leaders lead by example. The result of corruption is going to be more corruption. Different team members will react to this in different ways. Some may feel alienated, others may take advantage of the situation. The worst case scenario is that other team members will want to resort to similar behaviour as the leader.


This can result in the team becoming the needless enemy of people who could otherwise make valuable contributions to the work of the team. While the team may have a great working relationship internally, members are always going to feel as though they are “under siege”.


Regrettably, some of the most evil people such as Nazi Germany leader Adolf Hitler have had some of the best leadership skills. Evil leaders present a whole different problem and motivational scheme, and Iam not going to dwell on evil leaders in this installment. If you are working under an evil leader, I suggest you focus on your own welfare and get out immediately, if possible.

Work imbalance

In the case that a leader delegates work rather than balance work loads, this allows all attention to be diverted from them in case of failure. It may seem to them that they are managing their people, but in fact, they will be creating work imbalances within the group.

It can create unnecessary overtime for some and under-utilisation of others. A good manager is aware of the skill sets of all the people below them and should allocate work accordingly while trying to enhance the skills of everyone to be even more productive. (Kellerman, 2004).

Crisis manager

This happens when the leader reduces all answers to yes or no rather than explaining their reasoning. This is an example of a crisis manager who cannot think further than a few hours ahead. A yes or no manager finds it a waste of time to find the real answer through intellectual thought. They are already thinking about the next crisis. (Machiavelli, 1998).

They will not separate personal life from professional life. They will bring their personal problem to work. Working for these types of managers can be very dramatic. They are unable to separate their emotional imbalances while trying to manage people. They are less focussed and will not give you the attention and direction you need for success. (Maher, 2006).

Group humiliation

This is a clear and visible sign of a poor leader. A good leader takes employee problems away from a group setting to a more private setting. If you have a boss that does this, it is time for a visit to human resources.

Robert Mandeya is an executive coach, trainer in human capital development and corporate education, a certified leadership and professional development practitioner and founder of the Leadership Institute for Research and Development (LiRD). — robert@lird.co.zw, info@lird.co.zw or +263 772 466 925.

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