HR Insights 5 min

The Top 10 Bad Leadership Behaviors (And How to Avoid Them)

March 10, 2020

A great leader can set the tone for a team, department, or even an entire organization—their influence can help everyone else become better. Unfortunately, that is also true in reverse. Bad leadership behaviors can create a toxic environment that will have employees running for the door. Want proof? According to our research, 44 percent of people cited their boss as the primary reason they’ve left a job. Chances are you’ve had a bad leader at some point, too—but hopefully, you’ve never been one. But if you’re worried, keep reading to find out what employees rank as the top 10 bad leadership behaviors and learn how to avoid them.

What Are Some Bad Leadership Behaviors?

According to the BambooHR Bad Boss Index, here are the top 10 things a bad leader does:

  1. Takes credit for employees’ work
  2. Lacks trust in employees
  3. Overworks people
  4. Refuses to advocate for employees’ compensation
  5. Hires or promotes the wrong people
  6. Shifts blame in disputes between employees and clients
  7. Fails to provide direction
  8. Micromanges
  9. Focuses on employees’ weaknesses more than their strengths
  10. Fails to set clear expectations

FAQs About Bad Leadership Behaviors

Have questions about bad leadership behaviors and what can be done about them? BambooHR has the answers. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions (and their answers) employers tend to have about bad leadership behaviors.

What Communication Skills Are Important for Leaders?

If leaders are going to be effective and successful in their position, they need to have advanced communication skills that adapt to different communication styles of different audiences.

To do this, you must first understand how you typically communicate your vision and ideas. When you speak, observe how others respond to you to get an idea if they respond positively. If they don’t seem to be listening or engaged, you may not be communicating in a way that suits your audience.

Second, you must know your audience, and experiment with different communication styles for each. For example:

  • Analytical communicators are logical thinkers and love data and specific details. Therefore, don’t simply say, “Sales are positive.” Instead, say something like, “Sales over the last quarter have grown by 5.2%.”
  • Intuitive communicators look at the broader picture on a high level. They like to stick to main topics and avoid details.
  • Functional communicators love to take things step by step, from start to finish. Ask them follow-up questions, and be prepared for them to ask them as well.
  • Personal communicators value relationships and emotional language. Be a good listener and a great diplomat for them.

Eight essential communication skills of good leaders include having the ability to:

  1. Use your critical thinking skills to assess the areas that are most lacking so you can focus on them first. There must also be constant learning, discipline, and a knack for handling criticism or conflict.
  2. Be an active listener. Knowing when to listen (and actually doing it) is very important as a leader. It shows you care about others’ thoughts and feedback. To be an active listener, eliminate distractions, don’t interrupt, invite collaboration, ask questions, and take notes.
  3. Break down communication barriers and welcome transparency. Speaking openly about challenges and mistakes fosters an environment of empowerment, experimentation, and trust between you as a leader and your employees.
  4. Have clarity and speak in specifics. Speak clearly and provide specific examples in your instructions and explanations. This can dampen confusion and set up your team for success.
  5. Ask open-ended questions. Such questions have a way of sparking thoughtful introspection and consideration before answers are given. As a result, leaders will get better, more honest answers from their team members.
  6. Empathize with employees’ experiences and feelings. Empathy improves communication by building a better culture based on trust and teamwork.
  7. Show openness through body language. Leaders don’t just communicate through words—they communicate through nonverbal cues. Some tips to convey warmth and friendliness around others are to make eye contact, unfurrow the brow, and smile.
  8. Receive feedback graciously and take quick action on it. It doesn’t help to ask for feedback if you respond with annoyance, anger, or resentment. Be sure to thank others for their feedback, let them know they’ve been heard, and get to work improving on what was suggested.

What Causes Poor Leadership Behaviors?

Most poor leadership isn’t intentional, but it can be easy to fall into bad habits. Here are some common root causes of poor leadership behaviors:

  • A poor attitude
  • The expectation that knowledge is all that’s needed
  • Busyness to the point of inefficiency
  • Ignorance of problems or obliviousness to morale
  • Passing on the responsibility to others
  • A failure to serve

How Can You Improve as a Leader?

Oftentimes, encouragement and patience is all that you need to improve as a leader. But sometimes, more drastic steps must be taken to get the results your organization needs from you.

Here’s what you can do to improve as a leader:

  1. Figure out why you’re struggling. What are the contributing factors both inside and outside the office? There can be a variety of stressors that contribute to a lack of engagement or commitment to good leadership behaviors.
  2. Evaluate your tasks to understand whether or not you feel overwhelmed with your professional responsibilities. Talk to your superior about your challenges and how they affect their expectations.
  3. Ask for training, a mentor, and ongoing support. Encouragement and patience really help you develop your own style as a leader, improve your skills, and gain confidence in leading others.

How to Avoid the Top Ten Bad Leadership Behaviors

Even if you recognize some of those poor leadership behaviors in yourself, it’s not hopeless. Try some of these ways to reverse and avoid those behaviors.

1. Give Your Employees Credit

Imagine being an employee who put in their absolute best work and extra hours of time on an assignment and then…your leader takes all the credit in the next company meeting. Ouch.

As a leader, you might think that when you look good, the whole team looks good, but try thinking of it the other way around: When your team looks good, it shows you’re doing an excellent job of leading them. Even a little recognition goes a long way, so keep track of who is working on what and be sure the people who put in the extra effort get the pat on the back they deserve.

2. Trust Your Employees

Unless you hired people for the wrong reasons (another poor leadership behavior) you hired your employees because they are smart, capable people who have the right skills to do their work. Trust them to do it! If an employee gives you a reason to not trust them, have a conversation and try to get things back on track. Trust goes both ways; the more trust you put in your employees, the more they will trust your guidance.

3. Allow Your People to Take a Break

Getting assignments shipped on time and done well is important; it’s what employees are getting paid to do. But people have friends and family and hobbies, too. Plus, everyone needs a break sometimes. Stanford University Graduate School of Business reported that burnout costs the United States $190 billion in health care expenses, as well as 120,000 stress-attributed deaths. So you aren’t doing your company any favors by asking your people to burn the midnight oil.

Be realistic about what your employees can get done, encourage them to use their PTO, and when you notice an employee has been putting in excessive overtime, have a one-on-one with them about how you can help them manage their workload.

4. Have Open Communication About Compensation

As a leader, you need to be prepared to talk to your employees about compensation. You also need to either fight for them to get the pay they deserve or be able to communicate to them why they’re paid what they’re paid. When it comes to compensation conversations, leaders should be prepared to:

  • Give context about how and why decisions regarding compensation are made
  • Ask questions about your employees’ career goals so you can help them get where they want to go
  • Check in on employees after a raise is given or if one is denied

5. Share Reasoning for New Hires or Promotions

This one is tricky because “wrong” can be subjective. What your employees might see as bad leadership behavior could be a difference of opinion, but if you make sure employees are equally considered for promotions and you’re thoughtful about who you bring onto your team and why, it’s less likely you’ll be seen as a bad boss. When someone is hired or promoted, it is good practice to share the reasoning behind your decision with the rest of your team. Not only does this ease doubts among your people, but it can show them how they can progress in their own careers.

6. Own Decisions Between Employees and Clients

Is the client always right? Are your employees always right? The reality is, neither of them is always right—and this is another place where communication is key. Your employees want you to have their back, but if you get put in a situation where you need to side with a client, communicate openly with your employees regarding your decision and don’t throw anyone under the bus. A great leader doesn’t shift the blame; they take responsibility for the actions of their employees.

7. Create a Clear Path for the Team

As a leader, you should be setting a clear path for the team. When you see an opportunity to teach your employee something new, go for it! People want to learn under your leadership and will value you as a mentor if you can help them grow their careers. As a good leader, you should be able to give critical feedback that helps your employees progress, not just say what makes people happy.

8. Set Employees Free to Do Great Work

You’re not your employees’ babysitter and they’re not interested in being babysat. As a leader, you are there to provide initial direction and insight, not to hover over every step of your employees’ projects. What matters most is their final product; how they get there, for the most part, is up to them. Discuss with your employees how much they want you to be involved in certain projects. Whether it’s something new or something they’ve done 1,000 times, they deserve the chance to do amazing work on their own.

13 Ways to Get Employee Reward and Recognition Right
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9. Give Employees Praise for Their Strengths

According to Harvard Business Review, the ideal praise to criticism ratio is 5:1. It would be overkill to keep track, but if you are regularly giving your employees praise, they’ll be more receptive when you need to offer constructive criticism.

 10. Help Employees Set and Achieve Goals

Employees should know what is expected of them from day one. Start by setting goals during the onboarding process, and continue by setting new goals and checking in with employees during one-on-ones.

Communication is the Key to Good Leadership

You’ve probably noticed that a running theme for correcting these poor leadership behaviors is communication. One of the best practices you can implement as a leader is regular one-on-ones with your employees. This opens up a dialogue between you and your employees so they can tell you how things are going on their end and you can give each other constructive feedback. Show your employees you care about them, their career goals, and what they want from their jobs. It will go a long way toward creating a positive experience for both of you.

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Danielle Cronquist

Danielle Cronquist is a copywriter for BambooHR. Her six years as a professional writer are supported by a degree in English with a minor in editing. At BambooHR, she focuses on creating content that gives people the tools and knowledge they need to do great work and create great workplaces.