How to Spot the Warning Signs of Bad Leadership in 10 Ways

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 12 October 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Leaders are important people in the workplace who usually hold management-level positions with decision-making power and authority. They may lead teams and assign duties to different members of the organisation, impacting their overall career growth and progress. Learning how to recognise poor leadership can help you to prevent a decrease in workplace morale, productivity and motivation. In this article, we explain what poor leadership is and discuss how to spot the warning signs of bad leadership in an organisation.

Related: Important Roles and Responsibilities of a Team Leader

What is bad leadership?

Bad leadership typically refers to a leadership style that doesn't encourage team members to work together to achieve strategic goals and negatively affects their overall performance. Leaders have a direct impact on the team members they oversee, and their actions can affect their morale and determination to meet organisational goals. Poor leadership can lead to lower employee retention rates and productivity levels.

Related: Boss vs. Leader: What's the Difference?

How to spot warning signs of bad leadership

If you're wondering how to spot the warning signs of bad leadership, below are ten behaviours that poor leaders might exhibit:

1. Look out for reluctance to confront issues and formulate solutions

Team members often look to leaders for guidance and direction, especially during times of conflict. Organisations expect leaders to resolve conflicts and find effective solutions to problems because leaders typically possess more experience than their team members and subordinates. A good leader stimulates productive discussions with their team and respects their opinions. They promptly address problems and try to prevent them from escalating.

An ineffective leader may avoid responsibility when it comes to resolving issues. This type of leader leaves their team members to formulate solutions on their own rather than helping them to brainstorm new ideas and solutions. This lack of guidance can lead to frequent misunderstandings. Instead of using conflict as an opportunity for internal discussions to improve a project's output, poor leaders avoid it.

Related: 7 Team Leader Interview Questions (With Sample Answers)

2. Identify lack of self-motivation in developing skills

It's important for leaders to actively pursue personal and professional development and growth. Self-development promotes sustained career growth, and this can affect a leader's actions towards their team members. A leader who seeks self-improvement often encourages others to do the same. Self-motivated leaders find ways to improve their skills, whether it's through courses, certifications or gathering feedback from their team members.

A poor leader disregards opportunities for growth and improvement. This can affect a team's potential for growth and progress.

Related: Leader vs. Manager: 8 Key Differences between Both Roles

3. Observe self-serving behaviour in advancing their own careers

A team relies on their leader for guidance. In return, a leader relies on their team to fulfil organisational objectives and meet targets. Good leaders often focus on how the entire team can advance their careers and achieve their personal and professional goals. They refrain from taking credit for good work or attributing their team's success to themselves. This type of leader can motivate team members to achieve organisational goals.

An ineffective leader is someone who focuses on their own gains and considers how they can get the most out of any professional situation. Instead of caring about their team members' well-being, they're quick to blame them when problems and conflicts arise.

Related: 15 Leadership Qualities You Need to Be a Great Leader

4. Assess lack of accountability and responsibility

Being a leader often means taking responsibility for team members' actions and accepting the consequences of their mistakes. Good leaders usually reflect on their own actions and consider how their managerial actions and decisions have a direct impact on their team members. This can cause a positive impact on the company's overall culture and retention rate. It can also help them to gain their team members' respect. A poor leader's first action is usually to find someone to blame when problems arise instead of reflecting on how they're accountable for issues.

Related: What Is Leadership Communication? (Definition and Examples)

5. Look out for poor work ethic and low efficiency

A good leader leads by example and motivates and inspires those around them through their actions. They do their best to complete tasks efficiently and focus on achieving team goals. They refrain from acting unethically, even if it benefits them. Team members often observe their leaders' passion, work ethic and effort. This can influence their own actions and motivation to meet organisational goals. An ineffective leader has a poor work ethic. They might not adhere to deadlines and appear lazy.

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6. Watch for failure to apply effective listening skills

Interpersonal communication and active listening skills are key leadership traits. They allow leaders to gain insight into their team's focus, motivations and career objectives. Effective leaders usually spend time getting to know their team members better. They understand their team members and value their opinions on various matters. They also consider advice and input from their team members to make the right decisions in the workplace.

Ineffective leaders with poor listening skills often only consider their own opinion and disregard the opinions of others. This can lead to poor decision-making on projects and inefficiencies within the organisation.

Related: How to Improve Leadership Skills: Guideline and Tips

7. Identify treating people without empathy

An effective leader focuses on productivity levels and overall output without neglecting their team members' well-being. Empathy is important because it allows leaders to understand their team on a more personal level. This enables them to understand their personalities and actions. It also helps them guide their team members to achieve their career goals.

A bad leader who lacks empathy is quick to judge others. They don't take the time to listen to their team or try to understand them. This prevents them from formulating practical solutions to challenges that their team faces. It also affects their team's professional growth.

Related: What Is People Management? (Plus How to Develop Your Skills)

8. Observe the tendency to micromanage team members

An effective leader typically allows their team members to learn and grow at their own pace. Team members can brainstorm new ideas and think about how they can improve their work independently. This level of trust often results in stronger workplace relationships.

Ineffective leaders who possess micromanaging traits often lack trust in their team and their own leadership capabilities. They may expect team members to follow their direction and enforce regular check-ins on every aspect of their work. This distrust is harmful to the team's morale. Micromanagers typically result in a lack of progress and professional growth because team members may lack the freedom to propose new ideas and find new ways to do things.

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9. Assess if they're leading without a vision

Having a vision for the future is important because it allows leaders to track their team's growth and motivates them to work towards a common goal that benefits everyone in the organisation. Effective leaders focus on meeting future goals and objectives by creating plans and schedules. They consider their team's long-term goals and often inspire their team members to follow their plans.

Without a vision and action plan, team members may feel lost and confused. They may not be able to find a purpose in their jobs. Circumstances often change in the workplace, and it's important for leaders to adjust their vision and plans accordingly. Bad leaders may follow trends and other poor behaviours instead of creating a unique vision that suits their team's talents and skills.

10. Observe the level of respect for team members

Mutual respect between a leader and their team is important in establishing effective lines of communication. A good leader promotes this by considering and respecting their team members' personal and professional boundaries. This can include setting limits on the hours that team members can work overtime or during breaks. Good leaders also display respect through humility and self-awareness.

Bad leaders often demand respect instead of earning it through their actions. They may become easily frustrated or annoyed and display negative emotions in front of their team. They may also disregard their team members' opinions and appear aggressive.

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