Leadership

The 5 Worst Leadership Qualities: How Many Does Your Boss Have?

A positive attitude isn't always a great look for a leader.
The 5 Worst Leadership Qualities: How Many Does Your Boss Have?
Image credit: courtneyk | Getty Images
Entrepreneur Staff
Associate Editor
7 min read

Sometimes, good intentions backfire. Your boss might think they’re displaying impeccable leadership qualities by being a cheerleader, always insisting the team can succeed, even though consistent success is a pipe dream at best.

They might want to give employees freedom but end up not providing enough guidance. They might only want to help an employee with a task, and then another, until a pattern of micromanaging emerges. They might want to be consistent at the expense of adapting to someone’s needs or changing circumstances.

Related: 22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Read on to learn about five leadership qualities that research has shown define bad bosses and do more harm than good in the workplace.

1. Absenteeism

A smart leader delegates tasks, public appearances, important announcements and other managerial duties. But if your boss is never around or simply doesn’t manage, chances are you’ll be dissatisfied at work. 

It’s far less common to work for bosszilla than to work for the opposite: someone who shrugs their shoulders and doesn’t take charge, according to a study published in the British Journal of Management. But this type of leader isn’t just at fault for having a laissez-faire attitude. This person reaps the perks of being the head honcho without taking any of the responsibility. Employees of these leaders are even more dissatisfied in the long term than those who work for “tyrannical” types, according to a study published in Zeitschrift für Psychologie.

If you’re not getting direction or feedback from your boss, you might be faced with more big, stressful decisions or confusion about your day-to-day responsibilities. You might not have an idea of how to advance within your organization. If there are interpersonal conflicts among you and your colleagues, but no one is mediating them, that might be another source of stress. 

“Because absentee leaders don’t actively make trouble, their negative impact on organizations can be difficult to detect, and when it is detected, it often is considered a low-priority problem,” writes Scott Gregory, CEO of Hogan Assessment Systems, in Harvard Business Review. “Thus, absentee leaders are often silent organization killers.” 

2. Optimism

Obviously, if a leader thinks their company is doomed to fail, that attitude likely won’t sustain a business. But a leader with too much of a sunshiney demeanor, despite the reality around them, might seem out of touch if they try to spearhead overly ambitious projects.

Further, a Quartz article on the topic of optimism in leadership cites Liz Wiseman, CEO of the Wiseman Group, who explains that overly optimistic leaders can be “accidental diminishers.” This means that, even though they don’t intend to, they might be diminishing the hard work employees are doing. If they insist lofty goals are achievable but don’t acknowledge the work it’s going to take, employees might feel like their efforts aren’t valued. They also might feel paralyzed by their boss’s unrealistic expectations.

Often, a leader’s can-do attitude results in stepping in to do damage control at the first sign of distress. If an employee lets a manager know that they’ve encountered a problem, an optimistic leader might immediately begin assisting them, because they know the solution and are sure everything will be all right. But that might make the employee upset, because they merely wanted the boss to know that the problem had come up and to empathize, with no implication that they didn’t know how to solve it.

Related: 5 Keys to Inspiring Leadership, No Matter Your Style

3. Micromanagement

Controlling bosses who always have to be involved, don’t delegate enough and check in with employees incessantly are among the worst types of leaders. 

Career site Comparably recently conducted a survey of more than 2,000 employees, primarily working in tech, and found that most respondents picked “micromanager” as the top offense, followed by “overly critical” and “disorganized.”

A study from Indiana University's Kelley School of Business found that “people in high-demand jobs who also had a high degree of control over their work lives had a 34 percent decrease in the likelihood of death compared with people in less demanding jobs,” according to The Chicago Tribune. 

Some micromanagers go to the extreme, monitoring employees’ bathroom breaks and even rewarding co-workers for reporting idleness on the job, NPR reports. However, this behavior can make employees less motivated, less creative, resentful, destructive and more likely to quit. From there, turnover costs come into play.

Ultimately, when workers have autonomy at work, they’re more likely to experiment and devise creative solutions. Even the peskiest micromanagers understand this, though. That’s why some bosses empower and encourage their employees to make decisions for themselves, but as soon as trouble arises (such as in the optimistic leader example above), the micromanager can’t help but take back the reins. This erodes trust between leaders and employees.

Related: Develop These 5 Skills to Become a Tremendous Leader

4. Over-criticalness

Even if criticism is constructive, leaders should be wary of correcting their employees’ behavior too often. As leadership consultant Jake Zenger notes in Harvard Business Review, it’s likely that delivering more praise than criticism is effective, but no one has been able to pin down the ideal balance between the two. 

But there’s more to it than just saying, “Good job!” In a 2013 CNN interview, Zenger points out that leaders should take extreme care when doling out critiques. For one, they shouldn’t do it on the spot -- they should plan a separate, private time to chat, sandwiching the piece of negative feedback between reassurances that they value the employee’s efforts. They should also be specific, work happiness expert Alexander Kjerulf tells CNN.

There’s plenty for employees to learn from praise. If they know they’re on the right track, they’ll replicate their actions or maintain the status quo to continue delivering the desired results. But a little bit of negative feedback is important, too; it just requires a delicate balance. 

5. Inflexibility.

You’re likely familiar with the concept that, when dealing with people, you have to be a bit of a social chameleon. A one-size-fits-all leadership style doesn’t work, and bosses have to adapt to individual employees’ communication styles and personalities, as well as situations. 

U.K.-based management consultancy Hay Group conducted a study in which they found that inflexible leaders make workers less motivated. The researchers analyzed the behavior of 14,000 leaders in 400 organizations over a seven-year period and found that 38 percent had mastered none or only one leadership style. They identified six possible leadership styles -- coercive, authoritative, affiliative, democratic, pacesetting and coaching -- as defined by emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman.

As workplace expert Lindsey Pollak notes on her blog, leaders can demonstrate flexibility by asking questions of their employees, such as, “How often do you like feedback?” and “What can I do to help further your professional development goals?” Obviously, you can’t please everyone, especially in a large organization, but in those cases, Pollak notes, leaders should be open about the rationale behind their decision.

As technology and culture evolve, leaders should also be willing to adapt to position their company for success. The idea of “This is the way we’ve always done things” isn’t forward-thinking.

Related video: This Entrepreneur Knows What Not to Do When It Comes to Leading a Team

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