General, Strategy

What is Bad Leadership? Unveiling the Dark Side of Management Practices

what is bad leadership unveiling the dark side of management practices

Having strong leaders in your company is key to a great work culture, meeting targets and just generally enjoying the everyday running of your business. A stumbling block you might encounter when growing and building your team is that not all leaders inspire positive growth for your business. In fact, you might be starting to wonder if you have a bad apple in your core leadership group. Don’t dismiss it. It’s important that you face things while they are still small, which is why this article is dedicated to this very question: What is bad leadership and how does it manifest within a team or organisation? 

Bad leadership is characterised by a range of negative traits and behaviours, such as lack of communication, micromanaging, and resistance to change, which demotivate team members, hinder productivity, and create a toxic work environment.

If you are like me, you experienced bad leadership before you started your own business and made a promise to do things differently. I hated my corporate job… though I didn’t hate the safety of money in my bank every fortnight. But here’s the thing, you got money in your account no matter how well you did – or didn’t do. If you didn’t have a strong work ethic, no worries, you could just ride in the wake of everyone doing the hard yards, and you’d probably get promoted for it, because no smart business owner is going to take great workers out of the line-up. That was my motivation for quitting corporate and striking it out on my own, to get away from that toxic culture where bad team members were promoted to bad leaders. But that doesn’t mean small businesses are immune to rotten leadership.

In this article, we’ll explore what bad leadership is, including all the gory details that help you identify any issues you may have within your team with common traits. We’ll finish it off with some actionable insights on how to steer clear from its detrimental path, ensuring a healthy, motivated, and thriving team.

What Is Bad Leadership: Unmasking the Dark Side

Bad leadership is when the person in charge makes things harder for their team instead of easier. They might ignore feedback, avoid responsibility, and make decisions that seem to lack clear reasoning. It’s like having a captain who doesn’t listen to their crew, changes course without warning, and then blames everyone else when the ship starts sinking. It creates a work environment that can feel frustrating, confusing, and sometimes even toxic.

Let’s take a look at what traits you need to watch out for:

Erosion of Communication

One of the most glaring traits of bad leadership is the erosion of communication. Effective communication is the linchpin that holds the team together, ensuring clarity, alignment, and understanding that has everyone feeling on the same page and equally important. 

When leaders fail to communicate effectively, it creates a chasm between them and their team, fostering an environment that builds confusion, misalignment, and frustration. 

A lack of communication can manifest in various ways:

  • Not providing clear directions
  • Failing to listen
  • Not sharing vital information
  • Failing to provide feedback

All of these can hamper the team’s functionality and morale.


Micromanagement is where leaders, driven by either insecurity or an insatiable need for control, suffocate their team members by overseeing every tiny detail of their work. This toxic trait stifles creativity, hinders autonomy, and demotivates team members, as they feel undervalued and mistrusted. 

Leaders who micromanage not only create a restrictive work environment but also inadvertently convey a message that their team is incapable, thereby depleting confidence and inhibiting potential.

Inconsistency in Decision-Making

Leaders who are inconsistent in their decision-making or change course without clear communication or rationale sow seeds of uncertainty and instability. This inconsistency disrupts the workflow as well as undermines the leader’s credibility. It won’t take long for team members to question their competence and reliability. 

A leader’s inconsistency in decisions and actions can be a significant demotivator, as it creates an unpredictable and stressful work environment.

The Aversion to Accountability

An aversion to accountability is a critical trait of bad leadership and one that’s pretty easy to spot. Leaders who shirk responsibility for their actions and place blame on external factors or team members, cultivate a culture devoid of trust and respect. 

Avoiding accountability tarnishes the leader’s reputation but also sets the precedent for blame-shifting within the team. This is one that has a partially high impact on customer relations as conflicts or complaints are not going to be well received or resolved easily with a leader and or team who deflect rather than respond to issues.

Navigating Through the Traits of Bad Leadership

Now that you know what to look for, you need to know how to turn it around. Firing an employee for poor leadership may feel like a good reaction but it’s a knee-jerk one and it may come back to bite you. It’s going to unsettle the team, cost you a lot of money and you probably haven’t learned enough to avoid it next time. Take this on as a growth opportunity and a chance to further your own leadership skills by learning how to address bad leadership traits within your team.

#1. Transforming Communication Breakdowns into Effective Dialogues

Leaders must strive to create an environment where open communication is encouraged, and feedback is welcomed and valued. This involves;

  • Actively listening to team members
  • Acknowledging their inputs
  • Providing constructive feedback
  • Including them in shaping your business direction

It doesn’t only have to be in meetings – meetings are a great opportunity to open a conversation but you can reach wider to leverage other communication channels like digital communication platforms to ensure that information is disseminated effectively to everyone and there is space to ask questions and get clarification as the work is being done. 

It’s not just about talking (and listening), a big part of effective communication is about an open and caring tone and respectful manner that will go deeper in demonstrating inclusiveness and constructive problem-solving.

#2. Shifting from Micromanagement to Empowerment

As I mentioned in the section about micromanagement, this bad leadership trait usually stems from insecurity or a need for control. Getting a team member to shift from micromanagement to empowerment involves relinquishing the need for control and trusting their team to excel in their roles and responsibilities. 

Leaders must recognise the unique strengths and capabilities of each team member and leverage them to foster a culture of autonomy and empowerment. 

If a team leader has doubts or concerns their job isn’t to step in, it’s to bring it to your attention in a one-on-one with you so you can look at any problems with your hiring process and discuss the strengths you see in the team as a whole. The actual role of the team leader is to provide the necessary resources and support to execute their roles effectively and entrust them with the autonomy to make decisions. Anything else should come back to you as the business owner. 

Leaders will also be looking to provide opportunities for team members to develop and enhance their skills, not cut them down. The aim should always be to boost their confidence and competence rather than reduce their duties or responsibilities.

This not only empowers them to perform their roles effectively but also contributes to their personal and professional development. Leaders who empower their teams foster an environment where creativity and innovation are nurtured, and team members are motivated to contribute their best towards the organisational objectives.

#3. Mitigating the Impact of Inconsistent Decision-Making

Inconsistent decision-making can lead to a cascade of confusion and uncertainty within the team. To mitigate this, leaders must strive to be consistent and transparent in their decisions, ensuring they are aligned with the organisational goals and are communicated effectively to all team members. This involves being mindful of the potential impacts of decisions on the team and the organisation and being prepared to navigate through any resultant challenges.

A big part of this is being open to feedback and willing to reassess and alter decisions if they are not yielding the desired outcomes. 

This flexibility, coupled with consistency, fosters an environment where decisions are made judiciously and are in the best interest of the team as well as the organisation. It’s pivotal for leaders to establish a systematic decision-making process, where data is analysed, risks are assessed, and decisions are made collaboratively, involving relevant stakeholders.

#4. Recognising and Addressing Lack of Accountability

We’ve listed this one last so that it correlates with our list above, but I’d actually say that recognising and addressing a lack of accountability is your first priority. It’s a big one so list it high on your agenda next meeting.

Leaders who deflect blame and avoid taking responsibility for their actions create a toxic environment. Addressing this requires a conscious effort to foster a culture of accountability within the team as well as in your actions as a business owner to set an example they’ll want to follow. Leaders must lead by example, owning up to their missteps and demonstrating a commitment to personal and organisational growth.

Mistakes need to be acknowledged, lessons learned, and corrective actions implemented. 

If you need to you can implement a transparent system where actions and decisions are documented and communicated to help get around a lack of accountability. It can sometimes make a difference to have it in writing to hold leaders to their words and actions but also promotes a culture where accountability is valued and recognised.

Implementing Strategies to Counteract Destructive Leadership

Implementing strategies to counteract destructive leadership within your work team involves recognising the traits of bad leadership and actively working towards transforming them into positive leadership practices. Overall this involves a commitment to continuous learning and development, where you and your team leaders are open to feedback, willing to acknowledge their shortcomings, and ready to step up to enhance their leadership skills.

Implementing strategies such as regular feedback sessions, leadership training, and mentorship can be pivotal in enhancing leadership skills and reducing the impact of destructive leadership. 

Business owners and team leaders who are committed to personal and professional development and are willing to adapt and evolve are better equipped to navigate through the challenges of leadership, ensuring they lead towards success and growth.

What is Bad Leadership? Unveiling the Dark Side of Management Practices – FAQs

Q1: What is bad leadership in the workplace?

A: Bad leadership in the workplace refers to the practice of leading or managing a team or organisation in a way that is detrimental to the well-being of employees and the overall success of the company. It includes actions or behaviours by leaders that lead to low morale, reduced productivity, and a toxic work environment.

Q2: What is a bad type of leadership?

A: There are various types of bad leadership, including:

Authoritarian Leadership: This type of leadership is overly controlling, where leaders make decisions without considering input from their team, leading to disengagement and frustration.

Micromanagement: Micromanagers excessively oversee and control every aspect of their team’s work, eroding trust and stifling creativity.

Narcissistic Leadership: Narcissistic leaders prioritise their own ego and desire over the well-being of their team or the organisation, often leading to unethical behaviour and a toxic culture.

Passive-Aggressive Leadership: Leaders who are passive-aggressive may undermine their team through subtle, negative behaviours like sarcasm, silent treatment, or gossip.

Laissez-Faire Leadership: A complete lack of guidance or involvement can result in a leader being perceived as disinterested, leading to chaos and confusion among team members.

Q3: What defines a good and bad leader?

A: A good leader is characterised by qualities such as effective communication, empathy, integrity, and the ability to inspire and empower their team. In contrast, a bad leader lacks these qualities, demonstrating poor communication, a lack of empathy, questionable ethics, and an inability to motivate or support their team effectively.

Q4: What is a characteristic of a toxic leader?

A: Toxic leaders exhibit various characteristics, including:

Bullying and Intimidation: They use fear and intimidation as a means of control, making employees feel unsafe and powerless.

Lack of Transparency: Toxic leaders often keep information from their team, creating a culture of distrust and uncertainty.

Favouritism: They show favouritism to certain employees, causing resentment and division within the team.

Blame-Shifting: Toxic leaders avoid taking responsibility for their mistakes and instead place blame on others, eroding accountability.

Manipulative Behaviour: They manipulate situations and people to further their personal agendas, often at the expense of the organisation.

Q5: How do you tell someone they are a bad leader?

A: Communicating with someone about their leadership shortcomings can be challenging but is essential for growth. Here’s how to approach it:

Provide Constructive Feedback: Offer specific examples of behaviour or actions that are problematic, focusing on observable facts rather than personal judgments.

Use “I” Statements: Express your concerns from your perspective, explaining how their leadership impacts you, your team, or the organisation.

Offer Solutions: Suggest ways they can improve, providing support or resources if necessary.

Emphasise the Impact: Highlight the negative consequences of their leadership on the team and the organisation, focusing on the importance of positive change.

Listen Actively: Be open to their perspective and feedback, encouraging a constructive dialogue rather than a one-sided critique.

By addressing these questions and providing thoughtful answers, your FAQ section will help readers understand the concept of bad leadership and offer insights into identifying, addressing, and rectifying it in the workplace.

What Is Bad Leadership? – Final Thoughts

Leadership is tricky because it’s often an implied action or subtle skill set. I find the best way forward is to stop looking at leadership like some shadowy mystery. It’s a genuine skill that, like all other skills, can be learned, enhanced and matured. Unfortunately, you’ve had to do some digging into the dark recesses of bad leadership for whatever reason. Bad leadership is out there but it can be turned around by supporting and nurturing the leaders in your business, unmasking the detrimental traits, and putting in strategies to transform these into positive, impactful leadership practices. 

From the stifling grip of micromanagement to the chaotic waves caused by inconsistent decision-making, it is possible to empower your team to steer leadership in a positive direction.

Leadership is not a static journey, it’s a continuous evolution where learning, adapting, and growing are part of the course. Your willingness to recognise, acknowledge, and transform bad leadership traits into positive practices not only enhances your leadership journey but also creates a ripple effect, inspiring and motivating those you lead. May your leadership journey be one of continuous growth, positive impact, and inspirational guidance, leading your team towards a horizon of success and collective achievement.

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