How to Identify and Deal With Poor Leadership

We have all been there at some point in our careers; dealing with bad managers and poor leaders. Here are some signs and traits of poor leaders, so you can see around the conference table that it is just not you.

1. Incompetence – Most good leaders understand that listening to the experts who know the business at hand creates effective decisions. You do not have to be expert in your company’s field to be an effective leader. Leadership should be motivational, which can be easily sapped if respect is not part of how the leader manages. If autocratic methods are the tools of leadership, then morale suffers in conjunction with innovation, since the team will not expect an honest admission of knowledge gaps since the bad leader claims to know everything, and does not allow the team to make decisions.

2. Impatience – Bad leaders want everything done yesterday. Effective leaders understand that a good strategy takes time to implement, and that unrealistic deadlines hurt loyalty and focus, and possibly quality. Constantly demanding updates and pushing for progress creates unwelcome stress and frustration. The bad leader will also start to insist at this point that they will execute on initiatives being worked on by the team, further exacerbating morale and progress.

3. Insincerity – Insincerity undermines everything. Words that are spoken without conviction will cause more harm than good, and the perfunctory eye rolling amongst staff. Although positive feedback comes rarely with bad leaders, if at all, normally insincerity follows and is transparent to the staff.

4. Aggression – Bad leaders tend to be autocratic, and at worst, nothing short than corporate
bullies. There is no place for fear in the workplace, and yet it still persists in badly led companies and agencies as the primary weapon of the bad leader. Respect is lost, and yet still demanded by the bad leader.

5. False Expertise – Bad leaders take credit for the work and expertise of their staff. For meetings that involve clients or prospects, the bad leader will pretend to be an industry expert, constantly interrupting the real experts with trivial and non-value added commentary that distracts and frustrates the client or prospect. Worse case is the bad leader that says nothing, and then insists on making all the decisions without eliciting feedback from the team, or the client for that mater.

How do you deal with the bad leader? It will not be easy, as the bad leader is not open to criticism or feedback. However, effective managers and true leaders will find ways to make suggestions without violating trust or more importantly; ego. Hopefully you will find ways to work in the environment at hand, but most people slog through as dealing with low morale and abuse comes with the job. Of course, sometimes finding a new opportunity is really the only solution, which is comically seen by the bad leader as disloyalty, and not a reflection of their leadership. Good riddens! Indeed.

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Henry Brown

This issue was addressed rather nicely from 2002 until 2004 by the organization that I was working for by implementing an employee evaluation of supervisors. It only worked because senior management was super supportive of the process.

Out of a community of some 100 managers, within the first year, some 10 percent of the managers were either required to get additional training and or were replaced. As I recall there were only 1 or 2 who were replaced and that was after 2 bad evaluations.

Been in other organizations which had meaningful peer evaluations where the supervisors/leaders were in fact on of the groups being evaluated with similar results to subordinate evaluations. Again the requirement is for leadership to buy into the concept

Jaime Gracia

Thanks Henry. 360 Degree feedback is a great way to assess a supervisor from all perspectives, and should help leadership understand where there may be issues. I always found it best to discuss ways to deal with a leader, as the hope is that the strengths will allow forward progress, in whatever capacity the bad leader may be able to execute. If you are unable to address these issues with the supervisor directly, channels exist to bring it up the chain for action. Nonetheless, a good faith effort must be conducted before any gets escalated.


How do I deal with these types? I don’t. I go find another job ASAP. There’s no point in me wasting my time under the misguided rule of an incompetent person playing boss.

I think there’s been a shift over time, as yester-year’s success standards don’t work in today’s context. In the past, command & control was seen as effective, and everyone accepted it as status quo. By today’s considerations, it makes the person practicing that approach look out dated & foolish. Especially in technology areas.

Once upon a time in government MIS, everybody got hired and then trained in to be something specific they weren’t before. Key punch operator, programmer, etc. There was an almost journeyman-like approach in place where the entry level employee progressed over time to expert.

Now, the younger ones know more about the technology than their elders in the agency. The vocational trade model doesn’t work anymore. Command & control doesn’t get things done as well or as quickly as a collaborative model where excellent ideas are allowed to bubble up and blossom. In my experience, it’s a rare and unique leader who can change their whole management ethos to practice a new way of being for the benefit of the organization. Usually a tiger can’t change their stripes, the agency has high turnover, or low turnover and outrageously bitter & jaded employees. That’s my two cents fwiw.

Peter Sperry

The most critical aspect of evaluating leadership is “Does their organization achive its goals?” I have worked in organizations with nurturing inspiring leaders who focused more on maintaining team unity and employee satisfaction than achieving goals. We still periodically hold alumni events to mourn the death of the organization but that need to make a profit is hard to avoid. I have also worked in an organization that viewed employees as easily replacable cogs in a machine. Didn’t enjoy it and didn’t stay long but the corporation is still in business providing paychecks (and fairly sizable ones) to employees and dividend checks to stockholders. At the end of the day, leadership is about producing results not feelings.

Jaime Gracia

Peter – The results should be measured against goals, as highly functioning teams and organizations almost exclusively have a good balance of good team unity, high morale, and visionary leadership. Leadership is about inspiring the best of people, which I think has better results at the end of the day.

Denise Petet

We tried the ’employees rate their supervisors’ thing for about 3 years. But what we ended up with was ‘bad’ supervisors literally telling their employees how to fill out the survey, and using intimidation to get their way. Kinda hard to buy the ‘anonymity assured’ if you’re a group of less than 10 surveying the same person. Don’t take a genius to figure out who said what. Or for the manager to practice a little ‘payback’s a bitch’.

I’ve discovered that a good chunk of the ‘poor leaders’ are in the middle management range. Not all of course, but a good chunk of them. Individuals that have risen to their level of incompetence, are desperate to move higher, but can’t – likely because the upper managers recognize that they’re not good, but are unwilling to do anything about it.

If the poor leaders are indeed middle managers, then isn’t it up to the upper managers to recognize the flaws, not accept the ‘not my fault, my employees did it’ excuses and either correct the behavior of the middle managers, or document flaws and issues and get rid of the poor leaders?

Unfortunately, usually what happens is ‘glass houses’ syndrome, where as long as the job gets done, upper management doesn’t care how the middle management gets it done, or who gets to be ‘collateral damage’ along the way.

management tends to take care of management (usually to the point of someone doing something illegal, then they’ll turn on each other)