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25 Traits of a Bad Leader

No one sets out to be a bad leader. But without great diligence and self-reflection, it is easy to become a bad leader.  In my desire to grow, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about how I can be a better leader - at home, at work, and in the other contexts in which I serve. After reflecting, reading and asking others about their experiences, I've listed some of the common traits of bad leaders.  Some of these traits I have observed in myself (and I'm seeking to change!).  Some I have observed in others.  Some have been observed in others, by others (for example, Matthew Payne's excellent series on caring for ministry staff).  The value of listing these in the negative is that allows us the opportunity to ask "Do I do this? Does this describe me?". From here, we are in a better position to consider what positive behaviours we can pursue instead (the focus of a future post).  A bad leader:

  1. Doesn't articulate a compelling vision. They leave the team unsure (and uninspired) about where they are going and how they will know when they've got there.
  3. Doesn't set clear expectations. They leave the team unsure about who is meant to be doing what, and whether or not they are doing a good job.
  5. Doesn't celebrate the success of the team or its members. They don't see the importance of stopping to celebrate (and give thanks for) the "wins", and they might even be threatened by the success of individual members.
  7. Doesn't communicate regularly. They often leave the team often wondering what's happening, and when (or if) they will find out.
  9. Doesn't communicate consistently. They communicate different messages to different people. They say one thing, but do another.
  11. Doesn't permit (let alone promote) disagreement. They view disagreement and questioning as a sign of disloyalty and dissent. They probably haven't read 'Death by Meeting'.
  13. Doesn't apologise. They are never wrong or in the wrong - they are only ever wronged.
  15. Doesn't seek feedback. They are not willing to ask their team "what can I do better?". They either aren't interested or are unwilling to hear this from others.
  17. Doesn't give regular feedback. They rarely give feedback (informally, or in formal settings such as performance reviews) so that when feedback is given it arrives as an overwhelming and unexpected avalanche.
  19. Doesn't model rest. They communicate by their work habits that they are indispensable, and that rest is for the weak.
  21. Doesn't cultivate and model a healthy culture. As Stephen Blandino said: “You can shout vision from the rooftops and deliver your core values with inspiring speeches, yet still develop a culture disconnected from your aspirations. How? By behaving in a way that’s inconsistent with what you say."
  23. Doesn't set and uphold high standards. They allow mediocrity or bad behaviour (e.g. negativity, lateness) to exist without consequence.
  25. Doesn't recognise initiative and effort. They leave the team discouraged and concluding that there's no point working harder or trying new things.
  27. Doesn't provide the necessary resources. They might have high expectations, but not provide the resources for the team to meet them.
  29. Doesn't fix problems. They allow problems to fester like an open wound - becoming more and more painful and more difficult to fix.
  31. Doesn't delegate responsibility. They might delegate tasks, but don't trust people to do more than this. Everything must come through them and be approved by them.
  33. Doesn't ask questions. They know the answers.
  35. Doesn't listen well. When others speak, they are quick to give their own opinion, or dismiss what they say. They rarely ask clarifying questions.
  37. Doesn't defend their team. If members of their team are criticised (or worse), they don't defend them and they might even join in the criticism.
  39. Doesn't eat last. They promote a hierarchical model of leadership that sees privilege and prestige granted to those at the top of the tree. It is the opposite to servant leadership modelled by the ultimate Leader.
  41. Doesn't do their own "dirty work". If a hard conversation needs to be had they find someone else to do it.
  43. Doesn't honour their promises. Their word cannot be trusted. They give assurances that they then fail to meet (or deny they ever made).
  45. Doesn't seek to grow (or model a desire to grow). They give the impression that they have nothing left to learn.
  47. Doesn't submit to leadership. They don't have structures in place to be kept accountable, and they hold those who lead them in low regard.
  49. Doesn't provide a safe environment. They promote a culture of fear and distrust.They probably haven't seen 'Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe'.

What traits of bad leaders most resonate with you?

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