The Hidden Dangers of Bad Leadership and Its Impact on Organizations

The negative effects of bad leadership may not be easily quantifiable, but it is safe to assume that poor leadership can significantly reduce your employees‘ potential.

Let’s discuss some misconceptions about bad leaders and bad leadership:

Identifying Bad Leadership Beyond the Leaders

Bad leadership comes in various forms and styles.

Interestingly, you can identify bad leadership not only by examining the leaders but also by observing the people they lead and the behaviors they develop.

Bad leaders gradually introduce poor communication and collaboration habits within a company. To understand this, it sometimes helps to ask yourself the following question: „Would this person tolerate this kind of behavior in a private situation among their peers?“

Bad Leaders Aren’t Necessarily Bad People

Bad leaders can actually be some of the nicest people.

Leadership is a skill a person may or may not have learned yet. It doesn’t reveal anything about their other qualities.

This poses a significant problem for organizations: nice people who are bad leaders are difficult to identify, yet they have a substantial negative impact on the organization.

When colleagues are asked about these types of leaders, they often give positive feedback. Who would rate a person negatively if they genuinely like them?

An organization can be full of bad leaders who are nice people, and it may not show up in any polls, feedback rounds, or other methods HR might devise. Nonetheless, the damage to the organization is present and often unnoticed.

Let’s examine some anecdotal examples of everyday situations that reveal bad leadership. For all examples, we assume the bad leader is a very likable and popular person in the organization.

Abrupt Conversation Shifts

Imagine this scenario:

The leader is in their office, having a friendly conversation with a colleague. The door is open. After a while, another manager enters the room, and the conversation between the bad leader and the colleague immediately ends. The bad leader now talks to the manager, who is on the same hierarchical level as they are, while the employee stands aside, listening to the conversation of the two managers.

All three consider this normal behavior.

In a more private setting, the „bad leader“ would instead say something like, „Hey Peter, I’m just talking to Anne about xyz. Let us finish, and then I’m all ears for you.“

Tasks That Appear and Disappear

Another sign of bad leadership is when tasks seem to come out of nowhere:

The boss approaches the colleague and drops a piece of work on their desk without providing any context. The colleague is not part of the process and only knows they must make specific changes to an Excel sheet. The colleague is never informed of the reasons or objectives behind the task.

This can happen multiple times throughout a process, with the colleague contributing at various stages but never feeling involved.

In a more private setting, you would give your friend the big picture when asking for a favor. You would explain your plan, why you need help, and what the ultimate goal is.

By not involving their colleagues in processes, leaders fail to recognize their colleagues‘ potential, and colleagues never understand the purpose of their contributions.

False Urgency

Another classic example: The bad leader gives their colleague an urgent task:

„We need this by tomorrow.“ The colleague drops all other work to complete the task and returns the finished work package as requested.

Two weeks later, the boss returns with the same work package, asking for minor adjustments. It turns out the task wasn’t as urgent as initially presented.

As a result, the colleague may become less willing to put in long hours for urgent tasks, and the bad leader complains about a lack of motivation.

Management by Secret Knowledge

The boss approaches their colleague and informs them that one of the managers is unhappy with the colleague’s

work. However, there is no direct feedback provided. The bad leader merely conveys some vague criticism that may or may not have actually occurred.

The bad leader aims to change the colleague’s behavior without giving them direct access to the criticism or an opportunity to address the concerns raised. This form of leadership perpetuates a lack of transparency and hinders open communication, leaving the employee in the dark and unable to improve effectively.

Bossplaining: Patronizing Explanations from Leaders

„Bossplaining“ refers to a situation in which a leader condescendingly explains something to their colleague, assuming that the colleague lacks knowledge or understanding. This behavior can be demeaning and discouraging for employees, as it undermines their expertise and belittles their contributions.

Bossplaining can create a toxic work environment where employees feel undervalued and disrespected. Instead of fostering open communication and collaboration, this form of leadership perpetuates a hierarchical and unapproachable atmosphere. Good leaders should recognize their team members‘ expertise and encourage an environment where everyone’s ideas and opinions are valued and considered.

Kill by Committee: Evading Decisions Through Endless Deliberation

„Kill by committee“ refers to a situation where leaders avoid making decisions and instead defer them to committees or engage in extensive discussions with other bosses. This process often leads to so many opinions on the matter at hand that no decision is reached, effectively stalling progress and hampering productivity.

This form of leadership demonstrates a lack of decisiveness and accountability, leaving employees feeling frustrated and directionless. Inefficient decision-making can also negatively impact an organization’s ability to adapt and respond to changing circumstances. Effective leaders should be willing to make informed decisions, take responsibility for their choices, and maintain a balance between collaboration and decisiveness to ensure that projects move forward and goals are achieved.