In business, we always want to find competent, honest, and hardworking leaders who can manage anything we throw at them with grace and tact. Leaders determine the pace and culture of the organization, so it’s incredibly important that our company be led by strong figures who understand how to manage people and get things done.
There’s a lot of excellent advice out there about how to become a great leader, as well as how to identify the hallmarks of an excellent leadership team. However, we can only appreciate what a good leader looks like by considering what a bad leader is. Here, we’re not just talking about unscrupulous individuals – though those are bad leaders too – but about personality traits and habits that prevent your company from reaching its full potential. Here are four signs of bad leaders, as well as what you can do to tighten up your ship and improve more trainable members of your leadership team.
Sign #1: Higher-than-average turnover in their working group
Every department is going to have some turnover: employees leave for a variety of reasons, and sometimes it has nothing to do with leadership. It might be through retirement, relocation, or changing career paths; in other words, these are concerns internal to the specific employee, and they don’t necessarily mean anything about their superior. There are also those that might leave because of a personality conflict with their superior, which doesn’t always mean that the leader was in the wrong.
However, if you notice that this particular leader has a “revolving door” of hires and fires, that might suggest that they don’t know how to properly lead a team. Employees may get frustrated by poor communication, changing goalposts, or constant last-minute asks that keep them from getting their own work done.
Sign #2: Poor performance from their team
Leaders take ownership of the projects they’re assigned: they should be willing to answer for their subordinates and deliver a result that they’re proud of. It stands to reason, then, that poor performance overall also reflects poorly on the leader, and may suggest that they don’t know how to energize and organize their team to best effect.
For this sign to be valid, you need to dig a little deeper and look at the overall dynamics of the team. You must also take the long view and consider whether this is a one-off mistake or a consistent trend of poor performance. Take a good look at the efforts of everyone on the team, then ask them in confidence how they felt about the project: did they think their leader did a good job, or did they believe they didn’t have enough guidance and support? You might do this anonymously lest any employee fear retribution from their superior.
Sign #3: The leader consistently expresses doubt in their abilities
Here, you’re not necessarily working with a bad leader, but one that lacks confidence. That unease can be felt by their subordinates, and it can lead to many conflicts within the working group that take away from the overall mission. An unconfident leader will not be willing to take risks to get the job done, and they may not be willing to assert their boundaries as necessary. In other words, this leader might let people step all over them: not turning in work on time, producing subpar work, or slacking off during working hours. Good leaders know when to step in and tell their subordinates to get it together, but one who isn’t sure about their abilities will hesitate before taking action.
Listen to what your leaders are saying about themselves and their work, and identify those who consistently vacillate about decisions. These are the leaders who need a bit more assistance to truly reach their potential.
What you can do about bad leaders
Before making hasty decisions, consider what resources are available to rehabilitate your leaders so they can improve. Management training programs are an excellent way to get the best out of your team; it can identify what their weak spots are, offer them tools to improve, and track their progress. The best training is structured, long-term training that continually reinforces that they’ve learned and checks their progress. Training shouldn’t just be a one-off event but a process, meeting leaders where they are and growing along with their skills.
Training should be your first step, but if you find that your leader’s work still isn’t improving, you need to make some hard decisions and face some uncomfortable truths. Some people simply aren’t meant to be in leadership or supervisory positions – and they’re not comfortable there, either. You may specifically run into this problem with those who have been promoted within the company as a result of exemplary work; they might be fantastic at their original role but lack the soft skills and personality characteristics that make a good leader.
This doesn’t mean that a poorly performing employee should simply be shunted out of the company or demoted. Instead, get creative and consider how you can use this person to their greatest advantage. You might place them on a smaller team, where they’re more comfortable, or you may create a new role for them that has less supervisory elements. Whatever you choose, be confident in your decision – you’re a leader, too!