LEADERSHIP / DEC. 03, 2015
version 7, draft 7

What It Takes to Be a Terrible Leader

Unless you’ve been extremely lucky, you’ve most likely held at least one job in which it was painfully obvious that your supervisor was in over his head. Some people just aren’t meant to lead a team of workers for a number of reasons. Unfortunately, sometimes people who are competent in one position end up getting promoted into a spot which puts them directly in charge of a group of employees – a job they aren’t cut out for. These people often have a skewed vision of what it means to be a democratic leader and, because of this, end up being more of a totalitarian boss with some of the following traits.

See Also: Top 10 Worst TV and Movie Bosses

1. They Refuse to Listen

Bad bosses don’t see communication as a two-way street. They operate under the impression that they should be the ones talking and their employees should be the ones listening. The underlying thought process here is that bosses tend to think they know everything, and their workers, well, don’t. Great leaders understand that they don’t know everything and that they can sometimes learn a thing or two from their workers. Those that shut out suggestions from others and force their own ways on everyone else usually breed contempt within their ranks, and ultimately end up hurting their company.

2. They're Not Transparent

The difference between a leader and a boss is often in the way in which they delegate tasks and responsibilities. While a leader will make their motives clear so that everyone is on the same page and working toward a common goal, bosses tend to give their workers tasks to accomplish with little to no explanation as to why they have to do it. When employees are unsure of the overall purpose of their actions at work, they lack the intrinsic motivation to actually get it done. On the other hand, if a worker understands why he’s been given a certain assignment, he’s more likely to want to get it done.

3. They Value Titles Over Abilities

One of the worst concepts a boss can hold to be true is that prestigious titles equate to a high skill level. People who flaunt their titles tend to do so in place of actually providing value to their company. Unfortunately, people who only see value in a person’s credentials tend to not pay attention to their other traits and abilities. Although an applicant’s titles are generally a good way to tell if they would fit in right with the job, a boss needs to know if they are innovative, forward thinking, and dedicated before they make their decision. Otherwise, they might end up with someone who looks good on paper but has no idea how to put their skills into real-world practice.

4. They're Egocentric

Remember how I said terrible bosses’ bad listening skills tend to stem from the fact that they think they’re smarter than everyone else? This egocentrism keeps them from progressing in many different ways. Since they truly believe they know everything, they don’t see any value in learning anything new. They allow their narcissism to blind them to other ways of thinking, which becomes problematic when they face issues that they are unable to solve. During these times, they’ll tend to rationalize their failures by believing “it is what it is”. To them, if they couldn’t solve a problem, the problem was obviously completely unsolvable to begin with. Great leaders know they don’t know it all and will actively solicit advice from their team whenever need be.

5. They Have a Fixed Mindset

Going along with the last point, terrible bosses tend to assume that people are the way they are, and they’ll never change. They see no value in professional development because they live by the adage: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. On the other hand, great leaders understand that everyone has certain weaknesses that can be overcome with proper training. While those with a fixed mindset tend to see employees as expendable and will fire those who aren’t “working out”, and who keep a constant rotation of new employees coming and going, leaders with a growth mindset know the value of sticking with the employees they’ve hired and helping them improve their skills and abilities.

6. They Permit Toxic Conversations

You can automatically tell the difference between a terrible boss and a great leader by the overall climate of the organization. Bosses that permit a team to divide into “cliques” have almost certainly lost control of some of their employees. The reason these cliques tend to form is because the members of the circle tend to openly badmouth other individuals within the company without repercussion. Bosses who tolerate this behavior – and even promote it themselves – usually fall short of their goals because they’re too busy trying to get everyone on the same page.

7. They Lack Empathy

Simply put, bosses see their employees only as employees, while leaders see them as people first, employees second. This is not to say that great leaders are lenient in their expectations; this is definitely not the case. However, bosses don’t take their employees’ lives or feelings into consideration whatsoever when making demands of them. They don’t accept emergency situations as excuses for being late or calling in sick, as their only focus is on getting the job done. Though leaders have high expectations for their workers, they understand that life happens and that their employees can’t possibly perform to the best of their ability if their physical and emotional needs aren’t met.

8. They Never Take the Blame

As the leader of a group of employees, a boss’ job is to be accountable for the team’s efforts and accomplishments. When things go wrong, it’s definitely important to figure out exactly what needs to change, but it’s never okay to place the blame squarely at the feet of the team. Even if an employee did drop the ball, the team leader should never have let it happen in the first place. A boss who fails to understand this will never earn the trust of their team and will continuously fall short of their goals.

9. They're Inconsistent

Great leaders keep their expectations consistent regardless of extenuating circumstances. Because of this, their employees come to work each and every day prepared to put their all into their job. On the other hand, some bosses slack off at times, allowing their employees to do so as well, only to get on everyone’s case completely at random when things aren’t going as planned. Inconsistent bosses sometimes tolerate lateness and absences and other times implement strict attendance policies. This usually only happens when their supervisor gets on their case and threatens their position. The message this sends to their employees is loud and clear: you only need to do a good job when someone is watching; otherwise, you can slack off all you want.

See Also: 5 Most Difficult Celebrities to Work With

Being a great leader is much harder than most people realize. No matter what your credentials are, you have to have the people skills necessary to make a team work. You need to be a good listener, empathetic, and you need to understand the importance of professional development – for yourself and your team. Most of all, you have to be comfortable with the fact that you don’t know everything and be confident in your team’s ability to pick up the slack where necessary.

What other traits do you think make a terrible leader? Do you work with one? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!

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