20 Leadership Weaknesses and How to Turn Them into Strengths

Leadership comes with immense responsibility. Here, we list the most common weaknesses found in workplace leaders and how you can overcome them.

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Not all bosses are born with the necessary qualities to be a leader; in fact, some are so terrible at it that their leadership skills are frequently called into question. You know who we’re talking about: that manager you’re constantly trying to avoid, hurrying out of the kitchen once they walk in, keeping your head down and dodging any form of eye contact!

If you’re a manager reading this and thinking ‘that sounds familiar’, then I’m afraid your not-so-popular management style has landed you the unwanted title of ‘bad boss’.

So, how do you go about changing this?

Well, you first need to identify your weaknesses. This list will give you examples of where you’re going wrong and tips on how you can improve your leadership skills.

1. Micromanaging

Do you feel the need to check in on your team members five times a day to make sure they’ve completed every minuscule task you’ve given them? If so, we've got bad news for you: you’re a micromanager.

By constantly breathing down your team’s neck, you’re eventually going to rub them up the wrong way. Remember: you hired them because they have the skills to do the job, so give them some space and a little trust and let them get on with their work without disruption. This doesn’t mean you need to be completely hands-off but, rather, that you find the right balance that works well for your department.

2. Lacking integrity

As a leader, you’re a role model for the rest of the company, and your employees look to you as an example of how they should behave. Therefore, if you have strong principles and are always honest, your team will feel compelled to follow suit.

If not, expect a dishonest and broken department. After all, integrity is the most valuable and respected quality of leadership — always keep your word.

3. Not being adaptable

Great leaders know how to be flexible and make decisions based on the difficult circumstances they’re faced with; they can think on their feet and find solutions to problems quickly. On the other hand, weak leaders cannot embrace new ideas and are very much ‘stuck in their ways’, unwilling to adapt to what the situations call for.

Moving forward, to become a better leader, you’ll need to embrace changes and think outside the box when it comes to solving problems in a fast-paced environment.

4. Not providing feedback

Poor leaders lack the skill to provide constructive feedback; they notice that there’s a small issue with one of their team members but don’t point out where they’re going wrong. If you aren’t advising your employees of their mistakes and giving them tips on how they can improve, they will continue to make errors and still be none the wiser.

In a poll of 1,400 executives, meanwhile, the Ken Blanchard Companies found that failing to provide feedback was the most common mistake leaders make. Another fatal error was postponing or failing to remember to follow through with reviews and appraisals, meaning that bad leaders aren’t giving their employees that little boost of confidence or praise they need to improve and do better.

5. Not having a vision for the future

A true leader is always thinking of ways to improve their product or service and gain even greater results. They’re constantly coming up with new and innovative ideas to progress. Weak leaders, on the other hand, are happy with their status quo and lack the enthusiasm to develop and do better.

6. Not being accountable

As a leader, you’re responsible for your team, and as the saying goes: ‘a pupil is only as good as their teacher’.

Sometimes, if your employees have made a mistake, it's possible that you haven’t given the correct information or support to perform the job properly. Not being able to admit this and take the blame is a bad trait, and one that a manager shouldn’t possess. However hard it may be to swallow your pride, you need to stand up and take the blame; after all, nobody is perfect.

7. Not defining goals

If you fail to give your team a clear objective of what they should be aiming towards, they’ll be aimlessly filling their day with menial tasks in order to get by. Whether you’re an in-office or virtual boss, you need to give them clear goals of what they should be doing and how they can prioritise their work effectively, ensuring that all their projects are completed on time.

8. Being unrealistic

Some leaders have unrealistic expectations in the workplace; a good example of this is giving a valuable team member too many tasks with short deadlines. With the added pressure, the employee will either crumble or be discouraged and will begin looking for employment elsewhere.

In other words, it’s important that you understand the reality of the work you’re delegating and to ensure that you give your team your full support.

9. Being closed-minded

As a manager, your responsibilities are to clearly outline what your staff need to do and when they need to do it by, so they know what is expected of them. You need to be able to give them instructions and teach them the process of how to complete these tasks efficiently.

Let’s say, one day, Jennifer comes along with a great concept of how to work on the same job, but with a different method — but you insistently shoot her down. This kind of closed-mindedness will not get you far within the workplace — you need to learn to accept new ideas and praise employees that use their initiative to better the whole working process.

10. Being insecure

Do your palms sweat every time you need to give bad feedback? Does your voice go shaky when you need to speak in a board meeting?

If you’re shyly nodding your head, you have a characteristic of a bad leader. You can change this by learning to believe in yourself and becoming more self-confident. You were given your position as a leader because your supervisor believed in your skills, so be confident about the decisions you make and try to portray this when you’re in an uncomfortable situation.

11. Making empty promises

One of the biggest things that rub employees up the wrong way is when they’re constantly given empty promises. For example, you tell employees that they’ll get a bonus if they hit the quarterly targets, but when they do achieve those results, the bonus doesn’t actually come through.

If you’re making promises to your team without any approval from the higher-ups, you’re simply pushing them further away, and this will eventually make them so angry that they’ll start looking for employment elsewhere. The moral of the story here is to make sure you always have confirmation before you promise important incentives to your employees.

12. Valuing experience over potential

There’s a handful of bosses who only take people’s experience into consideration, rather than focusing on the potential that another employee might possess.

Some of your best employees are probably not the most experienced but are keen and fast learners and have a fire in their belly to deliver the best possible performance. Don’t fail to give someone the chance to prove themselves just because they don’t have the relevant experience on their CV.

13. Showing favouritism

There’s bound to be one person on your team that outshines the rest, but showing them favouritism is going to get you into big trouble.

For example, if you’re telling off Emma for being two minutes late but Jane gets off the hook because you like her a little more, you’re only going to cause a divide in your team — and maybe even attract a complaint against you. Be sure to treat everyone equally, especially if you’re handling a small team.

14. Having tunnel vision

With ever-evolving trends and procedures, leaders need to be able to change with the times. What’s suitable today may not be suitable tomorrow, and you have to adapt to that. If you’re stuck in your ways and follow the motto that ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it’, you’ll soon find yourself on your own, simply because you didn’t evolve your leadership strategy.

15. Taking credit for success

Do you take all the credit for success, even if you weren’t the person to actually come up with the idea? Well, you need to make your team look good, too — remember to give credit where credit is due.

Speaking to SUCCESS magazine, Nick Friedman from College Hunks Hauling Junk & Moving said it best: ‘In order to be a true visionary leader, you need to let go of your ego and focus on your people because without them you would be nowhere.’

16. Not having empathy

A good leader has the ability to understand the problems that their team or employee faces and has the skills to assist with their problem and be empathetic. If your staff is scared to talk to you about any issues they’re dealing with, you most likely lack understanding. A good idea would be to hold a team meeting and open the question so your workers can tell you if they have any issues within the workplace.

17. Being hypercritical

Giving constructive criticism usually falls under every leader’s job description. That said, there’s a distinct difference between providing feedback for improvement and being critical of even the most menial things.

So, if you find yourself being hypercritical of your employees’ performance, work and productivity, it might be time to rethink your approach. Hypercriticism can result in loss of morale, lead to employee burnout and result in a hostile work environment.

The best way to resolve your hypercritical and perfectionist tendencies is to create opportunities to provide your feedback constructively, such as quarterly progress reports and meetings. Meanwhile, when you do offer criticism, make sure to always end on a positive note and recognise everyone’s achievements and contributions instead of focusing on just negative points.

18. Being overly connected

Nowadays, leaders can stay connected with their teams 24/7, especially with the rise of remote work and virtual workstations. While this can be great in theory, especially in the case of an emergency, being constantly tuned in with your team’s goings-on can do more harm than good.

Indeed, overcommitting to everything and keeping up with everyone could mean you’re stretching yourself too thin and making yourself unavailable when you’re truly needed. The best way to approach this is to create clear lines of communication, establish boundaries and allocate your time more effectively. Sometimes, taking a step back is the best thing you can do.

19. Having hypocritical behaviour

Oftentimes, leaders might use their title to reinforce their opinions and decisions, regardless of what their staff think of them. However, what is even worse is not following your own rules and not respecting the corporate values you expect your team to abide by. This can create grievances and resentment within your organisation.

Holding yourself accountable and showing that you’re not exempt from rules everyone must follow is crucial. So, remember to lead by example and encourage your staff to do the same.

20. Lacking trust

Your lack of trust probably goes hand in hand with your need to micromanage tasks. However, while the latter might stem from your need to control processes and be involved in everything that goes on in your company, the former might be a direct result of you lacking confidence in your team’s abilities.

This could be damaging and demoralising for everyone involved, especially if your team consists of skilled and experienced individuals. Being unable to trust that your team will only hinder their performance and could also negatively impact your own standing with your peers. 

The best way to address this issue is to remind yourself of your team’s previous achievements, qualifications and results. You may also want to have a discussion with members of your team and get a better understanding of their individual work styles, as this will help ease your anxiety and inform you on everyone’s unique approach to work.

Final thoughts

Being a leader comes with its fair share of challenges. And while the going might not always be easy, the good news is that you can still strive to do better.

As long as you’re willing to identify your downfalls, improve and grow from your mistakes, you’ll be able to create new solutions, be more positive and drive the company to new successes.

Join the conversation! What other weaknesses do you think some leaders possess? Let us know in the comments section below!

This article is an update of an earlier version published on 13 February 2018 and contains contributions by staff writer Melina Theodorou.