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10 Characteristics of Bad Leadership & How to Learn From Them

Written by

Hani Khan


April 9, 2021


Leadership shapes our nations, communities, and organizations. Good leaders help guide us and directly make large-scale decisions that affect many people. Some characteristics of a good leader include integrity, ability to delegate, communication, and gratitude. Good leaders leverage these characteristics to influence and guide their members of an organization, inspiring everyone in an organization to achieve their best. This may involve establishing a clear vision, sharing this vision with others to follow, and providing resources, knowledge, and methods to realize this vision. 

With a competent leader, an organization can achieve critical success to their business. However, bad leaders are also prevalent in the workplace and conduct certain habits that can slowly lead to employees’ lack of faith, willingness, and engagement. So what exactly is leadership and what are some bad examples of leadership?

What is leadership?

The dictionary definition of leadership is “to lead a group of people or an organization. Effective leadership might mean executing the company’s vision, maybe even updating it, and using their social influence to organize the efforts of the employees to work together for the vision. Leadership also means setting the tone and culture of the organization through creating and planning different events for the employees. Leadership is different from management. Managers manage things from looking at logistics to balancing budgets. Leaders inspire others to act while simultaneously directing the way they act. 

What is bad leadership?

Not all leaders are created equal. While there are outstanding leaders that deliver the best possible results, there are also leaders that have certain qualities that can make them more ineffective than others. These traits include things from lack of presence to lack of direction and micromanagement. Most of these issues stem from lack of communication between leaders and their employees, including not having the proper resources and tools to lead an organization. Here at Simpplr, we spend a lot of our time developing tools to kickstart optimizing internal communications within companies to solve these problems. 

Characteristics of Bad Leadership

Missing Executive Presence

Executive presence refers to the ability to portray confidence, dignity, and great oise as a leader. Someone with executive presence shows others that they have sound decision-making abilities and works well under pressure. They will also have impeccable verbal communication skills and give off the impression that they are confidently in charge of every situation. The importance of executive presence can be seen in the increased workplace productivity when the leaders have great executive presence, as their employees are able to trust and respect their leader. 

As a leader, it is important to be actively contributing to the overall efforts of the team. This may be through putting in the same hours or working alongside your workers to finish tasks in order to show executive presence. During our current remote work environment, this could be through engaging with your employees on a modern intranet, such as Simpplr, to show your support and presence to the overall team goals. 

Leadership Drift/Loss of Direction

The business world is actively changing, and only those who consistently keep up with current trends through actively planning, engaging, and networking are able to succeed.  Leadership drift or the loss of direction are those who have forgotten their core mission and purpose within the company. Signs of leadership include coasting, apathy, resistance to feedback, and concession of principles or work ethic. As a result, deadlines are missed, efficiencies are ruined, and costly makes are made. Drifting leaders often miss important tactical information relating to day-to-day happenings, which hampers their decision-making abilities. 

In order to conquer leadership drift or lack of direction, a proper assessment must be conducted by a trusted colleague with an honest evaluation of observations, feedback and direction. This will allow leaders to understand the underlying issues to take stock and reassess what they want to do. 

Opacity kills

Lack of transparency can have many devastating effects as a leader that can permanently stain your image as the boss. People want to know what is going on and expect their leaders to be up front with them and share information. The reason transparency is so important is that it goes hand in hand with trust, and you can’t have one without the other. Without trust, workplace culture and relationships will suffer. Leaders withholding information or keeping secrets eventually break trust within the workplace, as people have an acute ability to find out these mistruths through the grapevine. 

To prevent this as a leader, simply tell people what’s going on. The things that you’re working on are not too secretive, as it is rather rare that a leader is involved with is something that truly cannot be shared about while being worked on. Sure, there are a couple of exceptions, such as layoffs, mergers, acquisitions, and nuclear launch codes. 

Lack of Authority

Micromanaging bosses who take complete control over every decision can be unbearable. However, on the other hand, leaders who lack authority with other leaders, employees, customers, clients, etc. can be a problem as well. These leaders who lack authority can be frustrating to work with, as they are indecisive about decisions and give poor feedback. 

In order to combat this style of leadership, these skills should be utilized, especially in making sound decisions to establish authority. Specifically, leaders should first identify critical factors which will affect the outcome of a decision, anticipate outcomes, and reason with qualitative analysis. 

Passive Listening 

As leaders, they are probably going to be one of the more senior people in the company, so people will not be as willing to voice their honest opinions, feedback, and contradictions to your ideas. This can be especially problematic, as they might have valuable feedback for a project that could potentially vastly improve the outcome of the project. Leaders have the authority and power to make large decisions within the company, but they are not likely to receive honest feedback about those decisions. 

If you are a leader, you should remember that people will be hesitant to give you their honest feedback or criticisms if you do not ask for it. As a result, it is very important to ask for feedback and listen to those who actually speak up. One way to approach this problem of lack of listening is by improving your active listening skills, beginning with the 3 A’s: attitude, attention, and adjustment. Having a good attitude with active listening means approaching criticism with an understanding that we must be respectful towards what others have to say and that we all have something new to learn from others. To be a good listener, you must have a good attention span. Finally, adjustment in listening is simply keeping an open mind to what the other person has to say. 

Tendency to Micromanage

A micromanager is a leader who seeks control and directs the tiniest action taken by the employees. They tend to want to be involved in everything done by their employees in order to control the outcome. However, the outcome is adversely affected compared to what the leader initially intended. Micromanagers feel satisfied because everything is done to their preference. On the other hand, this style of leadership breeds resentment among employees, as they will most likely feel monitored as if they were children. They will feel a lack of both autonomy and responsibility. This is supported by studies showing that micromanagement has a detrimental effect on employees, as they tend to perform at a much lower level. 

In dealing with micromanagement, it is best to realize that they are not always at fault, as it may come unconsciously. Micromanaging stems from a lack of decisional confidence, as well as uncertainty, culminating in a need to control every action. In order to combat this, fostering an environment conducive to learning and developing leadership skills is optimal. This involves creating a culture where everyone’s input is valued but also keeping a firm position on who has the final say. This way, others will also be encouraged to speak up and contribute to the organization in a positive manner then letting one person micromanage all activities and decisions. 

Inflexible Leadership

Good leadership takes a lot of workplace flexibility in responding to the changing circumstances of the business. This means being fluid with their approach to their employees, understanding power of and necessity for contextual leadership. This means treating employees as individuals and making an effort to accommodate personal styles and needs. Lack of flexibility from a bad leader can take many forms: anything from a “my way or the highway” attitude to rigid adherence to timelines. It also could mean a stubborn rejection of all new ideas or processes. These habits of rigidity make it hard for a team or an organization as a whole to connect and operate, especially if a leader is unwilling to compromise. This type of leadership will only result in a fractured culture, and ultimately a non-productive organization. 

If you are a leader, you should consult your workers on how you could be more flexible at work. Other ways to improve flexibility are listening carefully to constructive criticism from workers or adjusting schedules and delegating routine tasks to make sure your employees have their goals prioritised. 

Oblivious to Weaknesses

Leaders claim to know their strengths and weaknesses; however, when 360-degree feedback surveys are administered, most of these leaders score very low in areas that they are completely unaware of. These weaknesses are usually hard to identify, as they are the result of inaction of the leader not doing something. This could vary from lack of strategic thinking, not taking responsibility for outcomes or not building strong relationships. Being oblivious to these weaknesses significantly hampers the leader’s contribution to the organization and their career progress as a leader. Everyone else can see this clearly, except for their own weaknesses. 

Becoming self-aware can help leaders identify their weaknesses; first, by finding a truth teller who will share honest feedback. These colleagues have to believe that the leader wants honest information. HIring outside could potentially help as well through coaching or 360-degree feedback to understand weaknesses and finding ways to remedy them. 

Never Take Accountability

Leaders take responsibility for everything, whether it be a misstep in their decision making and turning it into an opportunity to learn from the mistake instead of pointing fingers. They’ll pull the thumb and ask themselves “what could I have done differently?”

Death by Comfort Zone

The leaders of each industry beat their competition to the future, as their best leaders understand how to pull the future forward. Leaders satisfied with the status quo or more concerned about survival than growth will not do well. The best leaders focus on committing to constant change and innovation, internally and externally, to keep their organization fresh to customers. Leaders who build static businesses are doomed to failure from other organizations, which have the future on their mind. 

To combat this, leaders can develop systematic steps to develop forward thinking practices to foster innovation and growth within the company. One step is conducting annual scenario planning, using “what if” scenario planning to consider a range of plausible futures and how they might emerge in reality. Making the future tangible is another plausible step to promote innovation, tasking your team to identify key social, technological, economic, and political forces that are likely to impact your organization. This will help inform your decisions to become more forward thinking. 

Become a Great Leader

Being a leader requires consistent practice to develop the necessary well-rounded skills set to lead an organization effectively. To become a great leader, one must be honest, have a demonstrated track record of success, be an excellent communicator, and place emphasis on serving those they lead while also being fluid with your approach.  With these habits in mind, hopefully, this article has helped you reflect on your own actions as a leader and how you can grow to become a better one. 


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