Bad leadership: 10 mistakes every great leader avoids

By Robert Half on 8 February 2021

Do you aspire to be a business leader?

Many professionals dream of climbing the career ladder and reaching a position where they can manage their own team. However, to become a successful leader, there are certain qualities you need and some which should be developed.

You should also monitor your behaviour and leadership traits, to ensure you don’t develop any bad leadership qualities over time.

There’s not just one leadership style though and so it’s important to understand yours. Do you see yourself as a definitive leader for example, where you make difficult decisions quickly and confidently? Or are you a collaborative leader, who avoids telling others what to do and instead tries to help individuals find their own path?

Alternatively, you could be a persuasive leader, who inspires employees to achieve more than they thought they were capable of and always comes up with creative ideas. Or, perhaps you’re a diagnostic leader, who remains steady, thinks systematically and has a keen eye for detail?

Whatever leadership style you have, make sure you possess the necessary skills and avoid the ‘perception gap’.

The best way to be a great leader though is to know how to avoid bad leadership mistakes. By being aware of the pitfalls, you will be more likely to recognise,these bad habits and adjust your leadership style accordingly. Here are 10 bad leadership mistakes you should be aware of:

1. Micromanaging employees

If you don't give employees some decision-making ability and autonomy, they may start looking for jobs elsewhere. You are also likely to burn yourself out by trying to control every member of the team and dictate their actions. As a leader, you need to have the confidence and trust in your team to execute their tasks independently, whilst being there to offer guidance when required.

2. Being a know-it-all

If you pretend you have all the answers and are always right, you can become very difficult to work with. You will also find it hard to win the respect and trust of your employees. Instead, be open to suggestions, and where possible, adopt a collaborative decision-making approach. You may even find that after a while, employee motivation will improve when you listen to what they have to offer.

3. Hiding in the office

Being a distant figurehead by sitting in your office behind a shut door is certainly a bad leadership mistake. The best leaders are not only visible in the office, but they engage with employees and get actively involved.

4. Being too friendly

Whilst it’s important to engage with employees, don’t be too overly friendly. A certain degree of distance and professionalism is needed to retain your authority and lead your team effectively.

5. Demanding “perfect” results

Positive results and good practices need to be encouraged by nurturing staff, supporting them and reinforcing desired behaviours. You may also need to offer constructive criticism to underperforming employees, whilst remaining sensitive and empathetic. However, employees are unlikely to respond well to demands for perfect performance.

6. Sitting on the fence

In business, you need to be able to make difficult decisions and be accountable for the outcomes. If you’re indecisive and unwilling to commit to one course of action, it creates a leadership void. Your authority will be undermined and your team may be left feeling confused about what the next steps are.

7. Taking credit for other people's work

If an employee makes a valuable contribution or comes up with a great idea, the last thing they want is to discover that their boss has taken all the credit. This bad leadership will crush morale and eradicate trust with the employee and your team. A good leader gives credit to their employees where due and fosters encouragement for innovative ideas.

8. Recruiting ordinary people

If you're going to drive your organisation forward, then it's important to avoid making common hiring mistakes. As a leader, you’re expected to find exceptional people who are prepared to work hard and aim for fantastic results. Settling for average people will normally give you average outcomes. If new staff don’t pull their weight or constantly make mistakes, you also risk demotivating your existing staff. Therefore, set the bar high when recruiting.

9. Neglecting your own development

Neglecting your own career development is a bad leadership mistake that is commonly overlooked. Failing to upgrade your leadership skills and competencies can put you in a vulnerable position. To be an innovative leader, you need to be someone who understands the sector and role better than the people working for you. Therefore, keep your skills and experiences up-to-date with the help of training, coaching and a mentor.

10. Being inflexible

A mistake many leaders make is the failure to adapt and change. The best leaders need to adjust their leadership style to suit the needs and personalities of their teams and the scenario they operate in.

Bad leadership can offer lessons to learn

Being a good leader will set a good example for your employees to follow. Your leadership will also shape employees’ attitude to work and will play a large part in your working relationships. No leader wants to be regarded as a bad boss.

But to become a great leader takes time. Most leaders will make some of these 10 mistakes along the way, but those who learn and grow will be a step ahead in their career.

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