• Matthew Sommerfield

What Does a Bad Leader Look Like?

Have you ever experienced bad leadership? My guess is that at this very moment, you are reminded of one or two bad apples you've come across in the past. Every leader, or every human for that matter, has a specific method that they use to get someone to do what they want. This is not always inherently bad, like telling someone something difficult using the truth in a loving way. But all of us are brought up observing conflict, conflict resolution and negotiation tactics in our families or friend groups. A lot of the time, these observations are harmful and provide poor examples of how to "woo" people into doing what you want them to do.


Over the years, I have worked with great leaders, and I have worked with poor leaders. In the next few paragraphs, I am going to discuss a few "bad leader" types. I will lay out the problems, as well as provide my thoughts on solutions for both the leader and those under their authority.



The Dictator

The Problem

As a parent myself, I know how easy it can be to slip into Dictator mode. For some reason, I think that if I just firmly command these tiny humans, they will (every time) without fail or complaining, do as I say. After all, I made them...right? Now let me be clear; I realize that dictating to your children "because you said so" is not a sustainable battle, or even a good one. Eventually, as we all have done, children will respond with the all familiar "No!"


In business, this is when the Dictator Leader really starts to shine...or dull...either way it's not pretty. Instead of trying out a different type of communication, the Dictator will simply...dictate again. Louder or more firmly, as if this sudden change in volume will convince their subordinates to magically do as they're told. Yes, it's true; we do need to honor and listen to our leaders, bosses, etc., but we'd have a lot more buy-in if they reciprocated respect with their requests.


The Solution

Change starts at the top down. The Dictator will have to work hard to break this habit. That being said, I truly believe that if our leaders took time to consistently build trust with their teams outside of the normal work environment, they would see a morale boost within their organization. Trust takes time and it takes work.


How We Respond

You can't fight fire with fire. Our best response is one that feels much less vindictive, but is most effective. When the Dictator is met with humility, kindness and respect (especially when undeserved), there will be no need for conflict. However, it must be said that if you find yourself in a verbally abusive workplace, you need to get out. I have seen firsthand the harm that can be done in believing someone will change, when in fact, they never do.


The Manipulator

The Problem

A natural next bad leader type would be The Manipulator. If you can't force your team to do what you want, you can always trick them into it, right? This may work for a while, and there's a good chance your team may not catch on for some time, but failure is inevitable. Why? Because of two very basic human emotional responses: jealousy and bitterness.


Let me explain by sharing an example. The Manipulator leader is responsible for the performance of two sales teams: Team A and Team B. Team A has been performing above expectations, while Team B may as well be Team Z. So, how does the Manipulator leader bring Team B up to par? Perhaps a little passive aggressive back patting will do the trick. The Manipulator decides that he will reward Team A for the amazing job they have done, and rub it in the faces of Team B. He further expresses that Team A is the standard for all the "other" employees to follow. "Team A is definitely Team A for a reason!" he will say. The Manipulator is hoping that Team B will all of a sudden be motivated to rise to the challenge and meet all of the expectations of the Manipulator. Instead, what happens is that Team B becomes jealous of Team A, and bitter at their Manipulator leader for parading their failure out in the open.


The problem in this example is that there are expectations that have not clearly been communicated to Team B. Furthermore, the expectations of Team B are not necessarily reasonable based on the differentiation of skill sets and personalities from members of both teams. "Dangling the candy bar" is not motivational, nor is it effective leadership. And once again, it fosters jealousy and bitterness, both which make for a bad team dynamic.


The Solution

Leaders must have a reasonable expectation first. Then, the expectation needs to be clearly communicated to everyone involved, in a way that they will understand. Next, leaders should turn that expectation into a goal that is achievable (not without hard work, but without impossibility). Check in with your teams on their progress, help them make course corrections where necessary, then lead them all to success!


How We Respond

We can't expect people to read our minds. The Manipulator leader may not know that they are being unreasonable, confusing, or passive aggressive. It's up to you to be the one to make the leader aware, as well as inform them how they could be more clear or reasonable with their expectations. At the end of the day, we are all on the same team. We should all be working for the good of the organization and the people in the organization. Humility on both sides is key.


The Bulldozer

The Problem

The Bulldozer leader is easy to point out in a crowd, or in this case, an organization. This leader type usually does not care about how their actions affect others. When they want something done, they get it done, even if it means leaving a trail of hurt relationships behind them. When the Bulldozer leader has an opinion on something, not only will they let everyone know what that opinion is, but they will also repeatedly discuss why everyone else's opinions are inferior. As this habitually continues, those in an organization who are afraid of engaging in conflict will instinctively "shell up" and disengage. As a result, the Bulldozer leader wins. Every time.


The Solution

First of all, the Bulldozer is wrong. Their opinion may in fact be the correct one, but they are wrong 100% of the time in the way they've treated others. Their attitude is belittling, destructive and should be called out by someone, specifically other leaders in the organization. The best advice I can give to a Bulldozer leader is to take a week, a month, heck, even the rest of the year off of giving your opinion on anything. Instead, just listen. That's it. It will be hard, but you will begin to see that your team members are smart, capable, and, believe or not, full of good ideas!


How We Respond

I can tell you that how we want to respond vs how we should respond is vaguely different. I've come across several leaders in the past to whom I would've loved to give a piece of my mind. But the reality is that every time I have ever given into that impulse, it's made the situation worse...for me. Not to mention, I never feel better after the conflict. Instead, we need to allow ourselves to show patience and humility. But...and this is a BIG BUT...Do not be afraid to call out your Bulldozer leader. They need to be called out, but in a respectful way. In front of everyone, in the middle of a meeting, or in a group email is not the right place. Instead, request a 1-on-1 if possible, or invite a mediator to sit in on the crucial conversation. In some cases, depending on the relational dynamics that are at play, you may need to inform a third party first. Either way, Bulldozers need to be held accountable for how they treat others.


The Absentee

The Problem

This one is a tricky one. The Absentee leader is someone who is essentially a "title holder." They may be the CEO, CFO, Manager, etc., but they are never actually...around...physically present...Elvis has left the building! They are mostly clueless to the details of the daily tasks, roles, and responsibilities of their subordinates. Somehow, they can manage their team, but they couldn't tell them exactly how to do their job. This is someone who is so completely removed, yet thinks that they understand everything going on in their organization. Thus, the only way they are able to get their team to abide by their wishes is to pull rank and hold their title over them.


Of course, I am not advocating that we need over-the-shoulder leaders, but there does need to be more education on the part of the Absentee leader to better understand what their team is actually doing, and what success and failure looks like for each of their roles. If this is not in play, I strongly question how any job performance evaluation could properly be done by the leader. You can't judge what you don't know.


The Solution

Be present. Learn who your team members are (yes this needs to be said). Learn what your team members do. Ask questions, and listen! This will undoubtedly build trust between you and your team, and you may find that you do have a lot to say about processes, tactics, etc. But you will never know if you don't invest the time. I believe that a CEO who never shows up to work, and has no idea what his/her people do on a day-to-day basis, should not be the CEO. Just...be a shareholder...sit on the board...but not an Absentee leader.


How We Respond

There is no way we can expect our leaders to know every minuscule detail of our job. Most of us create tiny little mini jobs for ourselves anyway, such as organizational tasks, that would be a waste of time to explain to...anyone. However, the key roles and responsibilities of your job do matter and should be communicated and understood. So, one way to go about this is to create a list of what your tasks, roles or responsibilities are. Then, next to each item on the list, write what is positive about that specific task, what problem that task solves for the company, and what percentage of time of your day it takes to perform that task. Next, in another column, write what is difficult about that specific task, how you would approach the task differently given the resources, what percentage of time of your day it takes to perform that task now, as well as what percentage of time you could save by making that task more efficient. Finally, present this list to your Absentee leader and ask for their help in evaluating and solving these issues. Essentially, you are inviting them into the conversation and reminding them of the real reason they're in their role: You need feedback and wisdom from authority. Go get it!


Final Thoughts

Bad leaders are everywhere. But what do we do about it? What power do we have to bring change in an area that may or may not be our place of authority? Luckily, it starts in the mirror. It starts with you.

Whether you are in a specific leadership role or not, we are all called to be leaders. We must all strive for the good of those around us. We should always be looking for ways to treat people with love, kindness and respect. We need to get better. Leaders need to get better. After all, to quote my favorite leadership conference, "When a leader gets better, everyone wins!"


Join the Conversation

Which leader types have you come across and how have you responded to them? Let us know in the comments below!


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