10 warning signs of a bad team leader


Senior leaders are judged not just by their leadership effectiveness but by the leadership of the leaders that report to them.
Image source: Getty Images

The leaders in your team will want to impress you and might shield you from their poor behaviour. Perhaps, a strong bond or the fact that you see them as the star performer may mean you are reluctant to see (or act) when their leadership isn’t hitting the mark.

A study by researchers from The University of Central Florida’s College of Business found that when a person is considered a top performer, they are much more likely to have bullying behaviour overlooked by their manager. While unfairly, the people who were the victims of that behaviour were often seen as the bullies themselves and received lower job performance evaluations due to being victimised.

The study’s co-author, Shannon Taylor, an Associate Professor of Management, attributed this flawed decision-making to cognitive bias. He explained it as “…the halo effect, in which positive attributes mask negative traits, or the horn effect, in which one negative attribute casts a person in a completely negative light”.

Whatever the reason, effective leaders – who are leading other leaders – need to keep their eyes wide open and ears tuned in to the right frequency to know what’s going on. They are alert to the 10 warning signs:

1. Inconsistent behaviour

Their behaviour is inconsistent and changes based on who is in the room. Notice how your direct report behaves in front of you, when other people are around, and in meetings with their peers or team.

2. It’s always about them

The leader never acknowledges their team’s efforts, always talks about themselves and what they need and ensures they always look good. It’s about them winning and coming out on top.

3. It’s never their fault

The leader is reluctant to admit mistakes and seeks to blame others to ensure there is little or no scrutiny on how they need to change or improve. Similarly, their team struggles to regroup and learn when things go wrong.

4. They won’t compromise

They are unwilling or find it very hard to change their mind, and seek always to get what they want, whether it’s resources, rewards or approval of ideas. They rarely, if ever, compromise.

5. They don’t back the team

The leader is overly compliant and unwilling to back what they stand for, so they don’t support their team and what they need.

6. The leader’s team is MIA

You rarely engage with their team, and when you do, the employees seem ill-informed and reluctant to talk to you. They lack cohesion and focus, so you sense there is no ‘team’. Your direct report never delegates meetings (involving you or more senior stakeholders) to their team members.

7. Concern for their team is missing

When you ask about their team, the leader merely insists that everything is going well. They never ask for advice or help, and any issues you raise about their team are brushed aside.

8. They play favourites

The leader always promotes one person over the rest of the team and delegates the good work or rewards only to that one person.

9. They don’t back their team

Team members are rarely promoted, suggesting the leader may not be good at coaching and developing. Neither is the team diverse and inclusive, indicating the leader may only be hiring people who fit a specific mould.

10. The team seems stuck

The work isn’t delivered to a high quality and standard, so there’s lots of rework and long hours, which can signify stress and poor leadership focus.

Warning signs are just that, and ideally, they should be validated through sources.These sources may include feedback you receive from your direct report’s team members, peers, their executive assistant, and suppliers or customers they deal with. Plus, data from engagement results, 360 feedback assessments, employee exit interviews, and other performance metrics such as productivity, staff turnover, absenteeism, stress levels, and formal complaints.

You are the leader’s leader, and with that comes the responsibility to give tough feedback when needed and to coach and support in a way that enables them to reach their leadership potential.

Michelle Gibbings is a workplace expert and author. Find out more at www.michellegibbings.com.