How To Be A Horrible Leader – 50 Bad Leadership Traits

Bad Leadership

I have read so many books about how to be a great leader.  I thought it would be “fun” to make a list of the bad leadership traits to identify what a horrible leader looks like.  Of course this is done in the hope that one can avoid the ill effects on an organization from any of bad leadership behaviors.  We cannot all be perfect, but all it takes is a few of these in the right combination to kill moral and create a horribly run organization.

50 Bad Leadership Examples

  1. Belittling and condescending communication to staff.
  2. Little communication with your staff.
  3. Not empowering your staff to succeed.
  4. Asking them a hundred questions with every decision they make.
  5. Not admitting when you have made a mistake.
  6. Not giving raises to your staff or not compensating them appropriately.
  7. Not recognizing your staff for achievements they have made.
  8. Ignoring your staff.
  9. Not providing executive level sponsorship for your management.
  10. Not providing management with the authority to perform their jobs.
  11. Not providing the resources to your management staff in completing their objectives.
  12. Yelling at your staff.
  13. Forgetting common occasions. (Your staff gives you a Birthday/Christmas card or gift and you never do the same for them.)
  14. Using threats with your staff.
  15. Making your staff feel guilty if they do not do something extra.
  16. Using fear tactics to “motivate” your staff.
  17. Always having to throw in your 2 cents to every idea your staff offers.
  18. Playing favorites with your staff.
  19. Doing things that are self-serving.
  20. Incompetent in something critical to the organizations success and unable to improve or fill in that incompetence with other staff members.
  21. Lying to your staff—and then trying to cover it up.
  22. Making “examples” of a staff member in front of others.
  23. Disregarding the health and welfare of your staff.
  24. Not providing your staff the training to succeed.
  25. Not providing your staff opportunities to progress and grow.
  26. Being callous.
  27. Being unforgiving of staff mistakes.
  28. Holding past mistakes against your staff time after time.
  29. Not giving your staff adequate working environments.
  30. Analysis Paralysis – i.e. indecisiveness.
  31. Ignoring needed change.
  32. Being cheap.
  33. Not planning.
  34. Not setting a clear vision.
  35. Being a poor example of execution and accountability, but expecting others to execute.
  36. Butting into your staff’s responsibilities by doing things under their role without consulting with them.
  37. Not providing structure in your organization.
  38. Unwillingness to take risks.
  39. Poor management of oneself.
  40. Deceitful.
  41. Impulsiveness.
  42. Unable to take criticism.
  43. Unwilling to improve from criticism.
  44. Unethical business practices.
  45. Does not use conflict to correctly drive innovation.
  46. Believing your staff when they sing praises for you and then forming an ego.
  47. Misinterpreting signs.
  48. Disrespect for your staff.
  49. Unable to trust.
  50. Overly negative or overly positive.  (Overly positive meaning, ignoring bad signs and taking action, because you are so positive and hopeful that things will improve.)

I decided to limit myself to 50.  I am sure you have some more to add.  Please comment below and let me know your thoughts and add to the list.

About Todd Nielsen

Todd Nielsen helps organizations create miracles of success and profitability through the power of execution. Having served as Vice-President, President, Chief Operations Officer, Chief Strategy Officer, and Chief Executive Officer of organizations, he has learned how to create a culture that "Gets Things Done." He is passionate about leadership, and is a dynamic and inspirational speaker.


  1. kebede bekele says:

    thank you for helping to know these bad leaders behavior.
    I think you are talking about those developed countries. if you try to see those poor country’s leaders you may find millions of bad behavior.
    that is why we are not getting improved at all sector.

  2. Dick Ferris says:

    Might add to list:

    1. Never hire people who are brighter or have higher potential than you.
    2.Avoid face to face communication–always use email or other impersonal methods.
    3. Don’t be transparent–keep your people in the dark.
    4. Never solicit feedback–you might be disappointed with the results.
    5. Do your best to please everyone–it keeps everybody happy.

    All of these traits have at their core two characteristics–FEAR and PRIDE.

  3. One common in many companies is failure to share priority issues discussed in sen. management meetings with their staff.

  4. I’m sure that at every point there are several sub-themes outweigh the fifty point .. Nice article … But what amazed me that… a bad leader is always endearing in senior management or in high comity in that particular on his or her prospective organization and gets all the privileges and promotions regularly

  5. When we create “good” and “bad” lists we seem to find the faults list to be much longer.
    I would add the following:

    Failure to follow up.
    Lack of courage. The leader must be able to confront others for positive results.

  6. I could see some of these behaviors in a leadership position if the person in charge felt inadequate or threatened. Good list!

  7. In my opinion, all 50 traits can be sub-headings for one major trait: Being prideful.

  8. Looks like great minds think alike. Great idea to put this list together.
    You might like this slightly modified take on “leadership traits”:

  9. I challenge you to add 2 more and create a deck of “How To Be A Horrible Leader” playing cards, then send me a set. Thank you for the post, I enjoyed it.

  10. Knocking the heads of members of your team, encouraging gossip, disregardiing channels of communication, fault picking are also important no-no’s

  11. I found these quantity of these traits overwhelming and found myself looking for underlying causes. It seems a great many of these traits will start to manifest when the leader feels the need to protect himself / herself. They are fear driven. Then I started thinking where does this fear come from. Of course their might be a fear of failure developed in the leaders childhood (from education, parenting, culture of society etc). However, I do beleive a lot of fear comes from how the leaders are managed by their bosses through objectives, targets, appraisals, etc. If we want leaders to not demonstrate these traits perhaps we should start by looking at whether their is a culture of fear in their organisation and what is causing it.

  12. Hi Todd,

    Shouldn’t “micromanage” be somewhere on that list above? Micromanaging is one of the signs or really horrible leaders.

    Refusal to delegate s also another one.

  13. Working with your superior who does not want you to operate freely is so frustrating and to move from one institution to another does not help much in terms of growing in our career

  14. Linda Thurston Chaousis says:

    Great list.

  15. Great tips to guard any leader.

  16. wow!I can learn something great from this traits to prevent horrible situations!

  17. Nice list, I think I am only guilty of 3 of these bad traits from time to time. Like most people I am still a work in progress.

    • big brother says:

      I agree. As a leader, we are always a work in progress. Continuous improvement. I am not saying how many I am guilty of 🙂

  18. A summary of the traits your horrible leaders embody – although without followers one can not be a leader – might sound like this:
    o One who, at best, does not stop to understand their own emotions or, at least, fails to consider their own emotions.
    o An executive who may be surprised by their own reactions to certain situations; and, does not set time aside for personal reflection.
    o Finally, a superior who does not recognize or acknowledge the impact of one's own behavior on others.

    Any hope of transforming such a "leader" lies in a heavy dose of self-awareness.

  19. This is the great list & it is true that the list can include more. As highlighted in the beginning, we have to try to avoid these bad traits consciously. If the intent of the leader contributes in accelerating the capacity of leader's followers & contributes in achieving organizational interest & goal, I can forget all bad traits.

  20. Great list Todd been working with before..really bad experieces!

  21. the sad reality is they are still our managers and we cannot do anything to change their ways, habits and attitude towards work and what do they believe in. (T-T)

  22. This is a great list, I would hate to meet a manager with these qualities.

  23. This is such an informative article and very clearly written. Every single thought and idea is direct to the point. Perfectly laid out. thanx for taking your time sharing this to you scanners.

  24. Avijit Chakrovorty says:

    Thanks for sharing the list of ideas Todd. 🙂 Guess it would be a help to make all the morons better.

    • Todd Nielsen says:

      I am glad you liekd it Avijit. I hope that we can all look at this and improve those areas that we might be weak in. Recognition is the first step. 🙂

  25. Tim Foster says:

    Great list! I can learn from this list.
    Thank you

    • Todd Nielsen says:

      I thought you has already reached leadership nirvana Tim. 🙂 Glad you enjoyed it.

  26. Todd,
    Great list we all have flaws that can be improved upon and I will be sharing this with our executive team, mid and entry level managers so they can evaluate themselves and strive to be better and make there teams stronger.


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