by Rich Hein

11 Profiles in Bad Leadership Behavior

Apr 30, 201311 mins

Recognizing where you fall short in your management style and then developing a plan to strengthen those areas can mean the difference between being a boss and being a leader. It can also make a difference in how far you advance in your IT management career.

Most of us have worked for a bad supervisor at one point in our lives. (If you haven’t, consider yourself very lucky.) Perhaps they yelled a lot and kept everyone walking on egg shells, or maybe they couldn’t or wouldn’t articulate what they expected. However it manifests itself, bad leadership can kill your company’s productivity and can spread like a cancer. The important thing for your career goals is that you don’t let yourself fall into any of these bad management traps.

Just because you hold a leadership position doesn’t mean you are a good leader. “As a manager, you wield a tremendous amount of power. You can be an incredibly negative power or a positive one who’s looked up to by both peers and employees,” says Kathleen Brush, author of The Power of One: You’re the Boss.

According to Brush, many people in leadership positions don’t understand that employees don’t come self-motivated. “If you’re lucky, you may have one or two [employees] who are and so it’s the bosses’ job each day to motivate their employees,” says Brush.

The effects of bad leadership can range from mundane to catastrophic. The effects could mean missed software milestones, late product delivery, poor employee retention, unethical behavior and more.

To make sure you keep your career on an upward trajectory, it’s important to determine where your strengths and shortcomings lie. Knowing this allows you to fill the gaps and strengthen areas of weakness.

The 11 profiles listed here fall into the demotivating behavior category, so If you find yourself fitting some of these descriptions, it’s time for some self-examination and perhaps time to make some changes.

The Lousy Listener

Speaking of communication, this is normally a person who has a fairly large ego and typically doesn’t listen because he/she feels like they have all the answers. This, in turn, causes employees to have a hard time buying into projects and goals knowing that their superior hasn’t considered something that could cause issues later.

Another example that Brush offers: “I saw repeatedly that you’d have a marketing or HR person and the company is contemplating some new IT technology and they would just glaze over. Next thing you know your employees are saddled with a system that causes productivity to decrease because their manager didn’t participate in the decision when they should have.” She also noted the reverse with CIOs and people from a tech background. When strategy and marketing came into the play, she’d see that same vacant stare.

The Complacent Leader

In IT, change is always in the air. There is always new technology emerging and the competition is constantly trying to outdo one another. CIOs that land in this zone will quickly find their competitors have gained an advantage through IT.

“A lot of managers embrace this philosophy that if they [employees] have a problem, they’ll tell me. If they’re not telling him there is a problem then he assumes everything is good. That’s not always the case and this is recipe for employees to become disenchanted and disengaged,” says John Reed, from Robert Half Technology.

When employees find themselves in a situation where they are working on technology that is out of date and behind the times, they often question their future. “I’ve worked for companies that have had antiquated IT systems and the employees are appalled and demotivated by the fact their company could not keep up with IT. It is a huge downer for morale,” says Brush.

The Buddy Boss

Instead of being a leader, which they don’t know how to be, managers who fall into this category make buddies. “Rather than earn their respect, what they try to do is to create friends in the workplace,” says Brush.

According to the experts, bosses can never be buddies with their employee. Ever. Friendships neutralize the boss’s authority and power. They can also cloud a leader’s objectivity and hinder his/her ability to correct behaviors, to delegate and to hold employees accountable.

When friendships compromise output, it’s the boss who will be accountable. “Be friendly to employees, but do not cross the line that muddies the relationship between boss and friend. It could cost you your job,” says Brush.

The Inbox Slave

This can also apply to text messaging, says Brush. Communications are the life’s blood of any organization and this person is very comfy behind his or her mobile or desktop device. They like to communicate in the medium that can be particularly ineffective especially when there needs to be some interaction.

“A communication that could take three minutes in person or on the phone now takes three hours or three days,” says Brush. The written word is always subject to interpretation and you can’t read someone’s tone in an email.

The Unethical Boss

This is a category that doesn’t just annoy employees, it appalls them. For that reason, it’s a powerful demotivator. When a boss breaks or fudges the rules, cheats, lies or indulges in behaviors that reveal a lack of moral principles, he or she loses employees’ respect. Without their respect, a boss cannot lead.

In addition, when a leader indulges in unethical practices, he gives his employees permission to do the same. “Padding mileage reports, splurging on business travel expenses, failing to take responsibility for mistakes –they all become endorsed activities by the boss –the role model,” says Brush.

A leader has to display integrity and honesty in what they do. They also need to be focused and supportive of the people working for them. “It absolutely has a trickle-down effect,” says Reed.

The Unfair Boss

Our current societal efforts to treat people equally have led to confusion among some leaders about “equality” versus “fairness” in the workplace. “I talked to a manager who gave all his employees the same pay raise because he ‘wanted to be fair’, ” Brush recalls. He then seemed mystified that the productivity of his best employees declined to that of an average worker.

“Rewards can be powerful tools of motivation, but they must be administered fairly,” says Brush. Remember: Fair doesn’t mean equal.

The Disorganized Boss

Workplaces are filled with employees who lack direction because disorganized leaders don’t deliver and manage plans and strategies to guide their teams. What’s the chance of an unguided team maximizing its productivity to create competitively superior innovative widgets? “What’s the chance of employees being inspired by a leader who leads like a doormat or by random thoughts?” says Brush.

The Cynical Boss

“Being cynical is an oxymoron for a leader; it’s almost an admission that you can’t do your job,” says Brush. They regularly say things like, ‘No that’s not going to work’ or ‘I don’t know why we are doing this; this is stupid’ and they don’t realize the impact that has.”

“Employees don’t get charged up to do a team cliff dive. If something is stupid then the boss has the responsibility to make it unstupid,” says Brush. If you’re a leader and you think that something is not worth doing or going to create major problems, it’s your responsibility to go to your superior and get clarification. A good leader shouldn’t want to make uninformed decisions.

The Poor Communicator

“This is a recipe for high turnover,” says Reed. This type of boss isn’t great at articulating what his expectations are. He or she sends emails that are confusing and require back and forth or makes requests without setting necessary parameters. Often times they aren’t responsive unless cornered. “When you don’t communicate with people they just make it up in their head,” says Reed.

He offers an example from a different perspective, perhaps there is a rumor that the company is downsizing. If the boss doesn’t come out and talk about it, most employees will assume that it’s going to happen and will start making preparations.

The Know-It-All

This leader typically likes to demonstrate that he is the smartest person in the room and in doing so often can overlook critical items. “Newer leaders often times feel like they have to appear to their team as if they always have the answer. A really effective leader knows that the best answers often come from the people you work with,” says Reed.

“People that are managers in a technical environment are involved in managing technology projects, technology initiatives and making sure that the strategy is in place. Where they aren’t typically focused is blocking time off to talk to people on their team to talk to them about their job satisfaction, how they feel about their job and their future,” says Reed. He goes on to note that a leader that doesn’t always have the perfect answer but knows where to get that answer is what can define an elite manager.

The Foul-Mouthed Boss

Some managers don’t realize how demoralizing this type of behavior can be. If foul language comes out of your mouth in an angry tone you can very easily create a situation where no one wants to function. Whether it’s anger, disgust or this is how you talk to your friends, you can’t bring it to the office.

“Leaders have to earn the right to retain the services of the best and brightest, every day, by the way they conduct themselves,” says Roy West, CEO of the Roy West Companies and senior scientist at the Gallup Organization.

Finding Success at Work and in Life

In his recent book, Special Forces operator and Army Officer Peter Blaber recalls the moment that someone shared with him a secret to leadership. There are three M’s to being a successful leader and to life in general, he writes:

They stand for the mission, the men and me. He then drew a line from the top M through the middle M, down to the bottom M. ‘They’re all connected,’ he continued. ‘So if you neglect one, you’ll screw up the others. The first M stands for the mission; it’s the purpose for which you’re doing what you’re doing. Whether in your personal or professional life, make sure you understand it; and that it makes legal, moral, and ethical sense, then use it to guide all your decisions. The second M stands for the men. Joshua Chamberlain, a Medal of Honor-receiving school teacher in the Civil War, once said that “there are two things an officer must do to lead men; he must be careful for his men’s welfare, and he must show courage. “Welfare of the troops and courage are inextricably linked. When it comes to your men you can’t be good at one without being good at the other. Take care of your men’s welfare by listening and leading them with sound tactics and techniques that accomplish your mission, and by always having the courage to do the right thing by them. The final M stands for me. Me comes last for a reason. You have to take care of yourself, but you should only do so after you have taken care of the mission, and the men. Never put your own personal well-being, or advancement, ahead of the accomplishment of your mission and taking care of your men.

This advice is what separates the leaders from the wannabes. Being a leader is about doing the right thing and leading by example. You simply cannot have one standard for yourself and one for everyone else.

“The Golden Rule, as Dr. Don Clifton, the former Chairman of the Gallup Organization would refer to it, is we shouldn’t treat people the way we want to be treated, we should treat people the way THEY want to be treated. And, to know how they want to be treated, you have to ask,” says West.

If you’ve seen some of yourself in these profiles, then it’s time to step up and do something about it. Take some leadership seminars, communication courses or do whatever it takes to help you better connect to the people who depend on you daily.

Rich Hein is a senior writer for He covers IT careers. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline, on Facebook, and on Google +.