Bad Leadership Examples: 9 Ultimate Warning Signs

In this article, we will give you 9 bad leadership examples we consider important warning signs. And you will also learn which factors contribute to the motivation and retention of employees. Many studies have already proven: Salary has little impact on job satisfaction and commitment.

“My job is actually pretty casual, but my boss is really obnoxious.”

Do you know such statements from your work colleagues or friends? Or even from yourself? Statements like these are unfortunately not uncommon.

Hierarchy of needs: definition and benefits

With his Hierarchy of needs from 1943, Abraham Maslow described the different levels of motivation or the motives and needs of a person. This system can also be applied to employees.

Maslow pyramid of needs

As a leader, you should strive to get your team members at least into the fourth level of this pyramid of needs. Only here does identification with the employer and the recognition of the “meaning of work” begin. However, it is a long, hard way to get there. If you yourself feel that you are not in level 4 or 5, it is impossible to lead your employees there. Not only does the company benefit from engaged employees, but people also have a fulfilling time at work and thus generally lead happier lives – so happy employees are a WIN-WIN situation!

The sad fact is, however, that a large proportion of us do not get beyond the lower rungs, not only at work but also in everyday life – which makes it all the more important for leaders to see themselves much more as a coach than as a mere issuer of instructions. A good manager always has an ear for private concerns as well as professional ones.

However, the use of the Maslow-pyramid does not always make sense. Difficult circumstances sometimes force someone to take an unpleasant job. If this is the case, even the pyramid is of no help. As a responsible manager, it is then your task to be a good support for the employee when he or she leaves.


Two factors contribute significantly to the motivation and retention of employees: The work climate, meaning colleagues and corporate culture, and the nature of the leader.

So what makes for good employee leadership? In surveys, the terms open communication, feedback, recognition, transparency, motivation and social competence come up again and again. All things that you can actually expect from a good manager. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case in most companies. Many bosses have never been allowed to enjoy leadership courses and unfortunately had bad role models themselves. As a result, they often lead in a very “old-fashioned” and authoritarian way instead of giving employees responsibility – “leading” them flexibly and adapted to their needs.


Bad leaders’ behavior is the most common reason for employees’ internal resignations. A survey in Germany conducted that five million Germans have already resigned internally. People suffer from the bad working atmosphere and lose the authentic connection to the company. They no longer perform anything but what is absolutely necessary. What follows? Demotivation and disinterest. Errors occur, and general dissatisfaction rises immeasurably.

Bad or poorly trained leaders drive away their best and most competent employees. They literally drive the company against the wall. Internal resignations, work-to-rule and real dismissals follow. The often very lengthy replacement phase results in considerable financial losses.

9 bad leadership examples

No employee wants to work in a tense and cold working atmosphere. After all, satisfaction is a fundamental part of quality of life. People who are unhappy will look for a new job in the short or long term. Here you can read about the qualities bad leaders use to scare away their employees.

1. A bad leader has no confidence in you.

Particularly bad managers are characterized by the fact that they are true control freaks. By constantly walking up and down the departments, they try to see what’s happening on the employees’ monitors.
☝ Tip for leaders: Even if it’s difficult at first, try to put yourself in your employees’ shoes. Independent work responsibilities can be enormously motivating, and you will also be able to learn a thing or two from your employees. In addition, you will have more time and energy for other tasks, and a trust-based “no blame culture” will also strengthen the innovative power of your team.

2. A bad leader doesn’t give you feedback.

Did I do everything right in the project? Did my work make a difference? Or did my implementation of the project even cause something negative? Employees who don’t know whether they are doing their job right or wrong can’t do anything but purely work to rule. What follows is stagnation, no new ideas and motivated approaches. And that is more damaging than not receiving feedback. No feedback equals personal stagnation. Even negative feedback can be taken positively. After all, you get a chance to learn from your mistakes.

Tip for leaders: Do you have regular performance reviews or team meetings? Do you also have the opportunity for feedback during these meetings? Put it on the agenda, think about playful feedback rounds, and include this topic as the last item in every project meeting. 360-degree feedback is also recommended.
Giving feedback regularly is backbreaking work – but it pays off 10-fold! When you not only give feedback, but also accept it, it fosters trust with your teammates.

3. A bad leader ignores your problems.

There was a death in your family? Instead of your boss giving you a few days off, he just looks at you in wonder. He doesn’t understand why you are slow and depressed and don’t work as determinedly as usual?

No matter what issue is bothering you at the moment, you should always find an open ear for it with your supervisor. Especially when it comes to issues that have something to do with work. Quarrel with a teammate? A good manager doesn’t ignore them, but motivates everyone involved to resolve the conflict on their own.

Tip for leaders: Before such issues transform into a reason for termination or a drop in performance, the manager should intervene as a mediator or, if necessary, organize a mediator.

4. A bad leader ignores your human side.

You hardly ever get to see your boss? And if you do see him, it’s only because he wants to give you new tasks or complains about your performance? Typical of a bad boss.

A good leader proactively and frequently seeks out contact with his employees, talks to them – not just about work – and even takes an interest in how they’re doing personally. At a coffee shop together or over lunch. A personal relationship creates a valuable basis of trust on which successful collaboration can be built.

Tip for leaders: Regular team events are the best breeding ground for private communication and getting to know each other on a personal level. It doesn’t always have to involve a great deal of effort or expense — just having dinner together is enough to learn to appreciate the human side of each other.

5. A bad leader does not justify his decisions.

A department is dissolved, many employees have to leave. The project on which you have worked with motivation and time is abandoned. And why? Only the good Lord knows, oh sorry, the boss.

In companies, difficult decisions often have to be made. Most of the time, these also affect the employees. A bad boss is the one who announces such decisions, no more and no less. What happens then? The rumor mill flares up and one or the other will worry about his or her job. Instead of explaining decisions plausibly and with background, a failure to speak up lowers employee motivation and stokes fears of change and possible job loss.

Tip for leaders: Ideally, the manager finds a practical way to involve the employees in the decisions. This not only ensures greater understanding of changes, but also motivates employees to implement these changes and endure any short-term losses.

6. A bad leader does not take responsibility for wrong decisions.

What’s the best thing about a decision that was never explained? Of course, if something goes really wrong, it’s not your boss’s fault. No, it was the employees who didn’t perform adequately. Good leaders own up to their mistakes; that’s fair and human.

Tip for leaders: Lead by example. If managers can admit to mistakes, employees are less afraid of them. In addition, after a mistake, managers should always focus on what they have learned from it. By this, a positive error culture can be established.

7. A bad leader thinks fear is a way to motivate you.

Especially bad bosses spread fear and anxiety. Such a leader threatens, for example, that soon some employees will have to leave if sales do not improve soon. Pressure is built up and the employees’ fear increases.

Why does a boss do this in the first place? Because your boss thinks that this method will cause you to perform better and bring out your ambition.

Tip for leaders: Don’t do it! If you threaten an employee’s safety for a long period of time, they can’t muster intrinsic motivation and will leave your team. Even if the ship is threatening to sink, the manager should face the problems confidently and with ideas for solutions.

8. A bad boss is not interested in your ideas.

You’ve been doing your job day in and day out for ages. And you do it really well. You have a detailed knowledge of the subject like no one else. Suddenly you realize: If you changed one little thing in the process, the end result would be even better. In the next meeting, you proudly present your idea with great commitment. Your boss’s reaction? “We’ve always done it our way. The approach we’ve taken so far has proven successful. We’re sticking with it.” Motivation equals zero.

Tip for leaders: As a manager, you know that diversity of ideas and the courage to try something new are just as important as focus and consistent processes. It is often difficult to find the right balance. However, it has proven effective to give employees a clearly defined scope for their creative development. This leeway can be defined quite transparently in the form of an innovation process, where everyone knows how new ideas are handled company-wide. You can make it even more open and organize a monthly IDEA SHOW. There, every employee can pitch his or her idea in 5 minutes – if it advances one round, the idea is awarded resources.

9. A bad leader thinks he is a good leader.

You and the whole team disagree with the boss? Knowing that he will not change his mind, you give up right after the first second. Have you ever heard about the Dunning-Kruger-Effect? The worst thing about a bad boss is when he doesn’t see his very own weaknesses. After all, it takes away from him – no matter what things he already handles well – the full potential for further improvement.

Tip for leaders: According to the motto “Those who believe they are good have stopped getting better,” managers should be self-reflective, discuss their management style with their own employees and, in the best case, have a mentor or coach at their side.


Bad leaders not only demotivate, but can also make employees sick due to their mental and physical stress. You have such a boss? Pull the ripcord! Try to give your manager feedback and tell him/her how you feel. If that doesn’t bring about a change, you should look for a new career path – with a fantastic boss! And if, by any chance, you are a leader reading this article and thinking: “Is this me?”: It is never too late to challenge yourself!

VIDEO: How to get rid of your angry boss (TED)

Bad leadership FAQs

There is a variety of bad leadership behaviors, depending on the workplace. But these 9 bad behavior examples are common:

  1. Has no confidence in you
  2. Doesn’t give you feedback
  3. Ignores your problems
  4. Ignores your human side
  5. Does not justify his decisions
  6. Does not take responsibility for wrong decisions
  7. Thinks fear is a way to motivate you
  8. Is not interested in your ideas
  9. Thinks he is a good leader

Examples of bad leaders in pop culture are: Michael Scott (The Office), Gordon Gekko (Wallstreet), Miranda Priestly (The Devil wears Prada) or Dave Harken (Horrible Bosses).