January 30, 2024

Just because someone has exceptional technical skills and you’ve promoted them to a leadership position doesn’t make them a good leader.

A 2023 Gallup survey found that only 21% of employees trust their organization’s leadership, indicating a decline in employee engagement and morale. After all, building a positive workplace culture is tough when employees don’t trust in or feel inspired by their managers. This is also a significant contributor to high turnover. In another study, 57% of participants reported leaving a job due to their leaders, while 32% said they’ve thought about quitting due to bad managers.

Managers are often promoted based on technical skills without developing crucial leadership qualities, which can hurt their direct team and the entire workplace. So, what is the difference between a bad manager and a good leader? And how can you transform the first into the second? 

Keep reading to learn how to spot signs of ineffective or even toxic leadership practices, the qualities of influential leaders, and techniques for improving leadership skills.

Characteristics of Bad Managers vs. Strong Leaders

What are the common characteristics of bad leaders? What do effective leaders do differently? Let’s break it down.

Distant vs. Approachable

Toxic leaders often remain too distant from their team members. They might have a stand-offish attitude, delegate most of their responsibilities to their employees, and be less than supportive. This can create an intimidating atmosphere where employees aren’t comfortable going to their boss with ideas, questions, or concerns.

Good leaders do the opposite by keeping an open-door policy and welcoming feedback and requests for support when employees need it. They naturally encourage and inspire their team to create and innovate by remaining present and communicating consistently.

Uncaring vs. Attentive

One of the most important characteristics of a great leader is being a good listener, which is where many bad managers fail. They don’t bother:

  • Checking in with employees 
  • Building that personal connection
  • Providing support or encouragement during big projects or periods of transition or change

Even worse, they lack active listening skills and often talk over or interrupt team members.

On the other hand, experienced leaders know when to stop and listen and when to ask employees how they are doing or for feedback. They are adept at taking a professional yet compassionate approach to their people’s concerns or stressors. In doing so, they foster ongoing dialogue and build trust and rapport.

Demanding vs. Motivating

There’s a fine line between effectively motivating your team and being overly demanding—and you can guess which category toxic leaders fall into. They tend to push employees hard, giving them extreme workloads and focusing only on results and deadlines. As such, these demanding managers often ignore their employees’ mental health

Good bosses have an eye for when their teams need support, a break, or another solution. They know how to keep their direct reports engaged and motivated without setting unrealistic expectations or putting excessive pressure on employees. Effective managers focus on positive reinforcement and encouragement rather than intimidation and threats.

Critical vs. Appreciative

On the note of motivating employees, bad managers often do the reverse by focusing only on the negative and highlighting where team members have made mistakes or need to improve. These managers: 

  • May even call team members out in front of others, humiliating and belittling them 
  • Never give positive feedback or spotlight a job well done
  • Make employees feel unappreciated and demotivated, thus creating low morale

Strong leaders take another approach, prioritizing positive feedback for employees and showcasing their wins. When they have to deliver criticism, they ensure it’s constructive so employees can learn and grow. They understand how to balance the positive with the negative. They also regularly show employees their appreciation, from a simple “good job” to discussing their future career path with the company.

Withholding vs. Transparent

Poor leaders are often secretive or withholding, preferring to keep their teams siloed and only sharing information on a need-to-know basis. This lack of communication and openness creates mistrust, contributes to the feeling of being undervalued and underappreciated, and can make employees concerned about their job security. Plus, being told to do things without question or “because that’s how we’ve always done it” is demotivating because team members won’t know why or what they’re working toward. 

Tying back to that open-door policy, effective managers value transparency with their teams. They understand that this fosters trust and instills a sense of purpose and confidence in employees. Communicative leaders have a knack for showing their employees the “why” by explaining how their roles support the organization’s mission, vision, and values—and how they contribute to the major goals. 

Reactive vs. Proactive

A bad manager is not necessarily disrespectful or unappreciative. Sometimes, they are simply ineffective because they are too passive. This could mean they are uncomfortable with confrontation and having difficult conversations. Or it could be that they are not firm or decisive enough, so they’re struggling to garner respect and productivity from their team.

An essential leadership skill is understanding when to be compassionate and give employees leeway and when to provide more direction and structure. A savvy boss is not afraid to address inappropriate behavior or make a decision their team must follow. They know how to deliver this information respectfully while maintaining respect for themselves.

5 Ways to Address Ineffective or Toxic Managers

Now, let’s look at how to deal with bad managers and turn them into great leaders—and how to know when to make tough but necessary decisions.

Address the Bad Boss

Start by having a private meeting with the problem manager, always approaching the conversation calmly and rationally without being emotional. Tell them what you’ve learned and your concerns about their leadership abilities. 

Next, give them a chance to share their thoughts, then clearly define what changes you expect from their performance and behavior. Let them know if you’re putting them on a performance improvement plan or requiring them to participate in leadership coaching. Explain that they will have resources and support and that you want to see them succeed.

Bring in a Leadership Coach

Not everyone is a natural leader, but that doesn’t mean they can’t develop the skills! Investing in a leadership coach will bring in an expert with an outside perspective who can help managers of all departments and levels strengthen their management methods and communication skills. 

A high-quality leadership coach will encourage self-evaluation, guiding the manager to assess their qualities and behavior from a new point of view. This reflection will make them take responsibility for their actions and understand where and how to adjust. For many managers, this entails improving their emotional intelligence (EQ). 

While the manager is undergoing leadership coaching, you should monitor their progress to determine if they can make the necessary shifts in their approach and behavior.

Invest in Conflict Training

It could also be beneficial to hire a conflict expert for specialized training. As mentioned earlier, ineffective leaders are often uncomfortable with conflict training. Or they may become too emotional or invested in the incident themselves. These workshops can teach them how to resolve workplace conflict while mitigating toxic leadership techniques properly. 

Make Organizational Changes

You may find leadership is simply not in the cards for this individual. They might work better alone or get along with others on a peer level. Maybe they’re excellent at what they do and essential to your business.

In this case, consider moving the employee to a new role where they don’t have people to manage. They can continue doing what they do best, while you don’t have to worry about them harming the workplace culture and employee productivity

To prevent drama and confusion, remember to devise a plan and communicate the change and what it means to everyone affected.

Know When to Terminate a Toxic Manager

Sometimes, you can do everything possible to attempt to work things out with a lousy boss, to no avail. They might be unable or unwilling to change their attitude and behavior, in which case they will only continue spreading a toxic work environment. 

You must know when to make the hard call and fire a toxic manager. Remember, your HR team can guide the employee termination process and be present for the meeting.

Prioritize Leadership Development

Whether you have a weak manager on your hands or your leaders are doing well, there is always room for growth and improvement. And this is simply not an area to neglect! However, you’ll want to address bad bosses as soon as possible—letting leadership issues linger will only create more problems.

Understanding when to provide training, coaching, and support, when to make role changes, and when to let the individual go is vital to maintaining a healthy, productive workplace. It may not be easy, but when you make these positive changes, you’ll likely see positive results immediately. 

Do you need guidance or leadership coaching resources? Contact BlueLion today at info@bluelionllc.com or 603-818-4131 to learn how our HR specialists can help!

The information on this website, including its newsletters, is not, nor is it intended to be legal advice. You should contact an attorney or HR specialist for advice on your individual situation.