The following thoughts are coming from various experiences and circumstances in my life over the past few years. This year, I’ve had to be a leader in certain jobs and areas, and I’ve also seen others be leaders. In an election year, of course, our nation is focused on the Ultimate Leader—our President. Conversations have abounded on this topic.
Let’s be honest: leadership is hard, but it’s important. Because I’m an entrepreneur, I’ve seen multiple small businesses thrive or wilt under leadership. Because of my religious background, I’ve seen churches and nonprofits tank or continue through leadership. Because of my own leadership roles, I’ve had to wrestle through what it takes to lead in a much more personal way.
So what have I learned? A whole lot. I’ve seen good leadership and bad leadership. I’ve made mistakes and I’ve seen others make mistakes. So here are my thoughts on leaders and the way they lead: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The Bad/Ugly Leader
- A bad leader is on an ego trip of power and dominance rather than teamwork.
Let’s be honest: Leadership roles often attract power-hungry people who want to lead others—not actual leaders. A lot of people view leadership as being on top and dominating others, and they want to lead regardless if they’ll do it well or not. They want to tell everyone what to do and how to do it. They want to be in control, and they aren’t interested in the true success or wellbeing of others.
- Doesn’t listen to other opinions or viewpoints and will be antagonistic to other leaders.
If a leader views leadership as dominance and power—“My way or the highway!”—then, of course, they won’t listen. They will be extremely insecure and feel the need to squelch other leaders that are around them instead of helping other leaders take ownership in their areas of expertise and lead. A bad leader will ruthlessly micromanage, critique, and want final say in everything—whether they are skilled in a particular area or not.
- A bad leader will not be critiqued.
On the flip side, though, a bad leader will want to see himself or herself as above any critique. They won’t do well with processes, checks, or balances set in place to rightly protect from unhealthy leadership. A bad leader will want complete control in any situation, because they’re too insecure to value input or concern from outside parties. They will often cling to their vision or idea of what should happen within an area whether they have true experience or not, whether times or changing or not. They will be antagonistic toward change or flexibility to make something better, or they might be antagonistic towards processes, rules, or regulations that directly affect them or cause inconvenience. In other words: If the idea or trend, rule or regulation is something that they see as beneath them or hindering them personally, they will not change no matter the detriment to their employees or business, group or church.
- A bad leader demands respect and doesn’t give it.
A bad leader needs to feel superior to others in every way. Thus, they will demand respect from people. They will have the viewpoint that just because they’re the boss/leader/etc., they have the ultimate right to do whatever they want, say whatever they want, treat others however they want and still be respected. They won’t make the connection that respect must be mutual—and that in order to be truly respected, they must respect others. A bad leader will mistake fear for respect. They might even mistake sucking up from others as respect. They will mistake unquestioning devotion as respect. They won’t recognize that true respect can’t be forced on people. True respect grows out of someone who is worthy of respect because of their integrity, true talent or expertise, and their mutual respectful treatment of others. True respect takes a lot of listening and servant-hearted leadership.
6. A bad leader unhealthily and disrespectfully communicates to others.
Because of all of the above, a bad leader who wants to dominate and control will be very disrespectful and unhealthy in the way he or she communicates. This can manifest itself in a number of ways. A bad leader might yell to get their way, call people names, make racist or sexist jokes, and try fear-driven rhetoric. They might threaten or belittle another person’s feelings, opinions, or thoughts. They might want to be in charge of the conversation, not let other others talk, silence anyone in opposition, and downright quench others’ spirits, minds, and hearts.
- However, a bad leader knows how to charm, manipulate, and lie in order to get what they want.
A bad leader doesn’t necessarily manifest the above more obvious unhealthy communication styles in all situations. He or she might actually be very good at charming people, manipulating people, and lying to get what they want. Bad leaders are great at playing the good, generous person when they know it will get them what they want in the public eye. How they act behind closed doors or to people who are voicing concerns or disagree with them is another thing entirely.
- A bad leader will make mistakes, but won’t admit it or apologize. If they do apologize, it’s false.
A bad leader would never admit to making mistakes, leading anyone astray, or apologize for actions. If one does apologize, one will do so in an insincere, false manner that leaves the blame more towards someone else or will downplay the damage or destruction caused by his or her mistake. Real apologies or repentance always comes with true change in actions and attitudes. Again, if a bad leader won’t truly listen to concerns, own up to his or her mistakes, and implement true change—they aren’t sincerely sorry for anything they might pretend to be. A bad leader will always make excuses or blame others for their own failures. It will be a consistent pattern in their leadership to pass the blame and let others take the fall for their own issues.
- A bad leader will surround themselves with “Yes Men/Women” who will say and do whatever he or she wants.
A bad leader truly likes to be fawned over. Because they don’t want to be truly critiqued or challenged, you will often find them with a squad of admirers (usually paid or rewarded well) around them. In fact, while the bad leader might be great at manipulating and lying to others to get what they want, the ironic thing is that others will often manipulate and lie to the leader just as much. Why? Because if a leader only wants to be fawned over, then he or she will surround themselves with people as manipulative or insincere as they are. Bad leaders attract bad followers. The tricky part comes for people who won’t just fall in line. That’s when a bad leader will begin to antagonize—when they feel as if someone isn’t fawning.
- A bad leader is ultimately at heart a narcissist who may become more and more destructive.
Ultimately, the bad leader is entirely self-focused in how they interact with others. The more power they are given, the more narcissistic they become. A bad leader will begin to truly believe the world should revolve around them and their unique vision. They will see themselves as special, as “called,” as better than the masses that serve them. They see people as commodities, not as flesh-and-blood humans. They will dispose of people who won’t agree with them or defend their actions.
Bad leadership can escalate in many harmful ways. They may misuse funds, abuse others (both mentally, physically, even sexually). They may exploit others unfairly. They may become true dictators in their realm of influence that left unchecked will bring more damage to the world than anything.
However, I think it’s also good to note that a bad leader will eventually fall apart. Left unchecked, things will unravel more and more in whatever they are in charge of. What happens is that people are usually traumatized, jobs may be lost, or faith is lost. Bad leaders will leave a trail of wounded people behind them.
I think it’s important to note that a bad leader may be truly sincere in what they’re trying to accomplish. If they are a bad leader, though, they won’t be able to grow and be challenged and let others lead alongside them…Bad leaders aren’t all horrible dictators. Bad leaders are everywhere—and they are often nice people who just don’t effectively lead. Even if they are nice people, though, they aren’t leaders. Leadership can be taught, and sometimes people just need some feedback, and then they’ll change.
Bad leadership, at the core, can come through two things in a person. One may be insecurity and woundedness. If a person is deeply wounded or insecure, they will seek leadership to try and fill the insecurity and brokenness in themselves. On the other side, bad leadership can stem from a deep pride and superiority complex. There are truly people out there who think they know it all and are better than everyone and need to nourish their egos.
So if you notice a bad leader, don’t blindly follow them. See the red flags and don’t get involved with a group or company, church or startup that is run with bad leadership. Get away from the environment, set healthy boundaries, and stand up for yourself. Trust your intuition, even if things don’t seem as bad as they could be. It will always get worse before it gets better when a bad leader is in charge. Don’t let others mistreat you or lead you down a detrimental path as they follow their own quest for dominance.
Photo by Adobe Stock/blvdone