5 easy ways to identify poor leadership styles in the workplace

There is an infinite amount of written material and videos on poor leadership styles and how to correct these, in fact, new material comes out almost daily.

However, actual change in leadership style comes at a much slower rate than our VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world and employees require.

Practically, leaders are provided with an infinite number of opportunities for practice and improvement in their day to day interactions and feedback.

The reality of having so many opportunities to practice and develop is the perfect recipe for the ongoing development effective leadership requires.

The journey of ongoing leadership development, however, is tough and requires a lot of dedication towards personal growth. And personal growth requires crossing of the personal and professional edges of our comfort zone.

At these edges we leave what is familiar, comfortable and known to us behind, and embrace a new way of showing up. Or hesitate, or struggle or procrastinate.

Changing one’s leadership style is never ‘plug-and-play’. It requires a dedicated individual and an environment of support.

The crossing of edges during this growth journey gives important context to why leadership styles often do not change or change too slowly. We must do more to identify what is behind this.

Bringing a systemic lens to these challenges is extremely helpful.

Leaders need coaches and support from each other. Without that a precedent for poor leadership will already be set.

Let us take a look at these systemic indicators of poor leadership, and why changing them supports the leader and the organisation.


1 - Participation levels in meetings

Leaders benefit greatly from leaning into the knowledge and expertise of their team members.

Autocratic leadership does not have regard for staff opinions, even from those with extensive skills and experience in the matter being discussed.

Knee jerk quick fixes are preferred, especially when orders come from further up the organisation.

While there are always situations in which an autocratic leadership style can be helpful, this dominating style has been criticised for many years. It does nothing for inviting millennials to flourish in the workplace.

Information is one of the most important assets for a good leader, especially for decision making in volatile times.

To make cohesive decisions that address systemic challenges in the organisation, all leader benefit significantly from getting as much input from a wide variety of people that are directly or partially involved with the challenge at hand.

Only after hearing as many voices as possible can a leader actually move the organisation toward a sensible solution.

Is only the leader’s voice audible in meetings? A clear indicator of poor leadership.


2 - Agility or Rigidity in a world of change

Dynamic and agile organisations carry deep resilience in their DNA.

The ability to adjust, or pivot, to the dynamic, fast-paced and ever-changing world is a critical survival necessity for all organisations.

Bad leaders though are prone to be overly attached to predictability and compliance. They have no tolerance for deviation, even when process inconsistencies require team members to find creative ways to overcome these.

An exaggerated reliance on policies as opposed to valuing and working with the fluidity of a dynamic and ever-changing world creates rigid and dysfunctional organisations.

While there will always be a need for compliance, clear policies and procedures, the focus here is on the rigidity of the leaders’ inability to be flexible in response to the actual business reality which is in a constant state of flux.

Shifting their mindset to accept and intentionally work with the reality of an ever changing world enables leaders to be more agile and create organisations that evolve at the pace required to survive and thrive.


3 - Creativity and Innovation Levels

What do you observe in the interactions in meetings or in one-on-one conversations? Is the leader actively encouraging and soliciting the thinking of the team members, or is he or she providing all the thinking and solutions?

In addition leaders with poorly developed emotional intelligence will be seeking views aligned to their thinking vs stimulating creativity.

This approach completely disengages staff.

In fact, we wrote an eBook that dissects why emotional intelligence is just not enough to build high-performing teams. Click here to grab the PDF version.

No solution can come from any one person, it must come from the bigger “we” in the team.

I urge leaders to deeply lean into the intelligence that every human being brings to work.

This might take some active encouragement and the leader will need to find ways to intentionally create an environment in which people feel they belong and can contribute without concern for ridicule because their ideas don’t align with their boss’.


4 - The team chemistry

How would you describe the atmosphere in your team? Is it light and buoyant? Or more dark, hostile and tense?

We all have the innate ability to sense the chemistry in teams, and there are often very distinct differences as we walk from department to department in an organisation.

Does the team function as a unit or is everyone just doing their own thing? Are there cliques that have formed that do not engage with each other?

These are further easily observable aspects of the leader’s inability to nurture the team’s chemistry and bring people together.

Bad leadership creates divisiveness and tension between the leader’s “favourites” and the rest of the team.

The shift from “me” to “we” is not only something the leader needs to make at a personal level, but something each team member needs to make with the leader’s encouragement.

Creating teams in which everyone’s uniqueness is acknowledged and then intentionally woven into the team’s unique identity is an important leadership skill that creates a team chemistry that is inclusive and connected.


5 - Have roles been clarified?

Teams flourish when there is clarity about the many roles that support a team in its execution of functions.

Usually, there is only focus on the more obvious functional roles such as that of the formal leader.

But there are also many informal roles in a team that, when acknowledged and appreciated more consciously and intentionally, create a more effective team.

These roles include that of informal leadership, a role that every team member can take on in a variety of situations. Teams need leadership from everyone to ensure excellence.

Other informal roles might be the minute taker, the time keeper, the challenger and on the lighter side, the fun bringer.

Good leaders search for these roles in the team, acknowledge them and encourage them in support of the bigger “we” that the team is. Bad leaders ignore these opportunities.

Are you looking to build a successful, driven high-performance team? Then it starts with YOU, the leader. Our eBook is offering you a new approach to leadership, one that’s systemic and sustainable. Click the button below to grab your copy.


A leaders journey is one of continued personal growth. Developing emotional intelligence and social intelligence to enable relationship building skills strengthens their ability to lead a diverse team.

Just as important however is the leadership needed to bring teams together as a unit. To see and intentionally work with the “we” aspect of a team that unifies team members and actively leverages off each individual’s uniqueness.

As leaders are always on a growth journey there will be many instances in which they will feel vulnerable, and building capacity for vulnerability is an essential aspect of leadership.

Building the capacity for curiosity vs holding certainty is another important step in adapting to a helpful leadership style. Curiosity about what other people think, about crazy innovative ideas that come from many places in the organisation, and curiosity about the team’s chemistry and unity and its ability to be agile.

Can you be a more curious and vulnerable leader?

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