Warning Signs of Poor Leadership that Could Be Hurting Your Business

3 Minutes Read

No CEOs or business owners think of themselves as poor leaders. But if their actions and temperament are perceived differently by the men and women who work for them, it can be bad—if not disastrous—for their businesses. No enterprise can operate successfully with a leader who treats his or her employees badly. And poor leadership can extend beyond disengaged employees, affecting the quality of customer service as well.

The good news is, CEOs and business owners who look objectively at their leadership styles can fix what’s wrong and “right the ship” before it’s too late. The key is recognizing the warning signs of poor leadership and taking action to improve themselves for the benefit of the business.

Warning Signs of Poor Leadership

Here are warning signs to watch for and tips on improving your leadership style:

Bullying conduct.

A business leader who seeks results by throwing his weight around will never get what he or she wants. Threats of disciplinary action, or of firing an employee without sufficient cause, only serve to demoralize everyone in the workplace. This becomes even more pronounced if leaders lose their temper and publicly berate employees on a frequent basis.

Focusing on mistakes.

A less overt, but equally demoralizing mode of leadership revolves around emphasizing an employee’s mistakes. By focusing primarily on where people fall short, the leader creates an environment where “nothing is ever good enough.” This robs individuals of the desire to become better at their jobs and generally results in an exodus of quality employees from a business.

Lack of communication.

Leaders who fail to communicate—or send the wrong messages—aren’t really leading anyone. These bosses can be identified by their failure to listen to what others have to say, by expecting employees to complete tasks or initiatives without any guidance or input, or who demonstrate little interest in the overall workplace environment.


At some point or other, CEOs and business leaders end up feeling isolated in their positions. They “have a tendency not to speak to anyone or seek out the advice of their peers or employees.” Too much isolation results in losing touch with what’s really going on within one’s business and neglecting to address any operational challenges before real damage has been done.


In an effort to ensure everything is done the way they deem necessary, some business leaders micromanage employees and attempt to supervise the smallest details of a project or initiative. Sooner or later, they recognize they can’t do everything themselves, but many talented employees may find other jobs before this becomes clear.

Other signs of poor leadership include:

  • Inability to motivate a team
  • Continuously altering a company’s direction or strategy without explaining why
  • Never accepting responsibility for one’s actions
  • A tendency to favor some employees over others

All of the bad leadership traits listed above can be very detrimental to the business. At the same time, patterns of behavior aren’t irreversible. Poor leaders can always stop and assess the consequences of their actions and strive to make the company a more inspiring and fulfilling place to work.

Action Items to Exemplify Qualities of a Good Leader

Here are suggestions for altering course and becoming a strong, effective leader who commands respect and dedication from his or her team:

Take responsibility.

When it becomes clear people are leaving due to your leadership style, take responsibility for your mistakes and change the situation. If necessary, be willing to apologize both in private and in a public setting. This lets employees know you understand where you’ve gone wrong and are committed to doing better in the future.

Walk the walk.

Actions always speak louder than words. You can improve your leadership style simply by treating employees with respect and trusting them to do their jobs. Encourage (and listen to) their feedback. For example, employees who regularly interact with customers likely have insights into what can be done better. Instead of telling them how you think things should be done, listen to their suggestions and model new customer service standards around them. When the team feels they’re being listened to, amazing things can happen.

Share a vision of the future that involves everyone.

Leaders face the challenge of ensuring that daily business operations run smoothly, but they’re also the ones who create a vision of where the business is going and how it will get there. Look for every opportunity to communicate your vision with the team, with particular emphasis on how their individual efforts contribute to success.

Offer praise and meaningful feedback.

When an employee does their job well, it’s the leader’s responsibility to acknowledge their efforts and, upon occasion, reward them for going above and beyond their duties. Similarly, when the employee’s efforts fall short, don’t harp on the negative. Instead, as growth strategist Ron Flavin notes, “make certain not to attack the individual but to frame the situation in an objective, helpful manner that includes specific information and details for improvement.”

Look to your peers for guidance.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that many CEOs and business owners encounter the same leadership challenges. That’s why getting involved in a peer advisory board can be so enlightening and rewarding. Here’s a place to be honest about the issues affecting your business, particularly those you may have caused yourself with poor leadership traits. Learn how others have overcome the same problems. The insights and collegiality of fellow business leaders can offer new perspectives and new approaches that result in a much healthier company culture.

Different business leaders bring different talents and experiences to a peer advisory board, but virtually everyone benefits from a spirited, no-holds-barred look at their leadership shortcomings and opportunities for growth.

If you’ve experienced situations where a different leadership style might make a genuine impact for the better, take a look at what Catapult Groups has to offer—in monthly meetings of small business advisory groups, in one-on-one business coaching and in our expert business growth workshops.

Brad Mishlove