We’ve all heard stories of a ‘horrible boss’. They provide entertaining fodder at after-work drinks, fill whole Instagram pages dedicated to out-of-touch corporate leadership, and the subject is so relatable, it became the plot of a Hollywood movie franchise.
But the traits of a bad leader may not be as obvious as the punchline of a joke. In reality, poor management can be far more insidious, and cause harm to both employees and business.
According to a recent study conducted by SEEK, 37% of Australian workers are looking to move jobs in the next 6 months. And one of the primary reasons for workers looking to leave? Poor leadership or culture in the workplace.
Employees expect more from a job than a paycheck and a title, much less a toxic leader. And with more and more evidence showing that Australians are re-evaluating their employment post-pandemic, it’s never been more important for those in charge to take a long-hard look at their management style.
Warning: harmful leadership traits may be closer than they appear.
Leadership styles in the workplace: the good, the bad and the ugly
Most leaders don’t wake up in the morning and think “today I’m going to be bad”. In fact, many leaders lack the self-reflection needed to identify harmful traits.
This isn’t to suggest that every leader is a power-hungry tyrant, but the demands of running a business can often mean that intangible pillars like company culture and staff well-being slip through the cracks.
While management styles are not black and white and there’s advantages and disadvantages to each. Yet, there are specific leadership traits that simply shouldn’t be part of the picture. If they sneak in, the impact on your business can be substantial. Consider the following management checklist and be honest if any ring true.
1. Authoritative Leader
Authoritative leadership takes a top-down approach where the manager demands their employees’ respect because of their position, rather than creating a culture that earns it.
They set all of the tasks, prescribe how they’re done, and rarely seek input from others. They rule through sternness and, at times, intimidation. While this may motivate employees to work harder or more efficiently, it can create a culture of fear and high stress.
Authoritative leadership often presents in work environments where there’s a clear hierarchy, a constant sense of urgency, little room for error, and an attitude from seniors that “I went through it – so should you”.
While a firm but fair leader who sets reasonable standards is positive, an authoritative approach can lead to staff burnout, and ultimately – exodus.
2. Micromanaging Leader
A micromanaging leader has excessive scrutiny over their employees’ actions and gives little freedom in how they perform their work. With micromanagers, it’s their way or the highway.
Micromanagers have great difficulty relinquishing control and can create inefficient workplaces in their need to oversee every detail. Again, law firms are perfect breeding grounds for micromanagers, where junior lawyers’ work is often reviewed by a litany of supervisors and changes made may be more stylistic than of substance.
Under micromanagement, employees can feel condescended, mistrusted, and lose confidence in their abilities due to their manager’s constant correction and criticism. Micromanagers struggle with the concept of working from home, and see it as a benefit rather than an entitlement. This creates the notion that employees should “earn” the flexibility, and often leads to overwork as compensation.
3. Distant Leader
A distant leader is so caught up in their own responsibilities, they neglect their employees altogether.
While the “hands off” approach can allow employees to develop their own working style and gain confidence in their decision-making, it can create an environment lacking support, where staff feel undervalued and that their leader has no interest in their growth.
Distant managers who fail to consider their employees’ work can often be unclear in their expectations and feedback, making their teams feel confused, unheard and unsupported.
4. Unapproachable Leader
Ever had a manager that made you feel like you were walking into a lion’s den when you entered their office with a question? Is your office door perpetually closed? Do you give off an air of “too busy to be bothered”?
An unapproachable leader can create an environment of fear and anxiety, where employees feel too intimidated to reach out for help or to discuss workplace issues. This can cause damaging ripple-on effects for businesses, where employees may look to other opportunities rather than addressing their concerns with their leader.
Their issue may be simple, but there’s little use talking to a shut door, and employees may just walk out another.
The remedy to poor leadership
If you’re a leader that identifies with any of the above traits, don’t despair. The first step is awareness. The next is re-alignment. Determine what kind of leadership aligns with your staff and set about implementing it. According to SEEK’s resident psychologist, Sabina Read, asking your staff the following questions can help them feel part of the conversation:
- What kind of leadership style do you feel brings out the best in you?
- How do you know if you’ve had a good day at work?
- What makes you talk proudly about the work you do?
According to Read, “These questions show you’re curious and let employees know you’re interested in them and what makes them tick”. “You’re not assuming one-size-fits-all and making collective assumptions.”
While good leaders should certainly be concerned with the well-being of their employees, at a business-centric level, it affects the bottom line.
No-one said managing was easy. But with great power comes great responsibility, and the truly effective leaders will rise to the occasion, and bring their staff with them.