6 Types of Terrible Leaders

Probably the most common complaint we hear in consulting is Bad Leadership. The reality is that Leadership isn’t always the problem; although many times it is. When leadership problems do occur, they seem to do so in fairly predictable ways. Here are six of the most common patterns we have seen emerge:

1. “The Know it All”

Everyone knows one of these characters. They are always talking and never listening. When they ask for feedback, eventually it stops coming; because everyone knows they are going to stick with their idea. So they just stop getting the creativity of group synergy over time. This drastically limits their success.

Signs you are a “Know it All”

  • You get defensive with feedback

  • Your idea always seems like the best one

  • You find yourself irritated when people have a different opinion

  • You find that you are always surrounded by “dumb” people

2. “The Seagull”

Much has been written about this style in the last few years. Just like a seagull flies down on a picnic dropping its waste and snagging all the good snacks; this leader swoops in whenever they want, often at the wrong time. When they show up they demotivate all in their wake. Wherever they appear, this person stalls creativity and growth in groups and individuals. These leaders aren’t aware of how their behavior impacts others and therefore can’t flex to others’ needs.

Signs you are a “Seagull”

  • When you walk in a room everyone falls silent

  • People get nervous when you ask questions

  • When you leave, things are more chaotic than before you arrived

3. “Headphone Guy”

This person seems to have their ears permanently shut and appear tuned out. They don’t listen to the input of others, causing people to stop contributing over time. This seriously inhibits collaboration and prevents possible synergies. Unlike “The Know it All,” this person isn’t always talking, instead they are just disengaged from others and fail to be fully present.

Signs you are “Headphone Guy”

  • You see people talking to you as a distraction

  • You close the door whenever possible

  • You often look at your phone when people talk to you

4. “C3PO: The Robot”

Inflexibility and rigidity are the characteristics of this leader. They communicate and behave in the same way with everyone, regardless of task or job function that needs to be accomplished. While good leaders flex to the situation and the needs of their employees, C3PO does not. Success is limited by this style because it stifles creativity and out of the box thinking.

Signs you are “C3PO"

  • You dislike or resist change

  • You go to HR frequently for the list of policies and procedures

  • Employees are surprised by your ratings of them, at Performance Appraisal time

  • You are criticized for lacking creativity and innovation

5. "The Spin Doctor”

The Spin Doctor makes their work and team appear amazing, but don’t go too deep because it’s all surface level. They have slick and polished presentations and the latest technology, but it’s always in beta-testing and never really ready to be rolled out. Or they deliver substandard products, but celebrate them like a big success. They like to sell themselves and their greatness and explain away failures as not being important to the big picture.

Signs you are “The Spin Doctor”

  • You are often accused of being full of it

  • You are frequently caught not able to back up your claims

  • You get awards externally, while your team complains about quality internally

  • You see a lot of gray area around ethics; where others see black and white

6. “Retired in Place”

This type of leader is physically there, but has checked out. They most likely have been at the organization for many years and have steadily moved up through the ranks. They are now at a comfortable position and don’t want to rock the boat. They are risk adverse and tend to play by the rules. Out of the box thinking is the last thing they want to do. Their goal is to not call any attention to themselves (or their teams) and just want to get by until it’s time to retire. They tend to be somewhat supportive of their employees as long as they aren’t pushing the envelope too much or are requiring too much of the leaders time. Their energy is limited and they tend to work a minimum number of hours.

Signs you are “Retired in Place”

  • Employees who are cutting edge with new ideas tend to want to work for someone else in the organization

  • You look back over the past 12 months and realize you and your team haven’t implemented anything new

  • You find yourself sitting in your office a lot and not being invited to meetings where critical decisions are being made

Review these signs and recognize if you have any of these issues in your Leadership DNA. If one of them doesn’t sound all that bad, then you may be afflicted with a mild case of the “Leadership Flu.” When in doubt, ask a colleague! And if you have any symptoms, don’t worry there may be a cure…


Did we miss anything? Please let us know other Types that you don’t think are on this list. If we get some great responses, we will update the post to reflect your insights.