¶ … poor leadership, and the effect that it has on organizations. Drawing on academic research into the subject, the traits of poor leadership are identified, and divided into a couple of general categories. These categories have implications for understanding the effect that such leaders have. There are a number of effects that bad leaders have on the organization, including increased turnover, decreased morale, diminished organizational commitment and in the worst cases the entire organization could be at risk. Where the bad leadership manifests at lower levels, departmental performance, competitive advantage and projects are at risk, because both major forms of poor leadership tend to affect morale and organizational outcomes negatively.
The Effect Poor Leadership has on Employees
It stands to reason that if leaders get credit for good performance, and good leaders are lauded for making a positive contribution, that bad leaders should get credit for the work that they do to damage the organization. After all, not all leaders are fit to lead. Many people in leadership positions suffer from personality faults, such as narcissism, or from inexperience, or indifference, or just a poor fit with the organization and the group of people that they are expected to lead. Where there has been extensive study of good leaders, there has been less study of bad leaders. Nevertheless, most people can point to a time when they have worked under bad leadership, so it is important to analyze the threat that poor leadership poses to organizations. This paper will cover some of the relevant literature on this subject, in an attempt to enlighten about bad leadership, what it looks like, and the damage that it does.
Characteristics of Bad Bosses
Bad leaders take many forms, and they are all destructive in their own ways. The first step to understanding the damage that poor leadership inflicts on an organization is to understand what poor leadership is. Longenecker (2011) outlined many of the characteristics of bad bosses, in a study of veteran business leaders. The traits that were most commonly identified as being associated with bad leaders were arrogance, unprincipled, failing to provide clear direction, lousy at feedback and recognition, poor communication skills, erratic and unpredictable behavior, taking credit/avoiding blame, poor planning, failure to develop their people, poor problem-solving, technically incompetent, and lacking wisdom. This litany of sins can be roughly broken down into personality issues and technical issues. Both types of issues were among the most popular responses in the survey, indicating that there are indeed many types of bad leaders. A bad leader may only have one or two of these traits, but doubtless there are leaders that have many.
The issue with competence is simple -- people within the organization need their leaders to be able to make good decisions, and that requires a certain amount of competence. It is easy for workers to lose respect for leaders who know nothing -- there is an expectation that someone in a leadership position has earned that role, and that unwritten contract is easily undermined when the leader lacks competence in critical areas. The organization will naturally suffer if the leader lacks the ability to plan effectively, cannot communicate plans, or lacks the technical ability to devise good plans. Feedback and development are also technical issues, and part of what an employee looks for in a leader -- that the employee will receive some development, and the feedback needed to improve. There is nothing that will undermine employee confidence than a situation where they are given a poor review, yet never received any feedback on performance nor any training or development to upgrade the skills they are now being punished for not having. Latson (2014) has argued that even competent leaders can be toxic if their abilities and outcomes are misaligned -- they need to bring about change, not just want to do it.
Personality issues, according to Longenecker (2011) are perhaps even more toxic. While a leader who lacks competence is definitely going to harm organizational performance, employees may at least have some sympathy for someone who is merely in over his/her head. A leader who is arrogant or unprincipled -- or worse, both at once -- quickly loses the organization as an audience. Erratic behavior is less common but downright dangerous, because nobody knows what to expect. Leaders with personality issues will never...
While they conclude that such people should not be considered as leaders, they do fail to recognize that in many organizations it is impossible to ignore formal authority. They argue that ethics is part of leadership, and that when leaders are bad, so too are the people who follow them. This assumes, of course, that the followers are fully aware of the leader's badness, or that they actually have a choice in the matter. It is one thing to say that an employee should quit their job if their new boss of incompetent, but in the real world that is not how it works -- there are consequences to walking away from the bad leader that may well outweigh the costs of staying and working under the bad leader. It is far too easy for Gini and Green to play armchair quarterback with other people's lives; their judgment is a step too far. The reality is that there are bad leaders in organizations, and because of that the organization suffers, and it suffers in a lot of different ways.
Effect of Bad Leaders
One of the first and most significant impacts of toxic leadership is on employee satisfaction. The level of dissatisfaction is probably going to be higher under leaders with personality issues than with those who are merely incompetent. However, the damage can be significant, because employee dissatisfaction manifests itself within an organization in a number of different ways. Toxic leaders are associated with a higher level of employee dissatisfaction and a low level of organizational commitment (Mehta & Maheshwari, 2013). Outcomes from this will include higher rates of turnover, decreased productivity, and a negative shift in the organizational climate. All of these are associated with higher costs and lower revenues for the organization. Too much toxic leadership in fact will harm recruiting, once the company gains a reputation for having bad leaders. At that point, when the organization not only has toxic leadership but is struggling and can no longer attract good people, the organization enters into a death spiral.
A narcissistic, arrogant leader is considered to be one of the most dangerous forms of leadership. Such leaders have a tendency to inspire little confidence in their followers (Higgs, 2009). The logic to this is that nobody will work hard if someone else is going to take all the credit and the reward. A narcissistic leader does not take an interest in the subordinates. In a competitive world, there are more than enough leaders who will work to foster the development of their subordinates, and this commitment is ultimately a two-way street for most people -- high turnover and employee disengagement leading to productivity losses are critical outcomes of narcissistic leadership.
Another effect of bad leadership is strategic aimlessness. This speaks more to the competence element of leadership. Organizations consist of a set of resources, and these resources are going to be used. They will achieve specific objectives, but it requires good leadership to identify these objectives and effectively guide the organization's resources towards this objectives. Thus, there are a lot of functional skills that go into being an effective leader. A bad leader will identify objectives that do not make sense, that are short-sighted, or that cannot be reached. A bad leader with a good set of objectives will not understand or be able to envision how those objectives can be reached. A consequence is that the organization's resources end up being deployed inefficiently. The company might then lose its competitive edge. The consequences to the financial health of the organization, and to its market share, can be significant and negative.
A category of leader discussed in Gini and Green (2012) is, for lack of a better term, the evil leader. The principle here is that while other leaders may be incompetent or narcissistic, there is a special class of leader that is just outright destructive. These leaders are capable of bringing down their entire companies. In many cases, they are simply criminals, as with Enron or Global Crossing, and ultimately their crimes caught up to them. Their followers were for the most part unaware of their actions, but suffered the consequences. The same can sometimes be said for their shareholders, though maybe not in the case of Enron. These leaders can hold their positions for a long time, because they appear to be successful. Their charges are willing…
Projecting higher expectations: A "bad boss" has not developed positive dynamics with all his/her subordinates. Four key principles, on the other hand, identify practices a "good boss" implements: Be clear up front Get to know the individuals Beware of labeling Monitor ongoing evaluations In the article, "How to spot the boss from hell Classic signs of a Mr. Nasty," Oliver Finegold's (2005) notes that a current study "details the 10 signs of a bad boss -
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