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5 Red Flags That Someone Will Be a Bad Leader at Work

December 28, 2021・6 mins read
5 Red Flags That Someone Will Be a Bad Leader at Work

Horrible bosses and managers are the worst. Going to work every day can be a struggle when you’re on a bad leader’s team, but it’s also terrible if you’re the one responsible for putting that manager in their position in the first place. Maybe you’ve been struggling with under-performing managers for some time now. Maybe your company is growing and you’re finally thinking about managerial promotions for the first time. Regardless of the reason, these are important decisions to get right. There’s usually a lot of information out there on what makes a good manager, but what about the red flags to look for that signal someone probably won’t be a good fit. Especially if you’re making these decisions for the first time, it can be tough to know what exactly you are looking for. If you’re still sorting that out, try keeping an eye out for these 5 red flags that someone probably won’t be a good leader.

Average number of employees = (Headcount at the beginning of the timeframe + headcount at the end of the timeframe)/2

1. Promoted solely because of hard skills

This is one of the main ways that bad managers come into being. On the surface, it seems to make a lot of sense. If someone is really good at their job, aren’t they naturally the right person to help other people be good at that same job? Yes, that can certainly be the case, but it doesn’t mean that being a manager is the only way to accomplish that. Managers have an additional — and, in many ways, very different — skill set than individual contributors do. Managers have to have people-focused skills which are different than the hard skills required to execute a job. Those with the right hard skills but without the necessary soft skills can still be good mentors, “buddies” for new hires, and even trainers. Hard skills don’t necessarily equate to management skills, though.

2. Lacks soft skills

In contrast to hard skills, good managers have refined soft skills. There’s no single definition for soft skills. But, people generally consider them to be the behaviors, personality traits, and habits that tend towards collaboration, communication, teamwork, critical thinking, and perseverance to name a few. “Unlike technical skills or hard skills, soft skills are interpersonal and behavioral skills that help you work well with other people and develop your career,” explains Indeed. Much of a manager’s work is concerned with helping the people on their team not only perform but improve. This is why soft skills are critical for a manager. If a candidate for a promotion doesn’t have this additional skill set, chances are management isn’t the right track for them and they could end up being a bad leader.

Soft skills are critical for a manager. Without them, managers are less likely to be effective leaders.

3. Takes all the credit

Of course, everyone should take credit where credit is due. But a good manager spreads the credit for a good workaround to the rest of the team and, ideally, puts themselves in last place. Individual contributors can step up and really take it to the next level, but it’s expected that a manager will have a successfully performing team. If someone is constantly raking in praise for executing a basic function of managerial work, chances are they’re too self-focused to be a good fit for a role that’s team-focused at its core. Think about it from their team’s perspective. If they’re working super hard, but their manager keeps taking all the credit, how long do you think it’ll be before they’re looking for the door? Appreciation and recognition are key to employee happiness and retention. If you have a bad leader that detracts from their recognition rather than creating and adding to it, you’ll likely have an attrition problem on your hands in the near future.

4. Struggles with delegation and communication

When you’re an individual contributor, you’ll probably have to work alongside others. When you’re a manager, you’ll have to delegate to the people on your team. First, one person simply can't do a team’s work. Second, well-done delegation creates chances for your team members to develop new skills, take on new responsibilities, and ultimately progress at their job.

The ability to delegate and communicate effectively are important qualities that a manager should have.

Closely related to the ability to delegate is the ability to communicate. When your work centers around other people, it can quickly go off the rails if there isn’t effective communication to keep things on track. Not only do you have to outline expectations, deadlines, and the like, but you’ll also have to be prepared to have some difficult conversations as well. It’s always uncomfortable to discuss work with an under-performing employee, but it’s a delicate situation that you have to appropriately handle through adequate communication. Good leaders will be able to navigate these conversations, while bad leaders will either handle them badly, or avoid them altogether.

5. Can’t see the bigger picture

Individual contributors are mostly just responsible for executing the functions of their individual roles. Managers, on the other hand, are responsible for charting towards larger goals that fit into the company’s bigger picture and longer-term plans. If someone gets easily mired in details, chances are they don’t have the big-picture sensibilities to lead a team to success. Plus, if they can’t see the bigger picture, they won’t have much of a chance for promotion beyond a first-level managerial role. It’s better to put someone in a management position who is able to continue to level up through the company in order to make the most of your workforce’s skills and talents.

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