Poor Leadership Styles That Destroy Teams and Companies

Poor leadership can have a devastating impact on organizations. According to a study by Gallup, managers account for 70% of the variance in team engagement. This means that managers play a huge role in motivating and engaging employees. On the other hand, ineffective leaders can actively disengage employees, reducing productivity and increasing turnover.

Some common leadership styles that often have negative consequences include micromanagement, autocratic leadership, laissez-faire leadership, overly critical leadership, inflexible leadership, authoritative leadership, and disengaged leadership. Adopting any of these leadership approaches can undermine team performance, hurt morale, and drive away top talent. In this article, we’ll explore why these leadership styles tend to fail and how to avoid them.


Micromanagement is a leadership style where managers closely monitor and control employee work. Micromanagers want to control every aspect of their team’s work rather than trusting employees to do their jobs effectively.

Micromanagement damages morale and productivity. When employees feel like they are not trusted to do their work, they become less engaged. Micromanaged employees don’t develop skills or take initiative because their manager makes every decision. This leads to lower productivity. Micromanagement also hurts morale as employees feel undervalued when their manager doesn’t have confidence in their abilities.

Examples of micromanaging behaviors include:

  • Needing to approve every minor decision
  • Constantly looking over employees’ shoulders as they work
  • Fixating on minor details rather than big-picture goals
  • Dictating exactly how tasks should be done rather than letting employees decide
  • Setting strict processes that inhibit flexibility and creativity
  • Asking for frequent progress reports on routine tasks
  • Jumping in to “fix” issues without being asked

Micromanagers struggle to delegate tasks because they feel they can do things better than their team. However, this desire for control prevents employees from reaching their full potential.

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Autocratic Leadership

Autocratic leadership, also known as authoritarian leadership, is a style characterized by unilateral decision-making and little input from team members. With this approach, leaders make choices based on their ideas and judgments, without seeking advice or consensus from the group.

Autocratic leadership hinders innovation and growth because it shuts down collaboration and diverse perspectives. When a leader dictates everything, employees don’t feel empowered to share creative solutions or improvements. And when their voices aren’t heard, their motivation suffers.

Some examples of autocratic behaviors include:

  • Making decisions without consulting the team
  • Dismissing ideas from employees without considering them
  • Micromanaging every detail of projects and tasks
  • Refusing to explain the reasoning behind decisions
  • Expecting unconditional obedience from employees

While autocratic leadership can be appropriate in some limited situations, like emergencies or times of crisis, it is generally an ineffective approach for most teams and organizations. By stifling participation and input, autocratic leaders fail to leverage the talents of their people. This leadership style disempowers employees and prevents organizations from fully capitalizing on the collective wisdom of the team.

Laissez-Faire Leadership

Laissez-faire leadership, also known as delegative leadership, is a hands-off approach where leaders provide little or no direction to team members. With this style, leaders avoid making decisions, fail to set clear expectations, and offer minimal feedback.

This approach leads to a lack of accountability and direction. With no guidance, team members are left unsure of their responsibilities and priorities. They may feel frustrated by the lack of feedback and become disengaged. Ultimately, the team loses focus as no one takes charge.

Laissez-faire leaders make little effort to motivate employees or monitor their performance. There is limited communication between leaders and team members. As a result, poor productivity and low morale often follow this leadership style.

Examples of laissez-faire leader behaviors include:

  • Avoiding making decisions or offering input
  • Providing vague goals with no clear deadlines
  • Refusing to provide feedback on team member performance
  • Making little effort to develop employee skills
  • Being frequently unavailable to answer questions

This hands-off approach can damage an organization. With no direction, teams flounder. Poor performance goes unchecked. Laissez-faire leadership causes confusion, frustration, and reduced accountability. It’s an ineffective approach in most situations.

Overly Critical Leadership

Overly critical leadership involves constantly criticizing employees in a harsh, demeaning manner. This leadership style destroys morale, as team members feel attacked rather than supported.

When leaders are overly critical, they frequently call out employees for minor mistakes and flaws. They may belittle team members in front of others or angrily point out issues without providing any positive feedback. This constant negativity makes employees dread interactions with their manager.

Overly critical leaders often:

  • Nitpick on small details
  • Raise their voice and yell at employees
  • Publicly shame team members for errors
  • Focus only on weaknesses without acknowledging strengths
  • Use harsh, disrespectful language when giving feedback

This overly negative mindset leaves employees feeling incompetent and insecure. Morale plummets as workers lose motivation. Studies show that when leaders constantly criticize without praising, teams become less productive and staff turnover increases.

To avoid damaging morale, effective leaders give feedback in a constructive manner. They focus on developing employees’ skills rather than tearing them down through excessive criticism. Leaders should address performance issues professionally, not angrily. With an encouraging leadership style, teams stay engaged as they know their hard work is valued.

Inflexible Leadership

Inflexible leadership is when leaders are rigid and unwilling to adapt to their approach. Adaptability and flexibility are crucial for effective leadership in today’s fast-paced business environment. Leaders need to be able to adjust their style and make quick decisions based on changing circumstances.

Inflexible leaders often:

  • Stick to predefined plans and processes even when they are no longer working
  • Refuse to delegate tasks or responsibilities outside of formal hierarchies
  • Are reluctant to implement new ideas, strategies, or workflows
  • Struggle with changing priorities and managing uncertainty
  • Insist that employees closely follow standardized protocols
  • Are overly attached to “the way things have always been done”
  • Fail to respond to feedback from team members

Inflexible leadership diminishes agility and innovation. When leaders are unwilling to tailor their methods, they end up forcing square-peg solutions into round-hole problems. This results in frustration for employees missed opportunities, and reduced organizational effectiveness. The most successful leaders stay open-minded and adaptable. They are comfortable with ambiguity, empower teams, and continuously evolve their leadership style.

Authoritative Leadership

Authoritative leadership is a style where leaders make decisions unilaterally without seeking input from team members. This top-down approach can undermine employee expertise and prevent staff from developing critical thinking skills.

Leaders with an authoritative style often:

  • Make key decisions without consulting the team
  • Dictate work methods and processes
  • Are unwilling to delegate meaningful responsibilities
  • Micromanage aspects of projects that should be handled independently by staff
  • Reject ideas from team members without explanation
  • Expect employees to follow orders without understanding the reasoning behind them

While authoritative leaders value control and efficiency, their tendency to dismiss team input can lower morale over time. Employees feel undervalued when their knowledge and perspectives are ignored. They become disengaged when given no autonomy over their work.

Highly skilled team members may leave organizations with overly authoritative leadership. They want opportunities to apply expertise and gain new skills. However authoritative managers deny them chances to make decisions or work independently.

To avoid the pitfalls of pure authoritative leadership, managers should balance it with other styles. They can set clear expectations, while still involving staff in some decision-making. Leaders can give directives when needed while empowering people in their areas of strength. A blend of leadership approaches helps prevent the harms of unilateral, authoritarian management.

Disengaged Leadership

man, doll, puppet

A disengaged leadership style is when leaders take a hands-off approach and provide little guidance or feedback to their team members. This style often stems from leaders who are overwhelmed, distracted, or simply don’t care about actively managing their employees.

Disengaged leaders can severely impact company culture and performance. Employees need managers who are invested in their development, provide clarity on priorities and expectations, and foster engagement through recognition, coaching, and support. Without this, employees feel directionless and undervalued, which leads to decreased motivation and productivity. High turnover rates are common with disengaged leadership.

Some examples of disengaged behaviors include:

  • Being frequently unavailable to team members or avoiding one-on-one interactions
  • Delegating work without context or follow-up
  • Failing to provide feedback on performance
  • Not participating in team meetings or skipping company events
  • Displaying disinterest in employees’ ideas, concerns, or professional growth

The most effective leaders make employee engagement a top priority. They actively manage their teams, provide clarity and support, solicit input, offer frequent feedback and recognition, and serve as mentors. This level of involvement keeps employees motivated, aligned, and performing at their best. Leaders who neglect these responsibilities risk disengagement, frustration, and high turnover among top talent.

Inconsistent Leadership

Leadership consistency is vital for organizational success. When leaders frequently change directions or fail to communicate clear goals, it breeds uncertainty and frustration among team members. Employees never know what to expect from inconsistent leaders, making it difficult to stay focused and aligned.

Why Consistent Messaging Matters

A leader’s message must align with the organization’s vision and strategy. Consistent communication ensures everyone understands priorities and works towards shared objectives. When leaders constantly shift focus or give contradictory guidance, teams waste time playing catch-up. Morale suffers as employees feel jerked around without making real progress.

Inconsistent leaders confuse rather than inspire. Their flip-flopping erodes trust and causes employees to second-guess decisions. People feel frustrated trying to please a leader who lacks follow-through. Consistent leaders, by contrast, build confidence by setting steady expectations. Their reliable presence keeps everyone moving ahead together.

Examples of Inconsistent Behaviors

  • Sending mixed signals through words and actions
  • Frequently changing priorities and goals
  • Giving different messages to different groups
  • Making spontaneous decisions that contradict previous plans
  • Failing to communicate a clear vision
  • Backtracking on promises and commitments

Inconsistent leaders struggle with focus and follow-through. They may have good intentions but lack strategic discipline. To develop consistency, leaders must align their messaging, stick to plans, and reinforce organizational values through daily behaviors. Consistency takes concerted effort but pays off tremendously in team cohesion and performance.


Effective leadership is crucial for any organization’s success. Certain leadership styles can be quite detrimental if applied incorrectly or inappropriately. As we’ve discussed, styles like micromanagement, autocratic leadership, laissez-faire leadership, overly critical leadership, inflexible leadership, authoritative leadership, disengaged leadership, and inconsistent leadership can all negatively impact an organization and its employees.

While leaders may occasionally exhibit some of these behaviors, adopting them as an overall approach often hinders productivity, morale, and retention. Managers need to be self-aware and understand how their actions are perceived. Well-intentioned leaders can still cause substantial damage if they consistently demonstrate poor leadership styles.

The most effective leaders aim to empower their teams, not control them. They focus on fostering collaboration, communication, trust, and growth. Rather than micromanaging, they provide clarity, guidance, and autonomy. They offer constructive feedback and recognize achievements. They value diverse perspectives and adapt based on circumstances. Adopting this type of leadership requires emotional intelligence, ethics, and a service mindset. With proper self-reflection and training, leaders can hone the qualities needed to inspire their teams to excel.