10 Questions: Find Out if You’re a Bad Leader

By Katy Imhoff

Being a great leader requires multiple talents, and many leaders are unaware that they’re falling short in more than one area. If you’re a bad leader, your team will take notice. Have you ever wondered how well you’d score on a leadership test? These questions will evaluate your skills and give you helpful tips if you find yourself lacking essential leadership qualities:

1) Are you open to new ideas or a total know-it-all?

Don’t get comfortable or satisfied with the status quo. Bad leaders often feel they’re in an elevated position because they know more than everyone who works for them. However, if a leader fails to remember their knowledge is limited, they will miss out on a multitude of intelligent contributions from their team. Don’t make this mistake. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you, people who are experts in areas you fall short in, and people who can teach you as much as you teach them. Remember, you don’t always have to be the one with the answers. Finding it hard to believe that your team is as smart, or even smarter, than you are? Try out these tips:

Tip 1: You need to have a passionate curiosity and the desire to constantly learn to be a good leader. The best way to amplify these behaviors is to seek out new knowledge whenever you can. Whether it’s reading one book a month on a topic you’ve never studied, taking a MOOC in your free time or going back to school, there are formal opportunities all around you to learn. Get to it!

Tip 2: As important as it is to learn new things, it’s equally important to learn what your team’s strengths, weaknesses and interests are. Maybe someone on your sales team does graphic design in her spare time or one of your Java Developers minored in psychology, being familiar with everyone’s hidden talents will help you lead your team to tasks they’re interested in and uniquely suited for. You never know when this knowledge will come in to play!

2) Are you prone to rationalizing unethical behavior?

One of the non-negotiable qualities of a good leader is the ability to inspire trust from your team. Frequent slip-ups and unethical behaviors are guaranteed to lead to failure because they will foster rampant mistrust throughout your workplace. Even if the unethical behavior is not coming directly from you but from someone on your team, it’s your responsibility to quash these malpractices before they affect your customers. As the old saying goes, lead by example.

Tip 1: Steer clear of unethical business practices as often as possible. Fraudulent behaviors, mistreating your employees and skimming off the top are unethical missteps that ALWAYS catch up to leaders in the long run. You won’t be remembered as a great leader if you’re caught, trust me.

Tip 2: It’s also important to provide trustworthy service to your customers. If your business practices require shipping and your products are always late, you have a problem. If you’ve come out with a new line of products that isn’t living up to its marketed promises, you have a problem. You get the idea. Unethical business practices will lead to bad reviews and, in our plugged-in society, these can kill your business. As a leader you need to confront ethical issues head on or face impending failure.

3) Is your vision clear and focused or clouded and fickle?

Do you have a clear, achievable vision for your organization? You should. A general idea of where you want the company to go or a few, interchangeable ideas simply don’t cut it if you want to be a successful leader. Focus your vision with these tips:

Tip 1: Be specific. When you set out to write down your vision for the company—and you should absolutely write it down—include a timeline, specific results you want to achieve, and core values you want to establish. The more specific your goal is, the easier it will be to articulate to your team.

Tip 2: When creating a vision, ask your employees where they would like to see the company go. Share your plan and get feedback from your team, then revise. This flexibility will benefit your company in the long run and will help your employees have a truly invested interest in the future of your organization.

4) Do you focus on building your team or building yourself?

Taking all of the credit or all of the responsibility are equally harmful leadership tactics. In order to lead effectively, you need to relinquish some control and some of the glory.

Tip 1: Delegate. Seriously, you may think it’s just easier to do everything yourself but, chances are, you’ll take on too much responsibility and important tasks will fall through the cracks, training your team is, ultimately, a more valuable use of your time.

Tip 2: Shine the spotlight of achievement on your team whenever possible. Thank them for their accomplishments, compliment their output, and offer genuine appreciation whenever possible. This habit fosters a more pleasant workplace and rewards your overachievers for all that they do.

5) Are you a clear communicator or often misunderstood?

Clear communication can mean the difference between a successful leader or a fumbling failure. If your team and customers don’t understand what you’re trying to say, there’s plenty of opportunity for misunderstandings that create tension or ruin relationships.

Tip 1: Just like your vision, your instructions should always be clear. If you need something done a certain way, explain it in a concise yet detailed manner and always be willing to answer questions should your team have them. It’s better to have an open-door policy and correct mistakes promptly than let miscommunication lead to massive problems down the road.

Tip 2: If you need help communicating clearly, particularly over email, take a writing course! Whether it’s speech writing or creative writing, the principles taught in writing courses allow for effective and understandable communication that is essential to successful leaders.

6) Are you invested in your team?

Investing in your team goes further than you might think. Whether it’s through training, incentives, or learning what they really want out of their careers, time spent getting to know your team is never a waste.

Tip 1: You can’t successfully lead if you don’t know where your followers want to go. Take the time to regularly sit down with your employees one-on-one to discuss their future plans. Whether it’s career aspirations or personal ones, this insight will help you point them in the direction they truly want. Fulfilled employees are much less likely to leave!

Tip 2: Don’t stick anyone in a stagnant situation. A career without growth is dull for everyone so make sure you’re creating growth opportunities within the workplace and leading your team to better and brighter things!

7) Are you quick to blame others or completely accountable?

The last time a problem arose, were you quick to point fingers or did you accept the responsibility? The truth is if your team fails, you fail. It’s time to take responsibility and hold yourself accountable.

Tip 1: When a problem occurs, find out what went wrong. See who was directly linked to the mistake. Getting to the root of the problem is an important step in acknowledging your role in the error.

Tip 2: Ask yourself what you could have done to prevent the mistake. As a great leader, the ultimate responsibility lies with you. Whether the issue occurred because of unclear instructions, mismanaged delegation or any other number of reasons make sure you don’t repeat your own mistake and fewer problems will occur in your office as a result.

8) Are you a courageous or cowardly lion?

Lions are known as the kings of the beasts—willing to cut throats when needed, protect the pack and look elegant all at the same time—and all good leaders share some of these bold, predatory qualities. If you’re a bit too cowardly you—or worse, your company—could be eaten alive by the competition. For some leaders courage comes naturally, but for those who tend towards cowardice, it’s time to make a change. Need help infusing more courage into your work life?

Tip 1: Practice saying what needs to be said and doing what needs to be done. If you need help with implementing these tactics I suggest Courage Goes to Work. This book provides succinct, easy to understand tactics for training more courageous employees, but you can use these strategies to train yourself too!

Tip 2: If you find it difficult to establish a natural courageous approach in the workplace, it’s time to take your training a step further. A great way to learn to quiet your inner critic and become more courageous is to take improv classes. Many cities have improv troupes that offer courses for the purposes of business, or just for fun courses for adults. If you can’t make it to class try readying Improvisation for the Spirit: Live a More Creative, Spontaneous and Courageous Life Using the Tools of Improv Comedy. Katie Goodman’s hilarious book will provide the same personal benefits as an improve class without the time commitment.

9) Do you inspire loyalty from both your team AND your customers?

Having a loyal team is essential, but equally as important is inspiring loyalty in your customers. Remember, if you aren’t meeting your customer’s needs someone else will be more than happy to take over. If you’re not creating initiatives to improve your consumer’s experience, you’re failing your company and, ultimately, falling short as a leader. Don’t ignore the importance of the customer!

Tip 1: Engage with your customers. Create surveys or directly question clients on what they’d like to see improved in your organization. Insight on user experience is key in implementing any consumer oriented business plan. Make sure you’re gathering their opinions and coming up with initiatives to consistently improve their experience.

Tip 2: Create loyalty incentives for your customers. Whether it’s coupons or cookie delivery on their birthday, personalized thank-you notes or special access to limited members, everyone loves feeling important. Make more positive impressions on your customers and you’ll keep them around longer!

10) Can you adapt your leadership skills?

Flexibility is key. If you’re unwilling to surrender control or change your leadership style in different situations, your approach is bound to fall short. Instead of using one leadership style across all situations, it’s time to learn to adapt.

Tip 1: In order to adapt, it’s important to educate yourself on the multitude of leadership styles that exist. Check out this Wall Street Journal article, “Leadership Styles” for a brief overview.

Tip 2: Now that you’re familiar with the variety of leadership styles available, it’s time to learn to surrender control. Steer clear of the tendency to dictate and adopt an open-source mentality. While you can maintain your stance as a leader with a firm hand, you’ll be a more successful leader if you learn how to relinquish ultimate control when the situation requires it. Part of knowing when to make adjustments is emotional intelligence—the ability to read a situation instinctively—and another part is trusting your team’s intelligence—remember, you don’t always know more than they do (see question 1).

Hopefully these questions helped you realize what a great leader you really are! If not, try out the tips we listed. Remember, there is always room for improvement.


1) Courage Goes to Work: http://www.amazon.com/Courage-Goes-Work-Backbones-Performance/dp/1576755010

2) Improvisation for the Spirit: Live a More Creative, Spontaneous and Courageous Life Using the Tools of Improv Comedy: http://www.amazon.com/Improvisation-Spirit-Creative-Spontaneous-Courageous/dp/1402211910/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

3) Leadership styles article from The Wall Street Journal:http://guides.wsj.com/management/developing-a-leadership-style/how-to-develop-a-leadership-style/