Why Good Leaders Go Bad

Jann FreedLeading Leave a Comment

Why are there so many bad leaders?  Why do good leaders go bad?  So many clients and friends complain about toxic leaders.  If you are in a position to influence the lives of others, you need to be aware to make sure you are not a bad leader.  Read this post to learn more about toxic leaders and what to do about them.

Leadership development is a big business even when research says there is a leadership deficit.  According to a recent HBR article, “despite the $15 billion companies spend annually on managerial and leadership development, bad bosses are common in the American workforce.  A study by Life Meets Work found that 56% of American workers claim their boss is mildly or highly toxic. A study by the American Psychological Association found that 75% of Americans say their ‘boss is the most stressful part of their workday.’ And a recent study by Gallup found that one in two employees have left a job “to get away from their manager at some point in their career.'”

If you want to know what to do with a bad boss, read this HBR article.  Since it is hard to quit and we often feel stuck, the author advises:

  • Forget giving feedback. Make requests instead.
  • Engage with your support network.
  • Get plenty of exercise and sleep.
  • Explore other opportunities within your organization.
  • Consider consulting with HR. 

Have you ever left a job because of a bad boss?  Decades ago I left a job because of a bad boss and I never looked back.  But it is not so easy and I would not encourage leaving without something else lined up.  I think it is easier to get a job when you have a job, but that is not always possible.

I often ask in workshops:  How many of you have had a bad boss? (or coach, teacher, parent, …) Anyone who is in the position to influence the lives of others is a leader (good and/or bad).  Hands shoot up in the air.

But why are there so many bad bosses?

One of Simon Sinek’s quotes is this: “Saying you’re a leader doesn’t make you a leader. Leading makes you a leader.”  And leading is about coaching, giving feedback, and developing more leaders.  As I like to say, leadership is not about position or title.  It is about relationships!  Developing relationships of trust, respect, accountability, and more is what leadership is all about.  Otherwise, we really don’t need leaders or managers for that matter.

Why do some good leaders go bad?  In my opinion, most of it is because of EGO.  This was one of the major themes that emerged in my book Leading with Wisdom:  Sage Advice from 100 Experts.  When we don’t understand the power of the ego, then the “dark side” can emerge and turn us into a bad boss who creates a toxic culture.  Remember that “your ego is not your amigo” unless you know how to control it and know when it is out of control.  The goal is not to let your ego control you!

How can you make sure you are not a bad boss?

Do you know when your ego is out of control?

How do you know?  What do you do about it?