The Dark Side of Leadership

by | Jul 7, 2023 | Leadership | 0 comments

s to make surenIIf you answer ‘no,’ A great piece of work from Keith Murray (CMI) looks at the eight ways bad managers kills conversations – and motivation.

When you look at the eight  areas below, ask yourself to things; Do I do some of these things and do you someone that does?

1/ … are secretive and share as little information as possible – to them, information is power, so they deliberately choose to withhold it
2/ … are bad at giving feedback
3/ … are even worse at giving praise than giving feedback (employees always see managers who give praise as more effective)
4/ … are rampant one-way communicators who are on the ‘broadcast’ button all the time and have no interest in listening to people’s views or encouraging robust conversations to find ideal solutions. They care little about encouraging good communication between team members
5/ … are invisible, and prefer the security of their office walls to going out to talk to members of their team. They send emails at all hours of the day and night, even if members of their team are but yards away in the office
6/ … never prepare for presentations, preferring to speak off the cuff
7/ … have no sense of their audience and are completely unaware of the audience’s issues and concerns – they have a message to deliver and, by heck, deliver it they will, no matter how long it takes
8/ … are ambiguous, indirect or even lie, and never check whether people have understood a single word they said, and often use the phrase ‘you are not listening!’

 Okay. Do you recongise any of these behaviours from yourself? If your answer is ‘no’ it’s worth asking for some honest peer feedback to make sure. If you feel the eight areas as a personal attack on the way you manage, it is likely you do give out some of these vibes to your team. May be hard to take, but worth taking onboard.

Who of us would want to be working in a team led by a boss who exhibits any of the behaviours I have listed above?

These are toxic bosses, and they create dreadful cultures and poisonous places of work that are harmful to our health, and our ability to contribute meaningfully to our organisation. These are the bosses who will have high churn rates in their teams, with most of their employees looking to move to another department or even another company.

Happily, well-intended managers who truly want to improve their performance can address most of these bad behaviours. Being mindful of these destructive behaviours is a good place to start.

According to CMI research, as many as four out of five managers in the UK are accidental managers – those promoted to their role without adequate training. In the UK alone, that’s an estimated 2.4 million bosses. Imagine how many employees that affects? According to one estimate, less than half of all employees are satisfied with their manager. How many of them are feeling disengaged and demotivated? This brings with it a massive cost in lost productivity


This look at the dark side of some leadership characteristics highlights what other people see when a leader displays this side of their character. These are coping mechanisms and coaching yourself to be aware of them is a good start to ensuring the person & not the trait remains in control of a situation

The dark side of any individual, when allowed to go unchecked can create a rigid and
dysfunctional personality (as seen by others). This kills creativity and also puts pressure on relationships. When these characteristics are demonstrated in a leader, a formal & aggressive person can result, who alienates the very people they are meant to inspire.


Compulsive leaders are those who feel they have to do everything themselves. They try to micro-manage every aspect of their business, often refusing to delegate and cannot resist having their
say on everything. As this person lacks trust in others, they cannot let anyone else take responsibility, which removes the personal growth opportunity & creates frustration within their team.

Compulsive leaders have many other traits. They are perfectionists who must follow highly rigid and systematised daily routine (everything is urgent) and are concerned with their own status. These leaders usually work to impress their superiors with their diligence/efficiency, continually look for reassurance & approval from others. This can lead to them becoming workaholics with their team viewed as failing if they don’t keep pace. Spontaneity is not encouraged as this bucks the routine.

Despite this appearance of total control, such leaders can be fit to explode on the inside. This can be the result of a childhood environment where unrealistic expectations were placed on them. Their attempts to keep control are linked to their attempts to suppress anger and resentment, This makes them susceptible to outbursts of temper if they perceive they are losing their grip.


Narcissistic leaders are focused on themselves, their life with the world revolve around them. They must be at the centre of all that is happening. Whilst they exaggerate their own merits, they will try to ignore the merits of others, or seek to devalue them. Usually, this is because other people’s accomplishments are seen as a threat to their own standing. The worst type of narcissistic leader cannot tolerate even a hint of criticism or disagreement. They avoid their self-delusions & fantasies being undermined by surrounding themselves with sycophants who support everything this type of leader says.

Where possible, they will attempt to use the merits of others for their own advancement. They think nothing of stepping on people to get ahead. Their own feeling of self-importance means they are unable to empathise with those in their team because they cannot feel any connection. Their only focus is on receiving plaudits that further bolster their sense of greatness. Such an attitude is often the result of a deep-seated inferiority complex. No matter how much they are achieving, they will never feel it is enough.

Some narcissistic leaders take on a sidekick. This person is expected to toe the line at all times, serving only to reflect glory onto them and loudly approve of everything they do. Clever sidekicks can subtly manipulate the leader into focusing on the operational outcome of their plans, rather than just their own self-promotion. Ultimately, this type of leader can be very successful if their vision is strong. They get the organisation to identify with them and think like they do. Such productive narcissists have more perspective, can step back and even laugh at their own irrational needs.


Paranoid leaders are exactly as they sound: paranoid that other people are better than they are and they can view even the mildest criticism as devastating. They are liable to overreact if they sense they are being attacked, especially in front of other people. This can even lead to open hostility from them.

This attitude is the result of an inferiority complex that perceives even the most constructive criticism in the wrong way. The paranoid leader will be guarded in their dealings with other people because they do not want to reveal too much of themselves. This is in case they display their weaknesses and are attacked or undermined. They may be scared that their position is undeserved. They can be deeply suspicious of colleagues who may steal their limelight or perhaps challenge for their position.

This is not always a wholly negative trait. A healthy dose of paranoia can be key to success in business. Because it helps keep leaders on their toes, always aware of opportunities not to be missed. It is the opposite end of the spectrum to being complacent and can make for a very successful venture.


Co-dependent leaders do not enjoy taking the lead. Instead, they seek to copy what others have done or are doing. They avoid confrontation and would rather cover up problems than face them head-on. Planning ahead is not their skill area. They tend instead to react to whatever comes their way, rather than acting to alter outcomes or achieve goals.

Codependent leaders, therefore, are not leaders at all. They are reactionary, having the habit of keeping important information to themselves because they are not prepared to act upon it. This can clearly lead to poor outcomes. All the pertinent facts are not known to those below the leader who may be charged with making decisions.

This type of leader avoids confrontation. They are liable to accept a greater workload for themselves rather than respond negatively to any request. They are also prone to accepting the blame for situations they have not caused.


Passive-aggressive leaders feel like they need to control everything. When they can’t they cause problems for those who are in control. However, they are sneaky in their ploys and are very difficult to catch out. Their main characteristics are that they can be stubborn, purposely forgetful, intentionally inefficient & complaining (behind closed doors). They fend off demands by procrastination or stalling.

Typically, if they feel they are not firmly in the driving seat, they will jump out, puncture the tyres when no one is looking. They then feign horror and pretend to search around for a tyre wrench to help fix the situation.

This type of leader has two speeds: full speed ahead and stopped. When situations do not go their way, they will offer their full support for whatever has been decided. They will then gossip, backstab, happily cause delays and generally create upset. When confronted, they claim to have been misinterpreted or misunderstood. Passive-aggressive leaders are often chronically late for appointments, using any excuse to dominate and regain some control of the situation.

Dealing with passive-aggressive leaders is a draining and frustrating situation that saps energy. They are not averse to short outbursts of sadness or anger to regain some control. But are ultimately fearful of success since it leads to higher expectations.

Best wishes


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