The 7 Deadly Sins of Poor Leadership (Plus a Bonus Sin)

A Screaming man

I have known some downright awful people in leadership positions, and to no one’s surprise, they were terrible. But curiously, I have also known some good people in leadership positions, who were also awful leaders. I wish being a good person were sufficient for being a good leader, but that is sadly not the case. Leadership is a difficult and challenging skill which must be constantly practiced, honed, and refined.

The seven signs of a poor leader are poor communication, lack of self control, ego, hypocrisy, failure to learn from failure, risk rejection, and abuse of authority. There are many other factors which can make one a poor leader, but these are ones which are a less obvious than qualities like overt malice, and therefore easier to go unnoticed.

At the time of this writing I decided to throw a bonus sin in at the end, but kept the title because, let’s be honest, “7 Deadly Sins” sounds way cooler than eight. Sue me.

Poor Communication

Poor communication can come in many forms. Failing to communicate clear expectations on a project, failure to communicate how tasks fit in to an overall vision, or failing to communicate priorities on competing tasks.

I once had a boss who would not communicate with me for hours, or days even when I needed answers to questions. I cannot count the times I sent them a well-thought-out email asking if we were doing Plan A or Plan B, and wrote out the pros and cons of each, only to receive an email reply three days later which simply said, “yeah.”

Poor communication will destroy teams, cause projects to fail, and sew frustration amongst your teams. As a leader, you have to communicate clearly and effectively.

Lack of Self Control

I am sure almost all of us who have worked for a supervisor or boss who would lose their minds when anything would go wrong. This is honestly one of the worst kinds of leadership. Not only do people not respect you because you are incapable of handling your emotions, but all flipping out does is encourage people to hide mistakes from you.

As we have stated in many other articles (like this one on How to Develop Your Leadership Skills), leadership is almost always about becoming a better, more disciplined, more focused, more resilient person. If you are not ready to take a hard look in the mirror and get to work on mastering yourself, then you are not ready to lead others.


There is not enough disk space on the internet to write about the problems and dangers of ego. Ego is a destructive force and mastery of it the sole aim for almost all philosophy and religion. It’s no surprise then, that people in positions of authority with huge egos, or fragile egos (almost always the same thing) are exponentially more destructive.

There is nothing I can say which can improve upon what every cleric, pastor, teacher, philosopher, and countless authors have not already said before on the subject. So I will pick out one of my favorite quotes to say it better than I can, and it also happens to be about leadership and ego.

The worst disease which can afflict executives in their work is not, as popularly supposed, alcoholism; it’s egotism.

-Robert Frost-
7 Deadly Sins of Poor Leadership.

1. Poor communication
2. Lack of Self Control
3. Ego
4. Hypocrisy
5. Failure to Learn from Failure
6. Risk Rejection
7. Abuse of Authority 
Bonus: Not Knowing How to Develop Talent


I wrote elsewhere in another article something which sums up hypocrisy pretty well.

“Do what you say you are going to do, and practice what you preach. Humans, even tiny ones, have remarkable “hypocrisy” radars. Try out this experiment for yourself. Tell a 3-year-old they cannot have brownies because it’s bad for them, and then eat one in front of them to see what happens. Even a 3-year-old can recognize hypocrisy and call you out on your bs.

You absolutely, unequivocally cannot be a good leader without integrity. Behaving in a manner incongruent with the vision, morals, and ideals you espouse to others will burn any respect you have to the ground.”

-The Arise Tribe-

The leader who refuses to hold themselves to the same standards they demand of others is no leader at all.

Failure to Learn from Failure

In our article on How to Deal with Failure, we pretty explicitly spell out failure is good. Failure is the pathway to greatness. Leaders who refuse to learn from failure are more interested in preserving their own egos (see above) than actually being better. Failure is one of our greatest teachers and wise men and women invest hard when failure occurs.

Winning feels great, but teaches us nothing. Every leader in the world should understand this and treat failure like the valuable commodity that it is.

Risk Rejection

Risk rejection, in the realm of risk analysis, is the refusal to believe or accept a present risk and thus staying the present course. One of the most likeable, genuine, charismatic and truly good people I have ever worked for was awful about risk rejection. He never wanted to hear bad news, and refused to deal with problems, even big ones.

When dozens of people approached him to warn him of a problem employee who was being abusive to others, he shrugged it off with simply, “she doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would do that.” And that was the end of it. He was a failure of a leader despite all of his good qualities because the organization suffered, greatly, because of his refusal to deal with a very bad problem employee. (By the way, you can read our guide to Leadership in Toxic Work Environments here).

Risk rejection can come in other forms too. Such as moving forward with big projects even though the financial forecast is dire. Hiring when you should be saving. Making budget cuts when the market is calling for hiring.

Although leadership is often about relationships and how to inspire those around you, it’s also about facing facts and accepting reality. Leadership is also about doing hard things and making hard choices. Guess the number of times in the history of history that problems have gone away by ignoring them? Zero. Make the decision now in your career to reject risk rejection!

Abuse of Authority

We have all seen this one play out in one form or another. The most poignant example of this in my career came working for someone who was head of a 700 person organization for a long time. He was a pillar in the community, and his employees loved him and loved working for him. He really was a great leader, until he wasn’t.

Late in his career he found it a little too easy to start taking some dirty money on the side. He was eventually indicted by the FBI and served time in a federal prison. A pillar of the community’s legacy was erased overnight. All he had worked for had turned to ash in an instant because of a few bad decisions. And, in so doing, let down hundreds of people. New leadership came in and much changed. Good people lost their jobs and livelihood (including yours truly) as a result of this person abusing their authority.

Beware of the continuum of compromise.

Bonus Sin: Not Knowing How to Develop People

This one is particularly frustrating to me. I have seen people promoted into leadership who were great and skilled workers, but terrible leaders. Leadership is a unique skill and discipline in its own right. The best workers do not necessarily make the best leaders. However, when a skilled worker gets promoted into leadership, they often fall into this trap.

No one will be able to do the work as skillfully and as well as they did. These people often chide, berate and fuss when people don’t complete tasks to their quality standards. This problem is a complex one. The formerly-skilled worker turned leader often forgets the years of practice, mistakes, and refinement they went through to become skilled at their craft. Inexperienced employees will not be able to perform the work with the same skill and to the same standards.

In these cases the leader fails to realize, it’s not their job to get the employee from point A to point Z (Z being that excellent standard of quality). It’s the leader’s job to get them from point A to point B. And then, from point B to point C. The leader has to give that employee, with some coaching and guidance room to make their own mistakes and learn from them. Trying to ramrod them straight point Z bypasses a lot of growth, creates frustration in both the supervisor and the worker and ultimately leads to failure.

If you find yourself in this position as a leader, understand your job is to lead and coach this employee along a progression to excellence. They will not get there by you explaining point Z. They have to experience the journey themselves. Good leaders have the patience to guide people along this path.

In a similar way, you yourself are along a progressive journey. While on this path, do not focus on how far you have left to go before you achieve your eventual goal. Be proud of how far you’ve come, and keep going!

Erik Murrah

Author, nerd, chess player, artist, business owner, runner, mediocre philosopher, outdoorsman. Creator of the Arise Tribe.

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