Bad Leadership - A Look In Retrospect

Bad Leadership - A Look In Retrospect

I recently asked you all for input on what things you think make for a "bad leader".  I took your comments, added my own thoughts, and this is the result.  I want to preface this by saying that I have had the opportunity to lead many Soldiers at the team, squad, and platoon level.  Additionally, I have worked in some non traditional areas at the senior level where leadership can be challenging in its own way.  Some of you have worked either for me or with me, and I admit I am not, and have not always been the best leader, although I have always tried to be the best possible out of respect for my profession and those in my care.  This post is being written in retrospect, taking into account all of the things I have learned and wish I knew earlier.

The following habits or actions can kill the morale of your subordinates, and lose you their respect - which you don't want to happen.  This stuff can also damage your reputation amongst your peers.  The downfall of the Army's promotion system, and probably other branches as well, is you don't actually need to be a good leader at all to continue getting promoted.  You just need to check a few blocks, and maybe hit a few schools.  What you end up with are senior leaders who don't actually know anything about leadership and have no apathy for their subordinates.

Micromanaging - Everyone's favorite thing to complain about, but what is it?  Everyone has different leadership styles, which are usually based on their personalities.  Some leaders feel they need to have control of the situation at all times so they tend to take over whenever work has to be done that they deem "no fail" or important.  They genuinely care about doing things right and they may not know they are micromanaging or being off-putting to their subordinate leaders.  This type of leadership style is most obvious at the platoon/section level and below.  At higher echelons, typically battalion or above, this is where the theory of mission command comes into play - commanders trusting and empowering their subordinates to take initiative in order to accomplish the mission.  A great, or terrible, example of this was Adolf Hitler in World War 2.  He did not trust or empower his subordinate commanders, and some argue that is what ultimately caused the German defeat. Just remember, you have junior leaders who are there for a reason.  It should never be a one man or woman show - use them and empower them to help get the job done!

'Likership' vs Leadership - Typically seen amongst junior NCOs, some leaders tend to base all of their decisions around gaining the popularity of their Soldiers.  While it is possible to lead effectively AND have everyone love you (if you are just super badass or charismatic), it's not always going to be possible, and being liked should not be your priority.  This can be particularly hard amongst newly promoted NCOs who are now in charge of their friends.  When able, NCOs should be moved across platoons or even companies in order to prevent this.  My thoughts have always been, we can be cool at work and even outside of work as long as you respect that line and our relationship, but if I have to choose between doing my job and your friendship, sorry.

Praise in public and correct in private - Humiliating somebody in front of their Soldiers can be a great way to make them feel bad, or hate you.  It also undermines their authority and damages their relationship with their subordinates.  When they crush the job, or do something awesome,  recognize them!  When they fuck up , pull them aside and correct the mistake and explain the issue. Simple.

Cant accept or admit being wrong - This is very common, all the way up the rank structure.  This is one of those things that has to be realized and changed by the individual leader.  You cant guilt or "told you so" your way into making a leader realize he or she is wrong (well its not smart at least).  A big sign of maturity is being able to look at your troops and say "You know what, I was wrong.  Your way is better."  Some leaders keep their heads so far up their own asses they refuse to accept reality or understand how their peers and subordinates see them, but again, you cant change people.  When people know you are wrong, and then watch you struggle and refuse admitting it, you lose credibility.

Fraternization - Here's where things get tricky.  I'm going to start off by saying this is about platonic relationships only.  Do not diddle your subordinates or visa versa.  When it comes to "hanging out with the boys", I have seen various degrees of this.  To a certain extent it's fine.  I have as a SSG, hung out with those who I outranked on the weekends.  I have gone to the bars with the SGTs.  I have had numerous cookouts and house parties with the whole platoon.  The problems start when you start acting immature compromising your integrity, treating some people better than others, or excluding people.  Nobody likes a leader who plays favorites, especially when that is evident in the work place.  

"Do as I say not as I do" - One of the absolute fastest way to lose respect.  These people set a standard, and then do not follow it themselves.  This could be anything from being an overweight NCO who struggles with pt yelling at their subordinates about their APFT/ACFT results, to showing up late all the time when you expect them to always be early.  Now I will say, there are certain situations where leadership can and should do things differently.  Cutting line at SRP, front loading at a range because they have somewhere else to be, etc.  At the lower level, Soldiers may not understand these things.  Just remember, everyone is always watching you - don't be a hypocrite.

"Take all blame, give all credit" - As a leader, when something goes wrong in your section you should take every attempt at absorbing that blame.  Now obviously this doesn't apply to DUIs, failed UA and individuals making bad decisions.  I'm talking about the mission, day to day work and the like.  It's super easy to throw someone else under the bus in order to save face, but you just damaged the trust you had with that person.  Also, your seniors can usually tell if you are the guy that blames everyone else for their mistakes, so keep that in mind.  On the other hand, when something works well and your team does a good job, give that credit to your subordinates.  It's called positive reenforcement and it can do wonders for your organization.

Does not communicate effectively - It is super frustrating when someone hoards all of the information, just because it makes them feel more important or some other reason.  Granted, some decisions need to be help and executed at a higher level, but the faster your troops have the information the faster they can start planning and preparing.  There is a reason "Issue a warning order" is number two in the troop leading procedures, and the first thing that happens after you receive the mission.  It is exasperating to try and work for someone who never tells you what is going on.  This ties in to my next point, but incorporate your subordinate leaders into your plan and use them to help you!

Not empowering subordinate leaders - As aforementioned, you need to utilize those who work for you.  There is a rank structure for a reason.  Continue to do their jobs or shut them down and they will stop working for you.  This will help you prioritize, free up your bandwidth, and be a more effective team.

Not in touch with whats going on at work - Some people just dont care about their job, the quality of their work, or their people.  I hate it, but it's true.  Whether biding time until they retire/ETS, shamming before a PCS, or whatever the case may be.  These people are a pain to work for and be around.  If this is you, please for the sake of those you work with, step up or get out.

To wrap this up, these aren't the only things that can make you ineffective as a leader, but they are a lot of the commonly seen and complained about issues.  I ask you to take an honest look at yourself and change what you can if they apply to you.  Your subordinates deserve it.  Thanks for reading and if you enjoyed this please share.





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Amazing read! You hit on topics most people will shy away from and avoid. Keep spitting out the facts.

Nicholas Cary

Civi here, but this was a fantastic article to read and to learn. I’m a student and a teacher. I’m feeling some penitence after reading 😅 so I may print this out and hang it in my office for reminding. Definitely going to share this article with my boyfriend, a fresh 215D.

Olivia Wilson

Providing excellent leadership will always be challenging and we all have to get their in our own way

This is not only a solid road map for aspiring leaders, but also a “back to basics” for senior leaders to self evaluate.


I fully read through the thoughts about leadership pitfalls and have to fully agree. This sounds all too familiar from my time enlisted and the civi sector. The rare times I’ve had good leadership that is who I have looked to as an example. When we are young, we are more susceptible to picking up bad leadership habits, especially if that is the only type of example in front of us. I would say I personally was able to stay away from following and implementing most of the garbage leadership examples because I remember how I thought about it aimed at me. I hated it, so why would I then keep the bs going? I believe some think, “I went though it, so now their turn!” as a tradition or some with sadistic intent. Tradition people they accept whatever as “that is just how it is” while sadists enjoy tearing others down under their “leadership”. That’s a “boss” not a leader to me.

Anyway, great points and in fill agreement once again. This could make a great start to a book on actual leadership.

A. Chapman

Great write up dude! Honestly wish I did have something like this as younger soldier. Definitely had to learn the hard way. Lots of trial and error… Learned a lot from watching both good and definitely the bad leaders. I would suggest adding sharing knowledge. Should go hand in hand with empowering leaders. Teaching, guiding, building their confidence and providing them with all the tools to be successful.

Trash Daddy

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