What to do when you have an ineffective leader.

thought leadership Feb 08, 2023


Some of our biggest leadership lessons come from observing (or unfortunately experiencing) ineffective leadership. Those lessons are often learnt the hard way by being on the receiving end of poor communication, bad decisions, selfish agendas and directionless weak guidance.


An ineffective leader is someone who:

  • Doesn't set clear direction for you and the team (or business).
  • Doesn't ask for, or take feedback and use it to improve.
  • Doesn't deliver on what they say they will do.
  • Leads a team or business that has a toxic culture - and doesn't do anything to improve the health of the team and environment.
  • Doesn't act in the best interests of the business.


What to do when you have an ineffective leader?

  • Learn and take notes, figure out WHY they aren't effective.
  • Protect yours and your teams achievements and opportunities.
  • Protect your future career and leadership style.
  • Grow yourself - don't let this get in the way of your own potential.
  • Lead with kindness. 




This is your training ground as a leader, so instead of feeling demotivated, take this as a challenge. What can we learn from this poor leadership? Use this opportunity to view the situation, the team, the business, the people, the dynamics etc with an impartial perspective. What can you REALLY see is happening, how is their behaviour impacting the business performance?

Questions to ask yourself, and chat about with your leadership support network:
(this works best with a specific example/s)

  •  What is the situation that’s happened?
  •  How did this leader respond?
  •  What was the outcome/consequence of their response?
  •  How have I contributed to this response or outcome? This is an important step, because someones we can miss how our own actions have created a situation, and it’s VERY easy to blame things on leaders. So let’s take a beat, check in with ourselves. Make sure that we’re judging this leader fairly and with compassion.
  •  What would have been a better outcome?
  •  What would have needed to happen, or what should their response have been in order to get that ideal outcome?
  • How is this helping or impeding overall business performance?



As leaders, our purpose is to pave the way and empower our people to be successful. When we have ineffective leaders, they can tend to GET IN the way, rather than help us. This is a tough situation for you - as you have to protect not only your own interests but that of your team.

Questions to ask yourself, and chat about with your leadership support network:

  •  What are my current goals and how are they measured?
  •  What is my EXACT action plan to achieve these goals?
  •  What areas does my leader touch or influence?
    •  Speak with your leader about those specific areas of support, citing clear deadlines, and exact support required. Confirm with them if this is going to be possible for them to provide.
    •  Have a plan B if they don’t come through.
  •  You could also do some risk mitigation here depending on how high stakes the goals are.
    •  What could possible go wrong?
    •  What would me / my team do in those scenarios?



This can be a tough one, and I would ask that you consider all the outcomes before deciding when/how/if you should do this. If your leader is ineffective simply because they are inexperienced, then they could be open to feedback and will be able to act on it and create change. If your leader is ineffective because they have an ego that stops them from being vulnerable or accepting that they would ever do anything wrong - then it can be dangerous for you to provide this feedback unless you position it cleverly. Sometimes we can work around painful egos by asking for help. 

Questions to ask yourself, and chat about with your leadership support network:

  •  What one change could my leader make that would have the biggest positive impact on my ability to achieve my results?
  • How could I position this feedback in a way that makes it clear that there is huge upside for the business and team by making this change? Could I position this as an "ask" or as a "request for help"? 
  • What are the potential outcomes of this? For example, if they make the change what will happen? If they don't make the change, what will happen?
  • If I upset this person, which puts my job at risk - am I willing to walk away from my role over this? Would I be proud of standing up for this?



I want you to think about what having this bad leader may be costing you, and what the opportunity looks like for you in another role or another business. Sure, we can learn a lot from poor leaders, and I think it’s something we should all experience at one point in our careers purely so that we know who we never want to be, but there comes a time when your agency, your purpose and your happiness is WAY more important. Having a poor leader can stifle your creativity if they roadblock you or take away ways for you to problem solve. Poor leaders can stunt your opportunities by not advocating for you and your team behind the scenes, which means you and your team may never reach your true potential. Ineffective leaders can also (EEK) - rub off on you, without even realising it, you start to display some of their habits, you start to anticipate how they think which then clouds how YOU think and you may find one day that you have become the very thing you didn’t want to be.

Questions to ask yourself, and chat about with your leadership support network:

  •  What did I want to achieve in this role?
  •  Have I achieved that?
  •  What HAVE I gotten from this role so far? Think about what benefits, what learnings and what opportunities have you been able to take advantage of?
  •  Are you happy with that so far? Is that list enough to allow you to feel like you’ve gotten what you wanted or needed from this role and you are ready to move on?
  •  Am I starting to see behaviours or thought patterns in myself that mirror my leaders? What can I do to prevent this in the future e.g. journaling, broaden self awareness, be honest with myself.



In our careers, we look to our leaders to help lift us up, support our growth and provide opportunities to learn. If we have a leader that doesn't prioritise that, it doesn't mean that you can't take matters into your own hands and carve out your own growth plan. In reality, your future and your growth is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY. A good, supportive leader should be helping you because it benefits you as the employee and it also benefits the business when you become more capable and engaged - BUT it's not just on your leader to grow you. 

Questions to ask yourself, and chat about with your leadership support network:

  • What are the options for my next step up?
  • Do I have all the skills I need for that?
  • How am I investing in myself to deliver growth and outperform myself each day?
  • Have I created my own Leadership Growth Plan?
  • Look for other leaders that can support you like a coach or a mentor.



You know that being a leader isn't easy, it takes courage, grit and growth. As a leader, it's likely that you'll have experienced situations where you've had to make tough decisions, or a move that you made had unintended consequences that upset or hurt people. We need to remember that leadership isn't all perfect and amazing, we are human, we will make mistakes - so let's make sure we're extending that grace to other leaders as well. When we are unhappy with a situation at work, and we spend a lot of time thinking about it, sometimes we villainize the other person, they become this inhuman figure in our minds that MUST BE STOPPED. That kind of attitude isn't helpful for us, it creates negative vibes which we don't need bb, but it can also then stop us from seeing the good that this leader may also do.

Some reminders that we must stay fair, balanced and kind as we evaluate others, even someone we view as ineffective:

  • Be kind. They are just a human too, and they have their own experiences, mindsets and attitudes guiding the way that they behave. When they make decisions or act in a way that you don't appreciate, try to also look at it from different perspectives. Can you see why they may have made that call?
  • Be balanced. Let's be fair with how we're evaluating our leader - are they really that bad, or have they just made one bad decision? If it's more of a consistent pattern of poor performance on their part that you can point to with specific examples then that's when it starts to be more like a bad leader and not just a bad situation. Look for things that this leader does well, for example they might be terrible at communicating with you - but they might be great at communicating with the wider business and motivating at scale. They are also things that you can learn from. Being able to maintain a balanced view of your leader means you'll have more compassion, but it will also make it easier for you to maintain an authentic relationship with them because you will still genuinely connect with them - rather than starting to vilify them in your mind which will make your 1:1s TOUGH for you. 
  • Be pragmatic. Sure - observe, learn and mitigate the risks of having a bad leader but make sure you're not obsessing over it. Don't gossip about it to lots of other people, don't keep ruminating over the same things. That's how you become part of the problem, you contribute to an unhealthy culture by gossiping and dwelling on negative things. Use this as a chance to show your leadership. Lead with kindness and positivity, help your team see where they CAN have an impact, refocus on projects that will grow your team rather than focusing too much on where your leader has roadblocked you. 


One last thing.....

After everything we've talked about, you should be able to see that you do have options when you're unhappy with your leader. You can work around them, you can attempt to create change, or you can leave. Ultimately, it's a judgement call that you have to make for yourself. Is the opportunity in your role worth the experience you're having with your leader? Can you protect yourself, your style and your future enough to continue to stay in this role? 


Reach out if you want to chat! DM me @brightenproject


VB x


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