Being a Better Leader: Recognizing, Understanding, and Overcoming

dysfunctional leadership

Leadership, in its essence, is about guiding a team or an organization toward a common goal. It is the catalyst that drives innovation, productivity, and employee satisfaction. 

Dysfunctional leadership, on the other hand, is the antithesis of this concept. It involves a leader who exhibits behaviors, attitudes, and decision-making patterns that hinder rather than promote organizational success. 

It is not merely an internal matter; it has wide-ranging consequences for employees, organizational culture, and even the bottom line. Dysfunctional leadership can lead to reduced productivity, increased turnover, and a toxic work environment, which in turn can damage the organization’s reputation and erode its long-term prospects.

The sad thing is dysfunctional leaders are often oblivious to the damage they cause, making it crucial to recognize and address these issues.

Let’s dive deeper into dysfunctional leadership, its various forms, signs, impacts, root causes, and most importantly, how to recognize, understand, and overcome it.

Types of Dysfunctional Leadership

dysfunctional leadership

Dysfunctional leadership comes in various forms, each with its unique challenges and repercussions.

Authoritarian Leadership

Authoritarian leadership is characterized by a top-down approach where the leader holds all decision-making power, seldom seeking input from team members. This style of leadership can stifle creativity and innovation, leading to low employee engagement.

Overall, employees under authoritarian leaders often feel disempowered and undervalued. The lack of autonomy and input can lead to frustration and a lack of motivation. Studies have shown that organizations with more empowering and participative leadership styles tend to be more innovative and adaptive.


Micromanagement involves excessive control and oversight by a leader, leaving employees feeling disempowered and frustrated. Leaders who micromanage often hover over their team members, scrutinizing every detail of their work. Research has linked micromanagement to high stress levels among employees and a decline in overall job satisfaction.

Also, employees working under micromanagers tend to experience a lack of trust and autonomy. They may become risk-averse and less likely to take initiative. This can lead to high levels of stress and burnout, ultimately affecting their performance and job satisfaction.

Toxic Leadership

Toxic leaders create a hostile and emotionally draining work environment. They may engage in behaviors such as belittling employees, spreading negativity, and fostering a culture of fear. 

Exposure to toxic leadership can result in higher rates of burnout and a decrease in employees’ psychological well-being, which can lead to physical health issues, decreased job satisfaction, and a negative impact on their personal lives. Toxic leaders can also create a culture of fear that stifles creativity and open communication.

Ineffective Communication

Leaders who fail to communicate effectively can cause misunderstandings, confusion, and frustration among team members. Effective communication is a critical factor in building trust and team cohesion.

Poor communication can result in misaligned goals, wasted time, and unnecessary conflicts. Employees may feel undervalued or unheard, leading to decreased job satisfaction and motivation. Transparent and open communication, on the other hand, fosters trust and a sense of belonging within the organization.

Lack of Transparency

A lack of transparency in leadership decisions can erode trust within an organization. Leaders who keep their decision-making processes secretive may create an atmosphere of uncertainty and suspicion.

When leaders are not transparent about their decisions, employees may feel disconnected and undervalued. Employees may become disengaged and less committed to the organization. However, transparent leadership is positively correlated with employee job satisfaction and commitment.

Favoritism and Nepotism

Favoritism and nepotism undermine fairness and equality in the workplace. When leaders show preferential treatment to certain employees, it can lead to resentment and a lack of trust among the rest of the team.

Likewise, employees who perceive favoritism may feel demotivated and undervalued. This can lead to decreased morale and increased turnover rates. In organizations where fairness is prioritized, employees are more likely to be engaged and committed to their work.

Signs and Impact of Dysfunctional Leadership

Understanding the warning signs and the profound impact of dysfunctional leadership on organizations and individuals is the first step toward repairing the situation.

Decreased Employee Morale

Employees working under dysfunctional leadership often experience low morale due to a lack of support, recognition, or opportunities for growth. This can lead to disengagement and a decline in overall job satisfaction.

Furthermore, decreased morale can result in reduced productivity, higher turnover, and a negative work culture. Employees may become disengaged, leading to a decline in their commitment to the organization.

High Turnover Rates

Research has consistently shown a strong connection between dysfunctional leadership and high turnover rates. Employees are more likely to leave an organization when they feel undervalued, unappreciated, or mistreated.

This is detrimental to your company’s bottom line as high turnover rates can be costly for organizations. It can lead to increased recruitment and training expenses, decreased team stability, and potential damage to the organization’s reputation. However, organizations with effective leadership structures tend to experience lower turnover rates.

Reduced Productivity

Dysfunctional leadership can hinder productivity by creating an environment where employees are reluctant to take initiative or innovate. Reduced productivity can result in missed opportunities, decreased profitability, and competitive disadvantages. Overall, dysfunctional leadership can stifle creativity and innovation, hindering an organization’s ability to adapt to changing market conditions.

Conflict and Tension in the Workplace

Toxic leadership and poor communication often result in conflicts among team members. This can lead to a hostile work environment, decreased collaboration, and impaired team performance.

Similarly, workplace conflicts can lead to stress, decreased job satisfaction, and reduced team cohesion. When employees are constantly at odds, it can be challenging to collaborate, achieve common goals and maintain a positive work atmosphere.

Negative Organizational Culture

Dysfunctional leadership can foster a culture of distrust, fear, and apathy within an organization. Such a negative culture can be detrimental to the overall success and reputation of the organization.

For instance, a negative organizational culture can deter top talent from joining the organization and can lead to a cycle of dysfunction that is difficult to break. It can also damage the organization’s reputation and make it less appealing to clients and customers.

Causes and Contributors

Delving into the root causes and contributors behind dysfunctional leadership reveals the complex meshing of factors that give rise to these issues.

Poor Leadership Skills

One of the primary causes of dysfunctional leadership is a lack of essential leadership skills. Leaders with inadequate skills may struggle to make informed decisions, build effective teams, or communicate clearly.

Luckily, leaders who undergo leadership development programs are more likely to exhibit effective leadership behaviors. Therefore, leadership development programs, such as the Personalysis Executive Intensive Program, offer a structured approach to enhancing leadership skills and understanding people and processes.

Lack of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence, the ability to understand and manage one’s emotions and those of others, plays a pivotal role in leadership effectiveness. 

Leaders with low emotional intelligence may struggle to build meaningful relationships with their teams.

For example, leaders who lack emotional intelligence may have difficulty empathizing with their team members, leading to misunderstandings and conflicts. Building emotional intelligence can improve leaders’ ability to connect with and motivate their teams.

Unhealthy Power Dynamics

Leaders who abuse their power or engage in favoritism, create unhealthy power dynamics within an organization. Unhealthy power dynamics can breed resentment and distrust among team members, leading to reduced employee trust and engagement. It can also result in a lack of open communication and collaboration. Leaders should strive to create an atmosphere of fairness and equality.

Organizational Structure Issues

The structure and hierarchy of an organization can contribute to dysfunctional leadership. A rigid and inflexible structure can impede decision-making and effective communication including in remote teams.

When organizations have rigid structures that limit communication and collaboration, it can hinder innovation and adaptability. Leaders should evaluate the organizational structure to ensure it supports effective leadership practices.

External Pressures and Stressors

Leaders are not immune to external pressures, such as economic downturns or market fluctuations. These pressures can lead to poor decision-making and a focus on short-term gains rather than long-term sustainability. Therefore, leaders must maintain a long-term perspective and focus on the well-being of both the organization and its employees.

Recognizing Dysfunctional Leadership

Recognizing dysfunctional leadership involves identifying behavioral patterns and utilizing feedback mechanisms to uncover hidden problems.

Identifying Behavioral Patterns

Recognizing dysfunctional leadership often starts with identifying recurring behavioral patterns. It requires paying attention to how leaders interact with their teams, make decisions, and handle conflicts. Also, team members and peers can provide valuable insights into leadership behaviors that may be causing issues.

Surveying Employee Feedback

One effective way to identify dysfunctional leadership is to solicit anonymous feedback from employees. Anonymous surveys can reveal crucial insights into leadership issues that may otherwise go unnoticed.

Hence, gathering feedback from employees allows organizations to gain a better understanding of the challenges they face. It also demonstrates a commitment to addressing issues and improving the workplace.

Analyzing Performance Metrics

Performance metrics can provide valuable data on the impact of leadership on various aspects of the organization. Analyzing data related to turnover rates, productivity, and employee satisfaction can help identify areas where dysfunctional leadership may be a problem. By correlating performance metrics with leadership behaviors, organizations can pinpoint areas for intervention.

Seeking External Expertise

In some cases, it may be necessary to seek external expertise to diagnose and address dysfunctional leadership. External experts can offer a fresh perspective, objective assessments and recommendations, helping organizations break free from entrenched dysfunctional patterns. They can guide leadership development and organizational change initiatives.

Elevate your leadership journey with the Personalysis Executive Intensive Program, a transformative experience designed to address dysfunctional leadership. This program focuses on both processes and people, acknowledging your unique leadership style, enhancing your knowledge of systems and elevating your ability to connect with and influence others.

Consequences of Ignoring Dysfunctional Leadership

Ignoring dysfunctional leadership can lead to severe consequences, both for an organization’s reputation and its internal dynamics.

Long-Term Damage to Organizational Reputation

Ignoring dysfunctional leadership can lead to long-term damage to an organization’s reputation. Negative reviews from former employees and a toxic work culture can deter top talent from joining the organization.

Plus, a damaged reputation can hinder an organization’s ability to attract and retain top talent. It can also affect its relationships with clients, customers, and partners. Organizations should prioritize addressing dysfunctional leadership to protect their reputation.

Impaired Innovation and Growth

Dysfunctional leadership can stifle innovation and hinder organizational growth. When employees are disengaged and unmotivated, they are less likely to contribute new ideas or drive the company forward. Dysfunctional leadership can impede an organization’s ability to adapt to market changes and seize new opportunities.

Legal and Ethical Consequences

In extreme cases, dysfunctional leadership can result in legal and ethical consequences. Discrimination, harassment, and other unethical behaviors can lead to lawsuits and fines. Moreover, legal and ethical violations can be costly and damaging to an organization’s reputation. Therefore, organizations must have policies and mechanisms in place to prevent and address such issues.

Overcoming Dysfunctional Leadership

Overcoming dysfunctional leadership requires a multifaceted approach, including leadership development, cultural change, and proactive strategies to create a healthier work environment.

Leadership Development Programs

Leadership development programs can lead to a positive transformation in leadership behaviors and attitudes. These programs equip leaders with the necessary skills and tools to become more effective and empathetic leaders. The Personalysis Executive Intensive Program offers a clear roadmap to help leaders appreciate and respect the dynamic differences that exist between teams and employees.

Creating a Culture of Accountability

Fostering a culture of accountability is a must to combat dysfunctional leadership. Leaders should hold themselves accountable for their actions and decisions and encourage their teams to do the same. 

 Accountability promotes a sense of responsibility and ownership among leaders and employees. It also encourages open communication and a focus on shared goals, contributing to a healthier work environment 

Empowering Employees

Empowering employees by giving them autonomy and ownership over their work can counteract micromanagement and boost morale. The Harvard Business Review showed that empowered employees are more engaged and innovative. Plus, empowered employees tend to be more motivated, satisfied with their work, and committed to the organization’s success. 

Communication Improvement Strategies

Leaders should actively seek feedback, provide clear expectations, and promote open and honest dialogue within the organization. Since, effective communication fosters trust, reduces misunderstandings, and encourages team collaboration. It also creates a culture where employees feel valued and heard, contributing to improved morale and productivity. 

Fostering Diversity and Inclusion

Dysfunctional leadership can often be worsened by a lack of diversity and inclusion within an organization. Embracing diversity and promoting an inclusive culture can lead to fresh perspectives and more effective leadership. Inclusive leadership practices promote a sense of belonging and equality.

Combat Dysfunctional Leadership and Cultivate a Brighter Future

Recognizing, understanding, and overcoming dysfunctional leadership is vital for the success and well-being of any organization. 

To address dysfunctional leadership, organizations must invest in leadership development programs like the Personalysis Executive Intensive Program, which offers a science-based approach to understanding and appreciating individual differences.

In the words of John C. Maxwell, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” Let us strive to be the kind of leaders who not only know the way but also empower others to join us on the journey toward success.


Contact us to see how we can help you, your team, or your organization reach full potential.

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