3 types of leaders that hold back teams, companies

| July 1, 2022

The quality of leadership in many workplaces falls short of expectations. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, professor of psychology at University College London and Columbia University, suggests that up to half of our leaders are not sufficiently competent to do their jobs properly.

Likewise, Bill Gentry from the Centre for Creative Leadership produced studies showing that ineffective leaders make up half of today’s organisational management pool.

Even the people responsible for developing and training leaders in their organisations concede there is a problem.  In 2021, Development Dimensions International found that only one in four HR professionals rated the quality of leaders in their organisation as ‘high’. From the 1743 organisations around the world involved in the research, three quarters reported as being populated with average, ordinary or just downright poor leadership.

My research identifies three common patterns of sub-optimal leadership present in many workplaces. These three ways of leading have a limiting effect on engagement, culture, and nearly every performance metric you can think of.  Unfortunately, unless you work in a company that has deliberately cultivated higher quality leadership, it’s possible that up to 70% of what you observe around you will reflect these limiting patterns.


Some leaders are hooked on control.  Their way is the only way, and they must win every time.  Whether it’s a major debate, or a minor discussion, they seem convinced they have all the answers, and that they are always right. They like to advocate their point of view, but they are not so good at listening and inviting other people perspectives. A lack of diversity in views or perspectives often results, stifling innovation and quality of problem solving.  If they perceive their authority or position to be challenged, they will come out swinging, so people around them become compliant, learning not to challenge or question their views or opinions. Micromanaging and autocratic order-giving leave other people with little latitude or empowerment, driving down engagement and motivation.   Whilst this pattern of leadership can be focused on results and getting things done, its’ inability to cultivate trust and true engagement from others ultimately limits the quality and sustainability of the results produced.


Playing it small and playing it safe are the hallmarks of this leadership pattern.  It’s risk averse in many actions and decisions, to the point that it frustrates attempts at change and innovation.   These leaders amplify the potential losses from taking decisive action, and so often choose not to act at all, leaving opportunities on the table.  Being closed, guarded and unresponsive to others, they are also hard for others to connect with, limiting trust and leaving others unsure where they stand on key issues.  A lack of action can frustrate others, especially peers and bosses who may find them to be key blockers for change and progress.  With a tendency to blame and complain about others when things go wrong, they typically fail to take accountability for their own mistakes or acknowledge their role in the mess.


This pattern of ordinary leadership has a major redeeming feature.  It is very warm, connecting, and likeable.  Unfortunately, however, these leaders pay so much attention to cultivating positive, friendly relationships with others, they often fail to pay adequate attention to the work that needs to be done.  A major source of frustration for their peers and bosses is their willingness to agree to almost anything that is asked of them, even though they are ultimately unable to deliver on those commitments. Their desire for harmony can also leave them unwilling to give candid feedback or have tough conversations, so problems and issues remain unaddressed and unresolved.  Likewise, an inability to hold their team members accountable for results and performance limits the teams’ success.

The good news is that our research shows that these three limiting patterns of leadership can often be improved, provided leaders are challenged by their organisations to change, whilst being supported to do so with training, coaching, and reinforcement through performance management and reward systems. This commitment typically leads to substantial improvements in performance and team culture.  Of course, organisations who leave these unhelpful ways of leading unaddressed, are making the de facto decision to remain ordinary, average, or just downright poor themselves.