15 Qualities of Bad Managers

These are the red flags of a bad boss.

Managers and leaders play a critical role in organizations, from the influence they have over employees to the way a company functions operationally and culturally. While good management skills can spur productivity, employee retention and success, weak manager characteristics and bad manager traits can be detrimental for teams, departments and companies. Almost every professional will face working with a bad manager at some point in their career. Here are some of the most common characteristics to look out for if you suspect you’re working for a bad manager.


A micromanaging boss is one who doesn’t trust your abilities and methods for getting your job done. This type of manager may hover over your work, providing too much input and unnecessary oversight. Micromanagers may check in constantly to see how quickly you’re getting the job done or may ask you to redo a project to reflect their style rather than your own. Micromanaging benefits neither the manager nor employees in the long run. In addition to causing stress in the workplace, it also prevents people from demonstrating their creativity and enthusiasm for projects and sharing their innovative ideas. There are many ways to accomplish the same task, so beware of a manager who thinks executing a project in a way that differs from their own is wrong. Micromanaging bosses can drive employees out of the company, leading to high turnover that negatively affects the entire organization.

Burned Out

This quality refers to a manager who is overworked or overwhelmed. This boss may simply be going through the motions at work: accomplishing their tasks, collecting work from employees and then checking out. Burnout may also cause supervisors to act moody and snappish with employees, as they attempt unsuccessfully to get everything done. Bosses who act like this may feel unappreciated in their own jobs or feel they are lacking the corporate resources they need to reach the goals that the company has charged them with. Whatever the reasons, a boss who is burned out can be toxic to a team. While they can be effective at their job on the surface, if they check out mentally and emotionally, then they may give the impression that they don’t value the employees or the organization they work for. This means they lose out on the opportunity to make a real difference in their organization and with their employees. If employees don’t feel appreciated due to their boss experiencing burnout, they may ultimately decide to leave the company.


While managers are supposed to be good role models and exemplify leadership abilities, some bosses fall short of this and instead act unprofessionally. You may have a boss who cares more about maintaining his or her own personal life at work than helping their employees or who participates in cliquish behaviors and leaves some people out. Other unprofessional bosses might overshare details of their personal life, grill you on yours, try to force a friendship with you that you don’t want or play favorites with certain team members. Unprofessional behavior from a boss may cross the line from merely annoying to possibly illegal if harassment is involved. If you’re uncertain whether a boss’s antics are bordering on inappropriate for the office or may constitute harassment, talk to your human resources department.

Poor Communication

Bosses with poor communication skills negatively affect their companies and teams. Managers who don’t communicate enough with their employees cause confusion and frustration. Ineffective communication affects productivity levels, since employees will have to stop and ask questions as they go as opposed to having all the information they need in the beginning. Poor communication can range from not giving clear instructions about a project to failing to provide feedback after work is completed. Some bosses fail to schedule regular times to connect with their direct reports, leaving them to guess at their expectations and progress. Ultimately, managers who are poor communicators can tank the goals of their departments since people are left in the dark about important details.

Demanding Authority

Some managers make the mistake of thinking they automatically deserve to be respected because of their title and position. This type of authoritarian boss conveys that they are more important than their employees and have better ideas than others on the team. They operate from a top-down mentality, perhaps hiring only people who validate their viewpoint rather than challenge it. This approach can hurt diversity, equity and inclusion in an organization and may backfire with employees. People are more prone to respect those who have gained their status through positive actions and have created a culture of respect, not those who demand authority just because of a job title.


Many managers are underprepared for leadership roles simply because their organization has not provided the necessary training. This means that some managers lack soft skills or leadership skills that could help them be more effective in their role, which causes frustration for the manager and for the employees. Lacking these skills is a sign of overall poor management. Some underprepared managers never wanted to be managers at all, but simply were promoted from roles where they had succeeded at being strong individual contributors. They may have enjoyed being part of a team of equals but may be uncomfortable and unequipped for leading people who they had been friends with as peers in a department.


If an employee doesn’t feel that they can talk to their manager about work issues — or, in some cases, personal issues that affect their work — this can create a barrier between the employee and manager. Some managers may inadvertently or sometimes intentionally come across as unapproachable to their team members. Such managers may convey that they are too busy to be bothered or interrupted by team concerns or may have a closed-door policy that discourages interaction. These types of behaviors may cause employees to distance themselves from a manager, which can create myriad problems in the office. It may make it difficult for a manager to resolve problems at work or for employees to accept suggestions and feedback from an unapproachable manager.

Wanting the Team to Make Them Look Good

Another type of bad manager is one who feels that their team is supposed to work hard primarily to advance the manager’s own career. This type of boss doesn’t value high quality work if it doesn’t in some way make the manager look good. An attitude like this can crush the enthusiasm and creativity of employees. Once this happens, it hurts both the manager and the company, since people may disengage if they can’t fulfill their potential and their actions aren’t highlighted to help them advance their own career.


Negative managers can take many forms. They may constantly complain about their own job and challenges, may succumb to political infighting that causes them to lose sight of team efforts or may criticize people who work for them. When a manager is negative, it brings down the morale of the whole department. Negativity is contagious and creates a difficult work environment for employees. When a manager fails to bring positivity to the workplace, this also reflects badly on the organization and its values. Employees will not want to stay long working under a constantly negative boss.


While it runs completely counter to the role of employee support that a manager is hired for, it’s possible for a manager to display bullying behaviors toward staff members. This is one of the most toxic types of bosses, since employees are charged with following their supervisor’s orders and may feel that their job is in jeopardy if they stand up to or push back on the bullying or other forms of harassment. The behavior of this kind of boss can be subtle, but there are a number of common red flags to watch out for. Most bullies will try various tactics to undermine your success in the organization — by discrediting your projects, belittling you in front of your team, verbally abusing you or otherwise trying to intimidate you, for example. A bully boss may even go so far as to enlist your coworkers in his or her dysfunctional agenda and spread rumors about you to damage your reputation in the office in an attempt to make you feel isolated and powerless.

Playing Favorites

Some managers lack standardized rules and make the mistake of playing favorites. For example, they may have one set of expectations for you while making exceptions for someone they used to work with or for those who have been in the organization longer, in an attempt to be liked by certain people or groups. They may reserve the most coveted assignments for one person who they like best on the team rather than creating equal opportunities. This behavior may also involve participating in cliques or engaging in office politics. Managers like this may feel initially powerful in deciding who gets what. But when a manager isn’t inclusive and doesn’t treat all team members equally, team members won’t respect them and their job may be short-lived.

Doesn’t Walk the Talk

Leading by example is an important managerial quality, yet some supervisors ask employees to do as they say, not as they do. If a manager fails to practice what they preach at work, it can lead to resentment and prevent the development of a culture of teamwork. Good leaders don’t see themselves as separate from the team, but a special part of it, which requires pitching in with whatever is needed to help the group reach its goals. Walking the talk should also apply to how time off and hours on the clock are handled — if a manager asks others to be available online at certain hours, for example, then as the boss, they should make themselves similarly available.

Low Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence helps the best leaders understand what each member of their team values, and what’s important to different employees to help them get their best work done. Since emotional intelligence involves not only being in touch with your own feelings but being intuitive enough to pick up on the feelings of others, it’s a critical management skill. If your manager seems to lack empathy and not care about your priorities, they may have low emotional intelligence. Employees under this type of leader can feel disconnected from the department’s or company’s goals, can lack motivation, feel burnout and resentment on their teams.

Assigning Blame

“Take one for the team” is a concept that bad managers don’t understand; they may instead point fingers when something goes wrong, attempting to distance themselves from the problem. When this happens, it can alienate the employee who gets blamed for a mishap, damaging the relationship between supervisor and staff. Bad managers care about revealing who was behind an error to protect themselves from blame from their own boss, while strong leaders focus on problem-solving and creating better team solutions to help everyone avoid repeating the mistake down the road.

Stealing Credit

Bad bosses care more about how their actions look to their own supervisors than they do about fairness in crediting others for their contributions. When a manager claims ownership for a solution that someone on their team generated, or that was really conceived by the whole group, it can quickly lead to individual or team disengagement. People want to feel like their ideas matter and that they are valued for their thought capital; once they recognize that their boss is willing to steal credit rather than acknowledge and reward them for their concepts, they will lose motivation and may keep future innovations to themselves.

Avoid these characteristics of bad managers:

— Micromanaging.

— Burned out.

— Unprofessional.

— Poor communication.

— Demanding authority.

— Unprepared.

— Unapproachable.

— Wanting their team to make them look good.

— Negative.

— Bullying.

— Playing favorites.

— Doesn’t walk the talk.

— Low emotional intelligence.

— Assigning blame.

— Stealing credit.

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15 Qualities of Bad Managers originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 11/22/21: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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