Applauz Blog

8 Habits Most Leaders Think Are Normal (but Are Actually Harmful)

Published: March 10, 2023

Last Updated: April 3, 2023

  6 min read

By: Michelle Cadieux

bad leadership habits

Bad management habits are still very common despite the progress many workplaces have made in recent years.

Leadership is rarely taught in school. Most people who end up in these positions rely on intuition, social norms, or even the memory of their awful former manager to know how to be a good boss. Or avoid being a bad boss, in this case. The process is trial-and-error.

The problem is many unhealthy work habits are baked into ideas about how work "should be." Of course, times are changing rapidly. People management practices have made leaps and bounds in the past few years. Work is more human-centric, and old management practices are getting left at the door.

Despite the massive progress, bad management traits remain alarmingly common. These habits can undermine the trust and respect of team members. And also create negative work conditions that can harm everyone involved.

Finding room for improvement

We understand that being in charge is no easy feat. Yet, as a leader, it's critical to remain open to new ways of thinking. Psychological research shows that the more power one attains, the less self-aware one becomes. As you climb the ladder, it becomes harder for people to be truthful with you.

As you climb the ladder, it becomes harder for people to be truthful with you.

In other words, you might think your leadership style is working. But chances are there is room for improvement. Studies show that 75% of employees are frustrated with their managers.

In this article, we dive into unpacking some of these bad management habits. We'll explore why being stingy with recognition can do more harm than good and why avoiding difficult conversations is a surefire way to hinder personal and business growth.

With this knowledge, you will become a more effective and well-balanced leader. And as a result, your team and the entire company will benefit.

8 Habits Most Leaders Think Are Normal (but Are Actually Harmful)

Avoiding difficult conversations

This may seem counterintuitive, but being TOO nice isn't always the best approach. Of course, being respectful, kind, and compassionate is important. But when being nice gets taken too far, leaders avoid holding people accountable. In other words, they forfeit a team's results to maintain harmony among the group. 

In the book Radical Candor, author Kim Scott talks about this management approach, which she calls Ruinous Empathy. When managers care so much about harmonious relationships, they fail to challenge their team members. They effectively create a climate of "toxic positivity." This environment feels pleasant but stagnant. Direct reports never know where they stand or have a chance to learn and grow. Having difficult conversations about an employee's low performance or harmful behaviour might not be pleasant, but it's essential for the health and growth of a team.

Hanging onto bad employees too long

Similarly, many leaders will fall into the trap of hanging onto bad employees. To be clear, a "bad" employee isn't just one who is underperforming. Team members who are high-performing yet behave in ways that hurt team morale can be considered "bad" employees, too. 

Rewarding a high-performer who engages in cutthroat actions is just as bad as keeping a low-performer around because they are liked.

Rewarding a high-performer who engages in cutthroat actions is just as bad as keeping a low-performer around because they are liked. What you reward speaks volumes about the behaviour you are willing to tolerate. In the book Good to Great, Jim Collins explains the tendency for companies to "keep the wrong person on the bus" for way too long. They get stuck in sunk cost fallacies, thinking, we've already invested so much time in this person, may as well try to keep them onboard. Sadly, most of the time, it doesn't work out. The right people don't need to be tightly managed or fired up, he states. Don't hurt your team's morale any longer, and take care of the employee who is bringing everyone down.

Trying to motivate people only with money

Raises are great ways to fire up an employee's motivation. This isn't big news for anyone: money is a great motivator. But what will happen once you deliver on that promise? What will motivate them after that? You can't continuously give big raises. It's just not realistic. Not to mention people always fall prey to the hedonic treadmill. This human phenomenon explains why people return to their normal baseline after achieving a goal. It is in our nature to be a little dissatisfied and constantly crave more. 

Motivating people requires both internal and external incentives. Naturally, this requires more work from you as a leader. You need to figure out what drives your employees—what they're passionate about and what gets them fired up inside. And put them on projects and assignments that align with those passions; only then will you see long-lasting motivation. 

Tracking everything with tech

In the age of remote work, many employers track their employee's activities. Even though leaders may feel in control when monitoring employees, there are drawbacks. Excessive monitoring signals to workers that there is a lack of trust. That you're not confident with giving them more autonomy. And this climate of low trust and surveillance has consequences on people's psychology.

For example, APA's 2022 Work and Well-being Survey shows the negative effects of too much monitoring. Six in 10 (60%) of those who said their company monitors them also said they feel tense or stressed during the workday. In the book Lab Rats, Dan Lyons also reveals research which shows that excessive tracking results in feelings of dehumanization. Dehumanized workers "feel shame and guilt while also demonstrating diminished cognition." And also intense emotional symptoms like "pervasive feelings of sadness and anger." So before you start using a tech-based monitoring system, ask yourself if there are less invasive ways to supervise your employees' output, and consider the implications accordingly. 

Never asking for feedback

Finding out what employees think of your leadership can be challenging. Hearing negative feedback can sting. But it's important to remember that it's not personal. Well, maybe a little personal, but the feedback is about your management style, not you as a person. In fact, the more feedback you receive, the more chance you have to hone your skills. Plus, if you can handle feedback with grace and humility, it shows your team that you're a true leader willing to listen and grow.

If you can handle feedback with grace and humility, it shows your team that you're a true leader willing to listen and grow.

By showing your team that you are open to suggestions and feedback, it's more likely that they will be willing to put their ego aside and hear feedback on their performance. This can lead to more open and honest communication, increased trust, and a stronger sense of teamwork. Ultimately, if everyone is open to growing and improving, that atmosphere can only benefit a team's results and performance.

Being stingy with recognition and praise

Many leaders worry giving recognition would make others feel bad or envious. To avoid this, they give shallow or generic recognition to everybody. Or none at all! This lack of recognition makes everyone (especially top performers) feel undervalued. 

At Applauz, we've launched hundreds of recognition programs for businesses. In our experience, jealousy among team members rarely happens. If it does, it's usually because of deeper issues in the team that need to be resolved, not because of recognition itself. Holding back recognition will ultimately hurt your team more. A wealth of research shows that lack of recognition is associated with employee turnover, especially for high-performers. When workers do a good job, they deserve praise and reward. Bosses should praise their workers and show them they're important. Everyone will be happier and more motivated.

Meeting overload

The people you're managing likely need periods of focus time to achieve top productivity. While you, as a manager, spend more time in meetings, communicating, and collaborating with others. "Makers" and "managers" have entirely different work schedules. 

In 2009, Paul Graham coined the terms Maker's Schedule and Manager's Schedule to describe these two different work schedules and how they conflict. If you pack too many meetings in a Makers day, you won't give them adequate time to get into a deep flow state, impacting the quality of their work. As a manager, it's crucial to put yourself in your employee's shoes and appreciate how important focus time is. Practically speaking, before planning meetings, talk to your employee. Identify the best times to schedule meetings with them. Perhaps they are most productive and focused in the morning, so any long meetings should be scheduled in the afternoon. Once you get on the same page, it will be easier to avoid meeting annoyances that negatively impact their productivity and stress.

Ignoring employees' personal life

Ignoring an employee's personal life is an outdated mindset that fails to recognize the human element of work and life. Leaders who care about their employees' lives outside of work demonstrate that they value their team members as people, not just as workers. When leaders show interest in their employees' lives, it can create a sense of connection and belonging, which is critical for building a positive and productive workplace culture. 

This mindset can also help leaders identify and address potential challenges affecting their team's performance. For example, an employee experiencing personal difficulties, such as financial stress or health issues, can impact their work performance and productivity. In the end, caring about employees' lives outside of work is not only the right thing to do. But it also leads to a boost in employee engagement, satisfaction, and loyalty, which can benefit both the individual and the organization.

Final Thoughts

Like anything in life, perfection is not the goal—progress is. Perfect leaders don't exist. As professionals, it's important to recognize that there is always room for improvement and that small changes in behaviour can impact the success of our teams.

For example, leaders can build a culture of trust and respect by taking the time to have those difficult conversations, prioritize work-life balance, and give recognition where it's deserved. 

In the end, a leader's actions serve as a powerful beacon. Their behaviour sets the standard for their team. To that end, people in management must pay careful attention to their behaviour in the workplace. By breaking free from these harmful habits, leaders can create a positive and productive workplace culture that benefits their team members and the entire organization.

A Happier Workplace


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