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Breaking “Bad Boss” Habits: Embrace Your Leadership Potential

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Leadership is a journey of continuous growth and self-improvement. In the insightful INSEAD Knowledge article "Three 'Bad Boss' Habits to Avoid in 2024," we are introduced to traits that can hinder a leader's effectiveness: The Self-Protector, The Controller, and The Complier. These habits closely mirror the Reactive Tendencies of the Leadership Circle Profile (LCP) framework—Protecting, Controlling, and Complying. Let's delve into how we can transform these potential pitfalls into leadership strengths.

The Paradox of Leadership Habits

It's rare to find a leader who consciously chooses to be a "bad boss." Most leaders aim for excellence, yet sometimes the very habits that once propelled them to success can become their undoing. Leadership behaviours are shaped by a myriad of past experiences and the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and how we need to be to succeed. These stories, along with the environment in which leaders operate, can lead to the overuse of certain the gifts of protecting, controlling, or complying tendencies.

The Gifts of 'Bad Boss' Habits

Despite their negative connotations, these habits can offer valuable gifts when harnessed well:

Protecting: Leaders who can cut through complexity and offer wisdom are invaluable. A protective leader, when balanced, brings a detached yet observant perspective that can lead to innovative solutions.

Controlling: The drive for continuous improvement and setting high standards is the hallmark of a leader who excels in creating results and influencing others. When not taken to extremes, this tendency can foster a culture of excellence.

Complying: Recognising and responding to the needs of others, maintaining loyalty, and upholding traditions are traits of a leader who is reliable and committed to service. This approach can build a strong, supportive team environment when it doesn't lead to self-neglect.

The Pitfalls of Over-extension

The danger lies in the overextension of any of these habits. When leaders become too protecting, controlling, or complying, they risk alienating their teams and stifling growth. For example, an excessive need to offer wisdom may come across as arrogance, while an overemphasis on high standards could result in a nitpicking and demoralising environment. Similarly, being overly compliant may lead to a neglect of personal aspirations in the pursuit of serving others.

Cultivating Creative Leadership Competencies

In addition to harvesting the gifts of the so-called “bad boss” habits, effective leaders focus on enhancing their creative competencies:

  • being approachable, empowering others, and fostering collaboration.

  • developing emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and learning through feedback.

  • leading by example consistently with integrity and openness.

  • being strong networkers and systems thinkers.

  • Inspiring through vision and purpose, focussing on results and demonstrating strong domain expertise.

The Path Forward

In reality, the term "bad boss" is often a misnomer. Most leaders are deeply committed to guiding their teams to success, fostering development, and achieving meaningful results. As you reflect on the kind of leader you aspire to be, consider your commitment to elevating your leadership effectiveness over the next six to 12 months. Seek support from mentors, peers, or coaches who can help you become the most effective leader you can be.

In conclusion, let us challenge ourselves to view leadership not as a static title but as a dynamic process of self-discovery and growth. By recognising our tendencies and consciously moderating them, we can unlock the full spectrum of our leadership potential and lead with the gifts that truly inspire and empower ourselves and others.

What will your leadership legacy be?


Grace Thomas, PCC, believes that leadership team culture and effectiveness shape the entire organisational fabric. Enhancing leadership team effectiveness drives positive change and outcomes. Senior executive leaders, leadership teams and emerging leaders in complex, global, multi-national and Australian organisations work with Grace to enhance and accelerate their leadership growth and impact in their work, life and ever-evolving world.

Grace is open to genuine requests to connect on LinkedIn as we never know how and when paths cross. Allergic to sales pitches or spam!


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