Examples of Bad Leaders in Business

Examples of Bad Leaders in Business

Lack of presence, snobbishness, a failure to listen, abuse, and other unpleasant actions are examples of bad leadership behaviour. Most American businesses have consistently struggled with bad leadership and aggressive behaviour in the workplace. Management must address the issue of employee bullying at work, given the increase in lawsuits alleging hostile work environments.

By examining the interaction process between leaders and followers in dealing with bad leadership, May, Wesche, Heinitz, and Kerschreiter (2014) take an integrated view of negative leadership. According to their argument, harmful leader behaviour causes followers to engage in two coping strategies: approach-oriented (problem- or emotion-focused) coping and avoidance-oriented (problem- or emotion-focused) coping.

Examples of Bad Leaders in Business

Related: 9 of the Greatest Leadership Books You'll Ever Read

1. Enron: Ken Lay:

Former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay oversaw one of history's most notorious business scandals. Lay encouraged an aggressive and immoral culture emphasizing quick money and dishonest business dealings. Under his direction, Enron hid enormous debts, falsified financial reports, and misled investors. Trust in the business world was damaged due to Enron's final collapse, which resulted in significant financial losses for investors and employees.

Important Lesson: A leader must place a high priority on moral behaviour, honesty, and responsibility. Financial data manipulation and contempt for moral and legal boundaries can have disastrous results.

Related: Characteristics of a Cult Leader

2. Uber:


In 2009, Travis Kalanick started Uber, which brought disruptive innovation. This is also part of the examples of bad leaders in business. The firm upended the taxi sector by frequently introducing its services first and dealing with regulators later. Uber's aggressive strategy helped it grow into a $71 billion business.

The widespread culture of sexual harassment at Uber, which was exposed by former software engineer Susan Fowler and helped spark the #Me To movement, was perhaps Kalanick's biggest accusation. Due to that error, Kalanick resigned in 2017.

The aggressive leadership style of Uber's co-founder and former CEO, Travis Kalanick, influenced the tumultuous company's development. He was the subject of multiple accusations of workplace harassment and discrimination while fostering a toxic and aggressive culture. Due to Kalanick's inability to handle these problems, Uber's reputation was seriously damaged, which led to legal action, negative press, and the departure of many bright people.

Important Lesson: It is crucial to foster a healthy work atmosphere and address cultural concerns as soon as they arise. The leader must foster an organization's culture of respect, inclusivity, and moral conduct.

Related: 20 Examples of Transformational Leaders

3. Papa John's

To establish his business and buy pizza equipment in 1971, John Schnatter sold his automobile. He went on to reach prosperity that most business people can only imagine. However, he caused much ill will in 2017 when he claimed during an earnings conference call that the NFL's take-a-knee protesters were harming sales for the company. At the time, Papa John's was the NFL's official pizza brand; however, following those comments, the two organizations parted ways. Schnatter resigned as CEO while continuing to serve as chairman.

Additionally, as an example of bad leaders in business,  in 2018, on a conference call with the business's marketing firm, Schnatter expressed his displeasure at Colonel Sanders of KFC using the n-word without facing any consequences. He continued by claiming that black people in Indiana, where he was raised, were dragged by trucks until they died in an apparent attempt to defend his bad record. Ironically, the call's goal was to prepare him for difficult questions from the media concerning racism.

After this second fiasco, the company's price crashed, forcing Schnatter to step down as board chairman. After that, the business sacked him, and he engaged in legal conflict with them to obtain access to their books and records. He was completely removed from the board after the litigation was resolved. Maybe the business can now concentrate on selling pizza now that he's finally gone.

Related: 13 Women Leaders: Facts and why you need to know them

4. Yahoo -Marissa Mayer:

Yahoo's former CEO, Marissa Mayer, received criticism for how she led the company when she was in charge. Despite her initial pledge, Mayer found reviving the faltering online behemoth difficult. Her decision-making was frequently delayed and hesitant, failing to handle crucial issues effectively. Mayer's lack of candor in addressing data breaches further harmed Yahoo's reputation, ultimately leading to Verizon buying the company.

Important Lesson: A leader must make sound decisions, adapt to changing market conditions, and have excellent interpersonal and communication skills. Lack of transparency and indecision can impede an organization's development.

5. WeWork

One of the many examples of bad leaders in business is that of  Adam Neumann. He was the CEO of WeWork, and he was so sure of his abilities that he once said his heirs would be in charge of the business in 300 years. Neumann was a dynamic fundraiser, which was a plus. He expanded swiftly with an extravagant mix of $12 billion in debt and venture capital.

In less than ten years of relentless work, Neumann added 12,500 staff and half a million users across 111 locations and 29 countries. But by 2018, the business had lost $2 billion. But Neumann didn't cut costs because the value of WeWork was rising. Instead, he spent $90 million on six mansions and $60 million on a private jet and hired numerous nannies, chefs, and personal assistants. Investors joined in after observing the opulent lifestyle.

Neumann left WeWork in 2019 amid claims of dubious business practices, including exploiting the organization to profit himself. Neumann received an unfavourable portrayal in the Apple TV+ series, i.e. We Crashed in 2022, much like Kalanick and Super Pumped. Together, the initiatives serve as a cautionary tale for CEOs: Don't grow too big for your boots.

WeWork co-founder and former CEO Adam Neumann is a cautionary example of bad business leaders motivated by unbridled ambition and unattainable goals. WeWork was on the verge of failure due to Neumann's extravagant spending, unstable behaviour, and dubious corporate governance methods. Due to the company's faulty business strategy and inflated valuation, there were significant financial losses, and the IPO collapsed.

Important Lesson: A leader must strike a balance between ambition and reasoned judgment, as well as take the organization's long-term sustainability into account. Unbridled ambition without a strong base can have disastrous effects.

6. Theranos: Elizabeth Holmes

One well-known example of a poor leader is Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos, who was once heralded as the next Steve Jobs. She asserted to have created a ground-breaking blood testing device but did not follow through. When Holmes' deceptive tactics were uncovered, it resulted in a significant fall from grace for her partners, staff, and investors. Her lack of responsibility, openness, and ethical decision-making finally caused her company to fail, and she was held legally liable.

Important Lesson: Leaders must always behave with integrity, honesty, and transparency. Misrepresenting stakeholders has serious repercussions and can harm an organization's reputation.

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Examining the examples of bad leaders in business can provide important insights into the traits and actions that might cause failure. The cases of Adam Neumann, Marissa Mayer, Travis Kalanick, and Elizabeth Holmes highlight the value of openness, moral behaviour, inclusion, sound judgment, and responsibility in leadership positions.

Related: Are Women Better Leaders than Men

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How Can Bad Leaders Become Effective Leaders?

The same as with any ability, leadership skills require practice. Perhaps you've noticed some poor leadership qualities that you must work on. The initial stage is to determine your leadership capabilities. You can get there by reflecting on your actions and getting input from your co-workers or superiors.

2. What Businesses Can Do to Address Bad Leadership?

Poor performance and low morale are two effects of bad leadership that affect every part of an organization. You can't afford to ignore the situation. Here are some tips on how companies might improve the standard of leadership:

  • Own It: Put your attention on the things you have control over rather than the things you cannot. When we work under a poor boss, it's common practice to list all the challenging aspects of the boss, position, and organization.
  • Aim for Results: Keep your focus on the task at hand and achieve the outcomes that are required. If you keep producing top-notch work, the organization will esteem you much. Keep your attention on what you can provide to affect the bottom line.
  • Ask for Comments: Despite what might seem contradictory, when we approach the leader one-on-one and participate in a constructive round of critique (without becoming defensive), we can disarm them.

How to Deal with Bad Leadership

Working for a lousy boss is never simple. You can experience underappreciation, sabotage, and frustration. It may become excessive for many employees. The adage "employees don't quit their jobs; they quit their managers" has a lot of merit. Research supports this. In a recent survey, 82% of respondents stated they would quit their employment due to unprofessional supervisors. Here are some techniques to assist you in controlling them so that you can deal with them controlling you:

  • Recognize that you cannot alter their behaviour. The situation is not hopeless, however. You can better control your expectations if you accept this.
  • Be the one to effect change. A potent strategy for gaining control of the issue is to change your behaviour.
  • Talk up. Report them if you believe they are endangering your performance or emotional well-being. Keep your composure, solicit the aid of a dependable advisor, and record their actions.
  • Depart the company. Even while that isn't always true, there are situations when it is.

Related: 10 ways to deal with a toxic boss

Trish Makiwa
This article was written by Trish a Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd

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