When the leader doesn’t lead – a follower’s point of view

This article is apart of a two part series on leadership from the viewpoint of a follower. Read part two here: What a great leader looks like to a follower.

Some bosses try to avoid conflict and confrontation at all costs because they don’t want to stir the pot. And what happens when they do that? They stir the pot. The staff gets resentful and bitter because they have no leader. What a great place to work!


I know all about bad bosses because I’ve had a few during my career (present company excluded, of course!). Here’s my take on the effects of a bad boss:

Bad leadership is contagious.

Lack of leadership starts at the top and trickles down. When the boss doesn’t lead, it doesn’t just affect the people directly around them… it affects everybody. Poor leadership causes an apathetic work environment, tension among co-workers and damaged employee-employer relationships. Your employees look up to you whether you realize it or not; they observe your actions behaviors and use that as a level for themselves at work. So if you give off a negative attitude, negativity will start to bleed into the work environment.

When the boss doesn’t care, no one else will either.

Nothing is more discouraging than when you present a project to your boss and they brush it off. It makes you feel like what you do doesn’t matter. I can read people and pick up on other people’s vibes and emotional cues really well. If I’m working on something with someone and notice that they’re not really putting in much effort, or care very much about the project, I lose motivation, drive and I’m not as productive. (This is true for a lot of Gen Ys, too.) Especially if it’s the boss who acts that way, I wonder why I should care.

A lack of appreciation translates into a lack of productivity.

I thrive on praise. When my boss tells me I did a good job and I know they mean it, it’s such a huge motivator for me. Especially if I’ve been working on something for a while and my boss lets me know I did a good job, I get filled with energy to keep pushing forward and do even better. Just even a simple “thank you” or “good job” goes a lot further than you’d think. And when I don’t get that praise … I’m not motivated.

You can’t motivate through negative tactics.

I’ve had bosses who, when things weren’t going so great and we weren’t getting the results we needed, they resorted to yelling, cracking out the whip, blaming, etc., in order “motivate us” to do better and fix the problem. Instead, it just made it worse. The work environment was hostile and felt awful. Everyone was afraid to mess up for fear of losing their job and dreaded going to work. It motivated people alright – motivated them to quit!

An absent leader can’t lead.

Especially at small businesses, many times there’s not a middle manager to direct and manage the work you’re doing, and you report to the business owner directly – who already has a million things on their plate. Working in a small business takes more initiative and drive in the job description and it’s easy to lose focus. I can speak for a lot of Gen-Ys here — because we’re rookies in the workforce, we’re already a little bit lost and trying to find out way not just through our work life, but our personal life. It’s intimidating when you have no guidance to help you navigate your way around the job.

Think about your actions and behaviors lately and how they may have affected your team. Have you noticed that some of your people aren’t as driven or engaged at work? Could you be the cause?

This article is apart of a two part series on leadership from the viewpoint of a follower. Read part two here: What a great leader looks like to a follower.
Devan Perine

Devan Perine works with small business owners on their marketing and multimedia efforts. She's passionate about helping businesses build their presence online, and giving Gen Y a voice in the workplace. When she's not working, she loves to make a mess in the kitchen, and play with her band around Chicago. She loves to chat! Give her a shout on Google+, Twitter or LinkedIn.


  1. “Just even a simple “thank you” or “good job” goes a lot further … I think that simple “thank you” and “good job” can work only few times, but feedback should be more direct like for example “Good job Devan. I like the way You wrote this post giving details about your personal experience”. Thanks for this post.

  2. I completely agree, Ivar. And to add, being sincere and genuine when you say it is also absolute key. It defeats the purpose of saying it in the first place if you aren’t – people can tell.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

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