The Impact of Poor Leadership on Your Followers

Oct 12, 2010, Written by Sue Miley

If you own a small business, you have a leadership role.  If you head a church, a bible study, a boy scout troop, you have a leadership role.  If you are a dad, a mom, or even a big sister or big brother you have a leadership role.

Sometimes we are called to leadership roles and sometimes we choose them.  Other times circumstance may just create happenstance and you find yourself in a leadership role.

As a leader we have responsibilities.  I believe that in most cases we have a responsibility “for” and “to” the people we lead.  Sometimes people choose to follow us, other times by authority, they would have to choose to not follow you.

An example of the latter, for clarity, is you have worked someplace for ten years and your boss resigns.  They hire a replacement who has authority and leadership over your position.  In this case you would have to resign to not be required to follow them.  You would have to make that choice.

I know I have written about this topic before and I guess it is a hot button for me.  I see people not taking a proactive position on developing leadership skills or not feeling responsible for providing strong leadership.

All throughout the bible it talks about leadership.

We have stories about shepherds and kings…judges and elders.

We have many who did not feel equipped for the leadership that God called them to and he still commanded them step-up and lean on Him.

Others volunteered knowing that God was behind them.

Poor Leadership can have a Crippling Impact on Followers

Society speaks often about the qualities of a strong leader and I have written about that myself.  I want to talk about the impact of poor leadership on followers.

  1. Followers are directionless without strong leadership and will feel like failures even when they worked so hard to be a good follower.
  2. Poor leadership can cause a follower to feel unimportant and uncared for.
  3. Poor leadership has the power to impact a follower’s long-term ability to trust.
  4. Poor leadership feels like betrayal.
  5. Poor leadership results in feelings of disrespect and anger and for loyal followers causes internal conflict and guilt.

Consistent poor leadership causes long-term damage that for some people causes them emotional and spiritual scarring.

Poor Leadership:  A Personal Case Study

I have many personal examples of following poor leaders and strong leaders.  One experience in being a follower of a poor leader left me tainted.

I worked for a person who:

  • couldn’t articulate the direction and goals of our department
  • changed his mind so swiftly that his staff and our internal customers didn’t know if they could rely on his decisions or directions
  • rarely provided direct feedback or communicated his position; you didn’t know if he agreed or didn’t agree
  • didn’t clearly define responsibilities or objectives and, therefore, didn’t hold people accountable or give credit when credit was due

He was a nice guy.  Although erratic in his moods at times.  But, he smiled and would chat with everyone.  He seemed bright enough.

He just didn’t take seriously his responsibility as the leader of our department.  I say department..he was the CFO so it was the entire administrative arm of the company.  I was the Corporate Controller so I had responsibility for a large subset of his area of responsibility.

I was a bit of a zealous overachiever with a high need to help and serve our internal customers.  I wanted them to feel like we were taking care of all of the back-end, they just needed to go create, manufacturer or sell.

It was embarrassing to go and tell another department head that we could hit a timeline that I knew was impossible and had begged us not to commit to.  Only to miss that deadline and listen to my boss apologize for our under-performance.

It was frustrating when I put in long hours and worked hard to achieve a deadline and then my work sat unlooked at for weeks.

I didn’t know what to say to my staff when I communicated their suggestions and recommendations, but received no feedback.

And when my leader, my boss, my manager told me not to distribute information to senior management, or to make a journal entry that was not proper accounting, I was devastated, conflicted and felt betrayed.

A Lasting Impact:  Best Case and Worst Case

This had a lasting impact on me.  For me it taught me what not to do as a leader.  I think it also taught me to be overly independent and to be a bit of a rebel; a resistant follower.  And, for awhile, a bit of a control freak.

Everyone is wired differently.  I know many others whom it taught to:

  • never take personal responsibility for anything.
  • to always cover their rear-ends.
  • to tell people all of the time “that’s not my job” or “ I will only do it if my boss tells me to”.
  • and to never, ever take chances, or step out of their comfort zones.

Still others, took the fall for a poor leader and were so hurt by the experience that they let it build up walls around their hearts, and impacted their personal relationships as well as their work.

See Your Leadership through Your Followers Eyes

There is a definite follow-up blog post from this for followers.  However, this post is to help all of you leaders out there, which is most of us in some way or another, see your leadership from your follower’s perspective.

We are called by Jesus to love others as we love ourselves.  I think this should convict us that we need to at least try our hardest to constantly strengthen and build our leadership skills and to consistently apply them in our leadership roles.  We want that from our leaders right?

I am not talking about the leadership message.  There will be messages that followers like and many they don’t like.  Again, that is a completely different issue.  Good leaders can get enthusiastic participation for very undesirable acts i.e. battle.  It is the life long pursuit of building up the skills and characteristics of strong leadership that I am referring.

Much Has Been Said About Leadership

There are tons of books and conferences about leadership.  John Maxwell has written many from a biblical perspective.  He has even published a bible (affiliate link) that highlights leadership.  I am reading a new book called Leadership by the Book (affiliate link) by Ken Blanchard and Bill Hybels.

If you would like other leadership resources please email me for suggestions and if you are interested in leadership coaching give me a call.

The responsibility is there.  The help is available.  The impact you can make for God is waiting!

Reader Interactions


  1. David Rupert says

    You are so right that a position and a title doesnt mean that person is a leader. Leadership is serious business. And although it may come easily for some people, everyone in those positions must work hard at it to be effective.

    After all, you are affecting people’s lives. A post well done!

  2. Rose says

    You nailed it! I could not understand the reasons for my frustration when I worked for a really nice guy who did his job, but he only did what was necessary to “get by.” There was no vision, no goals, no direction. Meeting after meeting, I would say, “He just needs more time to understand this job.” After two years of making excuses for him and being tired of doing his job, without credit, I quit. I have zero regrets. There are times when the writing is on the wall, so to speak. I always thought it was my attitude or that I was not thinking the best of him. In reality, there are times we must address the issues at hand, act responsibly, and walk with integrity. Like you, there were so many times, my conscience was bothered. If you are in a work situation that creates a sense of discomfort and mistrust because your boss isn’t doing his job, take action! It’s likely God is using this pressure in your life to either 1) speak up for yourself; 2) make the necessary change in your daily job/profession that eliminates frustration; or 3) you can be proactive by shifting gears and change jobs (no guarantees that you’ll get a better boss, sometimes it can be worse). Thank you for your post! It summed up what happens when you have a high-achieving employee and a lazy boss.

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Sue Miley

Sue Miley MBA, MA, LPC helps small business owners build successful businesses on a foundation of Christian values. After 20 years in business, and 10 years as a Christian counselor, Sue uses a combination of faith, business and psychology to help clients in business and in life.

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