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A-Z of Bad Leaders: 12 examples of terrible leadership skills

Over time, bad leaders have been given nicknames such as “tyrant,” “dictator,” and “bully.” These are all fitting names for bad leaders because they rule by fear rather than through inspiration. But what makes someone into a bad leader? How can you spot one? And how do you deal with them if you find yourself in an organization that has terrible leadership?

This article will answer these questions by looking at some examples of bad leaders, their characteristics, and how they were encountered.

Angry female tyrant manager beating with a whip office workers, punishment for clerks, ruler with absolute power, despot at work, terrible boss behavior, full length, isolated, white background

How to identify bad leaders

They may be ineffective at providing direction for the team to follow. They might not have a clear vision of what success looks like. Or they could be bad leaders because they are bad people that show no signs of remorse when it comes to hurting others.

No matter what type of lousy leader you are, there are some characteristics that all bad leaders share: lack of respect for others; poor communication skills; carelessness with deadlines and schedules; excessive need for control over everything (even things they don’t need to control); inability or unwillingness to listen; unwillingness to accept help from subordinates; unreasonable expectations (either too high or too low).

Bad Leaders in Business

There are bad leaders today, too. Some examples include CEOs like Martin Shkreli and Elizabeth Holmes. They have been called “frauds” for their bad leadership that provides false promises and bad decision-making (Shkreli raised the price of a lifesaving cancer drug by 5000% while Holmes knowingly kept bad blood testing results concealed).

  • Another example is the former CEO of Uber, Travis Kalanick, who was known for his bad leadership that made many employees unhappy.
  • Employees at Uber reported bad work-life balance and a toxic working environment as well as bad management from Mr. Kalanick himself (he verbally attacked an employee over email after he was told that his employment would be terminated).
  • He was also accused of bad decision-making and leadership, which ultimately led to his resignation from Uber last year.

Bad Leaders Today

But bad leaders aren’t just limited to the past or big business – they can exist anywhere!

In your own small company, you might have a bad leader who always skips meetings, badmouths other employees in front of the rest of the team, or never takes your opinions into account when making decisions.

Suppose you’re managing a small company with many employees yet (like an early-stage startup). In that case, destructive leadership can be especially dangerous because there is less room for mistakes and bad management.

Bad leaders tend to badmouth employees behind their backs, don’t build relationships with subordinates or customers (and aren’t very friendly), and make decisions that are bad for the company because they’re selfish.

Bad Leadership in Small Businesses

It’s important to remember that bad leadership can exist anywhere – even if you work at a small business with only one leader (or perhaps a small group of bad leaders that can cause problems).

  • If you’re in charge, bad leadership is something to watch out for.
  • Remember: bad leaders don’t have all these characteristics at once – they may only display two or three bad leadership traits, but it’s clear that there is an issue when those are added together!

List of famously Bad leaders


Attila the Hun

Atilla, aka “scourge of God,” was an uneducated barbarian born in the fifth century. Attila and his brother Bleda took control of the Hunnic Empire and signed a peace truce with the Eastern Roman Empire after his uncles’ death.

A few years later, Attila led a series of vigorous attacks on the Romans by breaching the peace agreement and demanded gold and gems to stop the fight. The lust for power blinded him so much that he killed his brother Bleda to rule the Empire alone.

  • During his callous rule extending from 434 to 453AD, Attila used to say, “There, where I have passed, the grass will never grow again,”
  • Attila died of severe nose bleeding in 453AD when he was celebrating his second marriage feast. Nobody knows about his burial site as his servants were killed after his death.
bad leader in history portrait of queen mary I

Queen Mary

Aka “Bloody Mary,” was the only child of King Henry VII. She was a bloodthirsty religious fanatic who ruled England from 1553 to 1558 as the first queen ruler.

Mary marked her five-year infamous rule with tyranny and viciousness.

  • During her reign, she ordered to burn hundreds of protestant heretics alive at stake and thrown their ashes in the river.
  • She is depicted as a zombie and villain in most portraits and advertisements.

Mary died in 1558 at the age of 42 because of the influenza epidemic and ovarian cancer.


Joseph Stalin

He was a ruthless dictator who ruled the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1953. Stalin forced rapid “collectivization” in the Soviet Union and converted the individual peasant households into state-run collective farms during his reign.

  • He imprisoned and killed millions of independence-minded Ukrainians, who refused to give their livelihoods.
  • He punished them by inflicting severe human-made starvation, which wiped out 13% of the Ukrainian population.
px Adolf Hitler addresses an audience in Danzig

Adolf Hitler

A violent racial nationalist and leader of the Nazi party became German chancellor in 1933 who ruled until his death in April 1945. He stained his hands with the blood of millions of people in the Holocaust and World War II.

  • Hitler devised a strategy to create his’ master race’ by wiping out his political foes, Jews, gypsies, Slavs, and gays.
  • He followed the path that led to destruction.

Under his dreadful rule, the Nazis killed almost 11 million people to fulfill Hitler’s plan.

infamous leaders in history portrait taken in black and white of Idi Amin

Idi Amin

Also known as “Butcher of Uganda,” a military leader announced himself as President after overthrowing Uganda’s elected government. He ruled from 1971-1979 and drove Uganda into a dire economic disaster.

  • During his eight-year reign of terror, Uganda has seen a ruthless massacre of almost 300,0000 civilians, including farmers, clerks, and students.
  • His rule created unrest in Uganda until Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere invaded Uganda by expelling Amin in 1979.

As the situation became uncontrollable, Amin went into exile in Libya, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, where he died on 16 August 2003.

Five more terrible Leaders

Qin Shi Huang

Qin Shi Huangdi ruled as the first emperor of China from 247-210 B. C. During his rule, he forcibly took control of adjacent states to expand his dynasty and enslaved the people.

Qin’s rule is marked as one of the most authoritarian regimes, carrying out the massacre of scholars who disagreed with his ideas.

  • Apart from ruthless killing, he buried almost four hundred and sixty Confucian scholars alive and burnt their books.
  • Shi’s cruelty did not end there, and he castrated the people of captured states to distinguish them from his people.

Genghis Khan 

Genghis Khan was a Mongol leader who rose from a humble beginning and established the most extensive empire. After uniting the Mongolian tribes, Khan expanded his empire by conquering central Asia and China.

He was characterized as one of the most brutal and scornful leaders for his murderous exploits.

  • During his rule, he asked his enemies to surrender and killed the families of those who denied accepting his dominion. 
  • He killed the Khwarezmian Empire’s aristocrats by pouring molten silver in their eyes and ears and wiped out the entire civilian population.

Tomas de Torquemada    

During the Spanish Inquisition, an organization within the Roman Catholic Church was established to punish Jews and Muslims. The pope appointed inquisitors to expel them out of Spain, and Torquemada was given Grand Inquisitor’s charge.

  • As a grand inquisitor between 1483-1498, he formulated tribunals in all cities to permit torture against the Muslims and Jews.
  • Tomas also persuaded King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to exile the Jews and viciously burnt almost 2000 citizens dubbing them heretics.

Pol Pot  

Pol Pot was the chief of the Cambodian revolutionary group who planed the Cambodian genocide. He is cast as a demon in Cambodian mythology as he tries to annihilate the Cambodian civilization to set up a new regime. 

  • During his reign as a Prime minister from 1976-1979, it was always “Pol Pot killed my husband,” or “Pol Pot destroyed the temple.”
  • His policies killed almost 2 million people, wiping out 25% of his population. His atrocity was not satisfied just by killing innocent people as he ordered babies to be torn limb by limb.

Ivan the Terrible 

Ivan the Terrible was the first Russian Tsar whose tyrant rule pushed Russia to collapse. As a kid, he relished throwing animals from high buildings, and as a monarch, he savored impaling, burning, beheading, and blinding people. 

During his horrendous tenure extending from 1530 to 1584, he ordered the mass slaughter of more than 60,000 people.

  • Blinded with rage and brutality, Ivan did not spare his family.
  • He killed his son and beat his son’s pregnant wife in 1581, and she miscarried.


We hope you have gained some insight into what qualities you should be looking for in an employer and that this information can help guide your future career decisions. Do any of these lousy leader traits ring true to you?

If so, remember–you’re not alone! There are plenty of examples out there to learn from about how not to lead and who we’ve known from throughout history with similar leadership styles. Remember that none of these negative attributes need to apply if they suit your style or personality. Instead, look for employers whose philosophies align with yours or personalities more like yours.

Even then, it’s important to find mentors and advisors along the way who will keep you accountable in your practice of good leadership.

Viable Outreach | Activism for the 99%