When it comes to leadership traits among CEOs, there are universal strengths, like good communication skills, honesty, inclusiveness, respecting others and having a strong work ethic.

Just as those qualities can help a CEO’s path to success, other elements can derail it. No one wants to work for a “bad boss.” So here’s a look at several traits that can be loathed by employees, and that can be detrimental to the business and the CEO’s career.

Misplaced focus

Having a CEO that takes an interest in all areas of the business is a good thing. What they do with that interest can be another story. Staying focused on steering the ship is essential, so it’s important to not get lost in the details. In a story for Small Business Trends, Dave Lavinsky explores how a CEO should be focused on the larger picture.

“Corporate CEOs stay very busy developing the vision of the business and building the right strategies and relationships to realize that vision,” he explains. “They are very rarely involved with the actual production or sale of the product or service provided by the company. They are captains at the helm of their business. They can do this because they have a team that runs the business. The best leaders have faith in everyone that has been selected to complete other tasks. While I can’t say that you should be oblivious to what goes on in the front lines of your business, I can tell you that if you are too involved in the front lines, you will never grow your business effectively. The key is to build your business, not just run it.”


It’s not hard to see how positivity can benefit a CEO, from having a good attitude about the business to lightening the mood in the office. There are those that take the pessimistic point of view, and that can lead them down a troublesome road. Joel Trammell explores the perils of pessimism on khorus.com, citing research from Duke University that showed CEOs “have a more optimistic outlook on their businesses and, more broadly, on life than the general population.” Trammell explores the other side of that coin, using a gloomy Winnie-the-Pooh character to illustrate his point.

“… There are plenty of CEOs who take a distinctly glass-half-empty view of their companies and the world,” he writes. “I should know: I was one early in my career. I was what I call the ‘Eeyore CEO’ in my book, The CEO Tightrope. If you told me you had a great sales prospect, I’d say, ‘Show me the order.’ Show me the order, and I’d say, ‘Let’s not celebrate until we get the check.’ Show me the check, and I’d say, ‘We knew that was coming. What does the pipeline for next month look like?’ … The Eeyore CEO fails in the role of chief inspirer. He’s like a heat-seeking missile for negativity. No one is inspired to work for this kind of leader, especially when the waters get choppy.”

Overdone optimism

So pessimism can hurt a CEO’s business approach. So can optimism, when it is unrealistic and overblown, according to a piece Trammell wrote for Inc.com. He calls it the “cheerleader CEO,” someone who is scared to share any negative information, praises “every victory no matter how small,” hires “yes” men and women and overpromises results.

“Clearly, this type of behavior sets the stage for groupthink, dysfunction, poor performance, and low morale,” he writes. “CEOs and leaders cannot act this way for long and remain credible. Once a leader loses credibility, it is nearly impossible to get it back. Being overly optimistic also has a snowball effect: The longer a leader denies that anything is wrong, the worse problems get, and the more embarrassment he faces by acknowledging the problem.”


There’s no question that leading a major business can have its shaky moments. It’s how the CEO responds to those difficult times that can make the difference between success and failure. Business leaders that are too hesitant to take a risk or make bold decisions may find that these worries hold them back, along with the business. In a story for CEO.com, Mark LaScola describes “the fearful CEO.”

“These chief executives hide in fear of making a mistake, revealing shortcomings or inadequacies, or in an attempt to manage perceptions,” he writes. “CEOs guided by fear often suffer from indecision and analysis paralysis. The worst thing about a fearful CEO is that executives who refuse to make decisions and take risks will transfer that thinking to others within the organization. Leadership is a contagion — good or bad. Oddly enough, the biggest sign of a fearful leader is when a leader fails to engage. Leaders who avoid personal interaction, or shy away from social media for all the wrong reasons are likely fearful leaders.”

Being disconnected

It’s crucial that CEOs are fully engaged with the business, and have the ability to delegate and trust the employees. Those that have subpar communication skills may create a divide between themselves and the managers and employees who make the business run. This is especially pronounced during times of difficulty, as LaScola writes.

“Unlike CEOs who understand how to leverage time and resources via delegation while remaining connected to management and staff, the disconnected CEO does just the opposite,” he says. “They have reclusive tendencies, which cause them to often completely abdicate responsibility and remain disconnected from management. Sticking one’s head in the sand will not make the circumstances of a particular situation go away, rather that type of thinking will likely exacerbate the issue.”


That’s a word that screams negativity, especially when associated with the leader of a major organization. What a CEO considers as confidence may come off to others as being self-absorbed and narcissistic. In a story for Wired, Tish Squillaro writes that executives can “become blindsided by an abundance of confidence that spills over into full-fledged arrogance.”

“An arrogant executive talks more than he or she listens — probably believing that charisma and strong opinions display confidence,” she notes. “Many leaders are so used to thinking they’re right that they can’t even hear another viewpoint. Doesn’t sound like a sound business strategy for a leader who hopes to grow a vibrant and competitive company, does it? Employees aren’t the only ones to become demotivated or annoyed by an arrogant executive, however. Board members, investors, potential clients and partners get weary too.”

Lack of transparency

A CEO that keeps information from his or her staff won’t inspire much confidence. Certainly there are times that sensitive topics can’t be broadcast throughout the office. But aiming for a transparent approach will at least help employees be aware of the company’s direction. In a story for Success.com, members of the Young Entrepreneurs Council described what makes “a terrible leader,” and Mitch Gordon of travel company Go Overseas mentioned a lack of transparency.

“Staff can tell when you’re not being completely honest with them,” he says. “There’s rarely a reason not to be entirely transparent with your team, especially at a young, growing company. Your team will appreciate understanding exactly where the company stands. This will help everyone come together as a team, focused on the problems that need solving for the long-term benefit of the company. Lack of transparency can result in a lack of trust.”