10 Descriptors of Bad Teachers and Bad Leaders

By Chuck Lawless

Several times in my teaching career, I’ve asked graduate students to give me descriptions of the worst teachers they’ve had. During those same years, I’ve watched leaders, discussed leadership, and read leadership books to learn characteristics of good and bad leaders. Perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve seen that some of the characteristics of bad teachers and bad leaders are the same.

  1. They don’t communicate well. Sometimes they just don’t communicate; they expect others to read their mind and meet their unstated expectations. At other times, they are simply boring when they do try to communicate.
  2. They make others feel dumb. They don’t miss many opportunities to point out when others are wrong. Nor do they miss a chance to show others how much they know. Eventually, no one speaks up around them – and the worst teachers and leaders are too unaware to recognize they are often the problem.
  3. They’re disorganized. Maybe they’re just so busy that it’s hard to stay on top of everything, or maybe they’re just plain disorganized. Either way, they usually can’t figure out why others struggle with following their unclear – and often changing – directions.
  4. They’re disconnected. Many are the students and staff members who are frustrated by teachers and leaders who are nowhere to be found. When the teacher or leader fails to build relationships, those he teaches or leads become means to an end – not people created in the image of God.
  5. They’re lazy. It’s clear from their lack of passion that they lost their focus and energy years ago. They know nothing new, and their teaching/leading has not changed in decades. They may think others don’t realize they’re just “going through the motions,” but they’re kidding no one.
  6. They are arrogant. You know what this trait looks like, even in Christian organizations. These teachers and leaders always talk about themselves. Any sense of humility seems to be forced; in fact, others see it as only another way to point out how good they are.
  7. They’re critical. Not only do they criticize others, but even more importantly, they almost never praise others. The only time you hear from them is when they want to correct something.
  8. They don’t know what they’re talking about. Some teachers don’t know their material well, and some leaders don’t know their field well. In some cases, both have been given their positions for some reason other than their know-how – and it’s obvious.
  9. They don’t enjoy their work. People who spend time with them learn quickly that they have no joy in their day-to-day tasks. Their smiles are forced and their laughter is infrequent.
  10. Their Christian walk is debatable. That is, some who know them best question the depth of their walk with God – primarily because the leaders they are in public are not always the people they are in private. Needless to say, this problem is, among all these listed here, the most serious one for Christian teachers and leaders.

Recognizing that all of us probably show some of these characteristics at times, what other characteristics would you add to this list?

Be sure to check out Dr. Lawless’ daily blog posts at www.chucklawless.com. Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.

Posted on August 20, 2015

Dr. Chuck Lawless is a leading expert in spiritual consultation, discipleship and mentoring. As a former pastor, he understands the challenges ministry presents and works with Church Answers to provide advice and counsel for church leaders.
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  • Jack Thompson says on

    I am currently in a reformed church setting, and the “lead: leader uses shunning to isolate anyone who disagrees with him. According to one assistant pastor who works under him, “He won’t ever apologize for anything. He doesn’t do apologies.”

    So what a wonderful situation this is: We have a leader who is never wrong and who will ostracize those with whom he disagrees. What a joyous setting!

    • One guy in our church trys to teach and he is so boring and does not interpret the word properly …he is not humble …always sits in the front seat…talks only with the elders …his mission is to be on the mike…he shows no love to us ordinary christians…if i know he is going to be on the mike i stay away from church …he brings the whole authmosphere down

  • I know many who are “good” leaders, but they are not open to being great leaders. They are complacent and not willing to stretch and grow. Why stop at “good”, let’s push to be the best we can. Be Colossians 3:23 leaders.

  • They refuse to have a reasoned discussions with someone who holds a differing view. They take it personally.

  • They promote an “in” group of “yes” people. That group gets special treatment and the rules do not get applied equally. And the group that is “out” knows it.

  • John Lawless says on

    I must admit many of these traits were mine. Over the past three years I have been a member of Toastmasters International. They have helped me to be a better communicator. My wife even told me I am a better teacher since joining TMI. It must be true if she said so. The members of my two classes (a Life Group and a 65+ Bible Study) also find my teaching to be much improved.

  • Craig Giddens says on

    They’re stuck on what their denomination, school or what man teaches instead of “what saith the scripture” (Romans 4:3).

  • These aren’t describing one person in leadership, but rather one congregation.

    ▪ Inconsistent. Supporting an idea, person, or program in one meeting, and then opposing vocally in other meetings. (Usually when surrounded by others who supported their opposing view.)

    ▪ Narrow-mindedness. Acknowledging the need for change, and agreeing to the plan initially, but having little tolerance for actual change. In reality, acting threatened by changes and digging in heels to prevent movement toward directions that didn’t meet approval.

    ▪ Negativity. More likely to assume the worst in people’s motives, and easily taking up an offense. Talking negatively about people who were previously in leadership, including the former pastor, even when that info was disputed by other leaders. Spreading slanderous information about other previous leaders, when the people weren’t there to defend themselves (they had left the church to move on to other ministries).

    ▪ Poor judgement. One instance included the appointment of a member to a teaching position, although this member was known for being disruptive, harassing, argumentative, and had publicly admitted that he didn’t really read the Bible or pray. When it was suggested that he wasn’t appropriate as a teacher, the response was that the new teacher seemed very excited about it, and seemed to follow the lesson plan. On a positive note, by the time I left, this “teacher” had started reading the Bible and praying.

  • Very good list. My only disagreement would be with #3. The bad leaders I have had to deal with were all highly organized and would not tolerate any deviation from what they wanted to accomplish, and would employ #6 and #7 to bring everyone back in line. The disorganized leader, by contrast, usually is quite aware of this and doesn’t mind a little directional guidance.

  • Kabugo.E.Hope says on

    They do not have love and they force people to forgive them

  • #2 “They make others feel dumb” can be difficult to discern in oneself. I’m afraid I’ve been guilty of that offense…not out of a sense of superiority or condescension. Rather, I’ve been so thoroughly engrossed and passionate about my material that I want students to grasp it the way that I do. Truth be told, perhaps I’ve also been a bit insecure about my material. Discerning students begin to understand that I’m looking for a particular answer and if they have a contrary opinion, they don’t offer it – because they know I would push back. What a boring way to teach. Eventually, all input and discussion is shut down.

    Bad teaching!

    I have my son to thank for that insightful critique. Ouch! But I’m grateful.

    • I’m guilty of this as well.

      It is similar to the great player/bad coach idea. Most great basketball players are terrible coaches because it was so second nature to them that they can’t understand why others aren’t able to do the same things they were able to do.

      For teachers, especially those who are passionate about their topic, we can’t understand why people aren’t as interested in this topic as we are. We then come across as making them feel dumb because we try to overexplain or nitpick someone else’s disagreements.

      Don’t feel alone here. I’ve been the same way before. It’s humbling to hear it from someone else, but knowing the problem is part way to overcoming it.

      • Maybe you can try to highlight the positives in their response even if it is incorrect? It may open discussion for other more timid students.

      • I completely agree. When I have the opportunity to teach now I try to always keep that in mind. I want people to ask questions. Asking those questions opens their perspective a little bit, not necessarily to what my point of view is, but to what God is teaching them.

      • Chuck Lawless says on

        Thanks, Clay.

    • Chuck Lawless says on

      Thanks, Bob. Sounds like your son is insightful.

  • They are unteachable and high minded.

  • They are bitter. Everything and everyone angers them.

    They are stuck in the 1950s, 1980s, whenever with no idea of what is happening in the world today.

    • LOL……. what ?

      Every generation thinks they invented the wheel.
      (Yours included.. b4 you know it.. You will be older & someone will think your ideas are foolish & outdated. )

      you should be able to learn from your elders, if they are totally disagreeable then no. always take everything to the WORD to judge it worthy ..

      but certainly we are NOT to conform to the World . but be set apart.

    • Chuck Lawless says on

      Thanks, Mark.

      • I have seen so many teachers growing up as a child and they all seem to fall into making examples out of students that question the status quo. Drink alcohol to mingle, agree with everything, don’t ask questions, don’t think for yourself, work a dead end job for the rest of you’re life and procreate to repeat the cycle in keeping teachers employed.

        I’ve seen the cause and effect that it has on an individual’s self-confidence in life as it eventually becomes debilitating when the student is out in the real world surviving as a citizen. Constantly needing to be around other people trying to make examples out of others just so they can get a step up in social influence, although in many cases it comes crashing down for them. The education systems here in Canada, Ontario create the society we all see now of civil unrest, social justice warriors, radical feminism, and false incriminations.

        Teachers will create a society then hide behind their shame to say “I was just doing my job” The cause and effect is something that no human being can ignore or runaway, no matter how many times they blame others for their actions.

        I’ve seen students that live in fear constantly kissing the teachers ass hoping to get a cut of social power, all the while spending their entire lives in school because it’s the only way they can survive and feed themselves. Being that their are no jobs available that pay enough money to support themselves, especially when I was witnessing it first hand in Toronto, Ontario. Immigrants get the jobs, Canadians don’t.

        Students will be the next to be homeless, welcome to the future.

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