Sunday, September 4, 2011

Are you a Bad Leader?

Leadership is a contentious issue. As journalists all over the world poured praise on Steve Jobs after his decision to retire as CEO of Apple, the question of his leadership style also generated its fair degree of scrutiny (Forbes article).

A quick check at Harvard Business Review shows that searching using the word "Leadership" generates 7404 results, including:
HBR's 10 Must Reads on Leadership
Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership
Leadership That Gets Results
and so on and so on and so on.....

However what fascinates me is that the majority of the materials written all suggest ways and means for one to become a great leader. However very little appears to be dedicated to the opposite i.e. Bad Leadership.

Of the very little that has been written on this subject Barbara Kellerman's book Bad Leadership: What It Is, How It Happens, Why It Matters is a standout (for me anyway). Kellerman outlines seven types of Bad Leadership:
  1. Incompetent: lacks the will or skill (or both) to sustain effective action with regard to at least one important leadership challenge 
  2. Rigid: stiff and unyielding; unable or unwilling to adapt to new ideas, new information, or a changing of the landscape 
  3. Intemperate: lacks self-control 
  4. Callous: uncaring or unkind; ignores or disregards the needs, wants, and wishes of others, especially subordinates 
  5. Corrupt: lies, cheats, or steals; puts self above any other interest 
  6. Insular: minimizes or disregards the health and welfare of anyone outside the group or organization for which they are directly responsible 
  7. Evil: outright disregard for even the human worth of others; egregious inhumanity. 
So why is it that so little is written about the subject of Bad Leadership. Is it because by nature we humans are naturally optimistic and hence are not interested in understanding a negative view of a positive subject? Or is it because we see Bad Leadership everyday whether it be at work or watching the daily dose of political madness and hence have little interest in understanding what we see everyday? In other words we crave a positive understanding of leadership because we simply do not see enough of it in our daily lives.

I have a big problem with the lack of focus on Bad Leadership and the continual focus on 'how to become a great leader'. I liken it to going to the doctor. Imagine telling the doctor you want to get better but you don't want to know what is wrong. By ignoring the traits of Bad Leadership we ignore what needs to improve. By focusing only on the notion of improving our leadership abilities we do not focus on negative areas that may need addressing.

So now for a little soul searching. Are you a Bad Leader?


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