Bad Leadership

Learning about leadership always drives you to become a better leader. And most of what you read and learn today is about how to become a “great” leader. But have you ever stopped to ask, “What makes a bad leader?” Perhaps if you understood bad leadership, you would more readily spot it when it beckons you to follow and avoid it in your own personal leadership practices.

Barbara Kellerman, author and lecturer from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, wrote a book titled just that, Bad Leadership: What It Is, How It Happens, Why It Matters. In it she identified seven groups of bad leadership. Take a moment and reflect on each one. Are you following a bad leader? Do any of them remotely describe your own leadership?

1.  Incompetent Leadership – The leader and at least some followers lack the will or skill (or both) to sustain effective action. With regard to at least one important leadership challenge, they do not create positive change.

2.  Rigid Leadership – The leader and at least some followers are stiff and unyielding. Although they may be competent, they are unable or unwilling to adapt to new ideas, new information, or changing times.

3. Intemperate Leadership – The leader lacks self-control and is aided and abetted by followers who are unwilling or unable effectively to intervene.

4.  Callous Leadership – The leader and at least some followers are uncaring or unkind. Ignored or discounted are the needs, wants, and wishes of most members of the group or organization, especially subordinates.

5.  Corrupt Leadership – The leader and at least some followers, lie, cheat, or steal. To a degree that exceeds the norm, they put self-interest ahead of the public interest.

6.  Insular Leadership – The leader and at least some followers minimize or disregard the health and welfare of “the other”–that is, those outside the group or organization for which they are directly responsible.

7.   Evil Leadership – The leader and at least some followers commit atrocities. They use pain as an instrument of power. The harm done to men, women, and children is severe rather than slight. The harm can be physical, psychological, or both.

These leadership descriptors sound pretty bad. In fact, some sound down right horrific. But have you ever considered that not all leaders start out this way. Some slowly gravitate in this direction because they simply failed to seek, cultivate, and model good leadership character and practices.

Question: How can a leader safeguard themselves from bad leadership?