Back in July I wrote a blog post inspired by a new book out by Barbara Kellerman. ( The End of Leadership)
One of the points in her book that really struck a note with me is how much focus there is on developing good leaders while we seem to be ignoring the problem of the bad leaders.
Since writing that post the issue has been rumbling round my head. And the question keeps popping up: why is it that many organisations have such a hard time identifying and dealing with the bad apples?
But now I think I may have found part of the answer.
In a HBR blog post on August 16 with the title: Are you sure you are not a bad boss? Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman make the interesting observation that bad bosses are not so much characterized by the terrible things they do but much more by what they don’t do.
To most people a bad boss is someone who displays the kind of caricatured behavior that can be observed in television series like The Office. But according to the research done by Zenger and Folkman that type of blatantly impossible behavior only accounts for about 20% of what defines the really hopeless bosses.
By analyzing the behavior of 30,000 managers through the eyes of their peers and direct reports they came to the conclusion that bad leaders are characterized by one or more crucial omissions.
Here’s the list in order, from the most to the least fatal:
1. Failure to inspire, owing to a lack of energy and enthusiasm.
2. Acceptance of mediocre performance in place of excellent results.
3. A lack of clear vision and direction.
4. An inability to collaborate and be a team player.
5. Failure to walk the talk.
6. Failure to improve and learn from mistakes.
7. An inability to lead change or innovate owing to a resistance to new ideas.
8. A failure to develop others.
9. Inept interpersonal skills.
10. Displays of bad judgment that leads to poor decisions.
For a more detailed description of each of the ‘omissions’ you can read the full blog post here.
So my suspicion is that exactly because bad bosses are not doing something that is glaringly terrible, the manager that they report to does not feel a sense of urgency with regard to dealing with them. On the contrary when I think of my own career and other examples that come to mind a person who displays one or more of the above characteristics is exactly the direct report that one dreads dealing with.
But obviously, failing to react means that one has taken a 1st small step oneself towards becoming a bad boss…