Biography Speaking Consulting Clients Articles Contact
    Home > Articles >Good Leadership is Hard to Find
Good Leadership is Hard to Find

I would like to begin this article with a brief exercise. Take out a piece of paper and write down the number of people you have worked for in the past. This number should include coaches, supervisors, project managers, team leaders, or anyone else who told you what and how to do things (for the purpose of this exercise let’s not include your parents). Now write down how many of these people you would willingly work for again. If you are like most people, then you only need the fingers on one hand to count the people you would want to work for. Although this exercise is not particularly scientific, the results do match up with some of the research regarding managerial incompetence. It may well be that 50-75 percent of the people in positions of authority are unable to build teams or get work done through others, which are the hallmarks of effective leadership. Bringing these findings a little closer to home, there is a better than even chance that your current boss has significant room for improvement.

But why do we have so many people in positions of authority who are ineffective? And maybe an even more important question is why do organizations tolerate this high level of incompetence? Many companies wouldn’t survive if only 50-75 percent of their account executives, customer service representatives, mechanics, or equipment operators were incompetent. Most organizations move rather swiftly when dealing with incompetent workers, but for some reason show all the urgency of a three toed sloth when dealing with incompetent managers.

There seem to be four main reasons why many managers are perceived to be incompetent. Two of these reasons concern hiring practices. Many organizations often promote their best accountants or drivers because of their superb technical or functional skills. But often this just results in the loss of good individual contributors and the promotion of people who may not have a clue on how to effectively get work done through others. Another reason is that many bosses promote workers who are: (a) family members; (b) friends; (c) less competent; (d) members of the same sorority or fraternity; (e) good at strategic sucking up; or (f) some other reason completely unrelated to possessing the skills needed to get work done through others. It is awfully hard to be seen as an effective leader if you never had the right stuff to begin with.

Some of the other reasons why managers are perceived to be incompetent have more to do with who they are than poor hiring decisions. Just about every manager I know has at least one dark side personality trait. Dark side personality traits are irritating, counterproductive behaviors that interfere with a leader’s ability to build a team; some of these include micromanaging, passive-aggressiveness, a lack of emotional control, managing by crisis, and an unwillingness to make decisions. Dark side personality traits tend to be most evident in times of crisis and stress, and unfortunately most managers I know have very stressful jobs. However, leaders can minimize the negative effects of stress and dark side traits, but they first must gain some insight into their dark sides and learn how to properly manage stress.

The fourth reason concerns a lack of development. Many people have the right qualities associated with effective leadership, but have never been trained on how to build teams or get results through others. All too often people are thrown into positions of authority and then abandoned. Their bosses do little to coach or develop their leadership skills, and their companies don’t do much in terms of leadership talent development. And those companies that do try to systematically develop their leadership talent usually fall short, as they mistakenly believe that one or two day training programs is all you need to make someone an effective leader. Most good leaders develop their skills through a combination of training, coaching/mentoring, and on-the-job experience; any one of these elements in and of itself is usually not enough to develop good leaders.

In conclusion, I believe that leadership is the most important topic in the world today. Leadership determines whether we go to war, have enough funding for our schools, make money, look forward to coming to work, or look for another job. Yet given the importance of and attention given to leadership, it is amazing to me how many people are not very good at it. So what do you do if you get stuck working for an incompetent boss? Unfortunately, your options are somewhat limited. Your boss needs to change his or her behavior, you need to adapt, or you need to find something else to do. The problem with the first option is that most bosses are resistant to change and are more likely to believe employees (rather than themselves) are the root of the problem. If the benefits of staying with the company outweigh those of leaving, then you might be better off finding ways to cope with an incompetent boss. But you could also look for another job either inside or outside the company. Finding another job takes a lot of hard work, but in most cases having to work 8-10 hours a day for a clueless boss takes even more effort.

Gordy Curphy., PhD
President, Curphy Consulting Corporation
1978 Graduate of the United States Air Force Academy
Website developed by Catalyst Performance Group
Copyright © 2008 Curphy Consulting. All rights reserved.