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Psychologist Robert Hogan estimates that the majority of workplace managers/leaders are either deficient or incompetent – one reason why executive turnover is so high. And, with a world full of dictators and despots, political leadership is also full of bad leaders. What’s going on?
A big part of the problem is that we really don’t know how to pick good leaders, due to psychological biases and trying to serve our own self-interests, rather than the greater good.
One obvious reason is fear. Tyrants are punitive and will subjugate anyone who questions their authority. However, there are many people who willingly follow tyrannical leaders. To better understand we need to explore the psychology behind bad leaders and their followers.
1. We Value the Wrong Leader Qualities.
We value strong, confident leaders, but often confuse arrogance and narcissism for strength. Research shows that the worst leaders are very narcissistic and arrogant. Bad leaders are convinced that they are right, rarely take counsel, and don’t learn from their mistakes. The very best leaders possess humility and know that they: a) aren’t always right (and they need others’ input); and, b) can continuously learn and improve as leaders.
2. We Equate Effectiveness with Being a Good Leader.
We place great value on results, but often neglect to consider how those results were obtained (i.e., “the ends justify the means”). Truly good leaders are successful, but they are careful to do the (morally) right things. Good leaders minimize harm and strive to represent all of their constituents, not just those who they favor.
3. We Crave Power.
Leadership expert, Jean Lipman-Blumen, in her book on Toxic Leadership, suggests that followers enable and assist bad leaders – allowing them to get into positions of power, and supporting their misdeeds. All too often, followers look to and support the leaders who will give them what they want, rather than what the country or organization needs. Bad followers (“henchmen”) are drawn to bad leaders because of the promise of sharing the power.
4. We Don’t Hold Leaders Accountable.
We often blindly place leaders on a pedestal and assume that they will do the right thing. We need to be active followers and hold leaders accountable. The title of Ira Chaleff’s book, “The Courageous Follower: Standing Up To and For Our Leaders”, says it all. We need to stand up to our leaders when they are on the wrong path, and support them when they are doing the right thing.
5. We Rationalize.
All too often we give leaders “a pass” instead of holding them accountable. Or, we allow leaders to be above the rules (“he/she can do it because he/she is the leader”). Finally, we “settle” too easily. Instead of seeking out the very best leader, we “make do” with the poor leader candidates that we have.
The antidote for bad leadership is courageous and engaged followers who serve as a check when the leader misbehaves or takes the wrong path. For this to happen, it is imperative that we foster an environment in which citizens feel they are empowered, and will be protected, if they stand up to bad leaders and their toxic behaviors.
For, in a democracy, every citizen, regardless of his interest in politics, 'holds office'; every one of us is in a position of responsibility; and, in the final analysis, the kind of government we get depends upon how we fulfill those responsibilities. We, the people, are the boss, and we will get the kind of political leadership, be it good or bad, that we demand and deserve.
There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses.
A leader is anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes and has the courage to develop that potential.
“If you let your head get too big, it'll break your neck.”
“An idea is something that won’t work unless you do.” - Thomas A. Edison
Why do we choose and follow dictators, despots, and tyrants? Is it us or them that’s the problem? Well, it’s both. Followers reap the leaders they sow and vice versa. So, if we don’t like what we are reaping, we should change what we’re sowing.
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