Bad Leadership

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What It Is, How It Happens, Why It Matters
By Barbara Kellerman

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The book is all about the dark side of leadership and how you individuals get there and what we can do to avoid it. She suggests that leaders do not act alone and are not solely responsible for bad leaderships. There is no leadership without followship. If followers would just not follow a bad leader we could put a stop to the bad leadership. She has two main arguments throughout the book. The first is that leadership is either classified as ineffective or unethical. The second argument is that you can break the whole bad leadership into seven types – incompetent, rigid, intemperate, callous, corrupt, insular, and evil. She talks about how writers of other books and schools that study leadership suggest that to become a leader is to become a good leader. The dark side then as she suggests that to limit leadership to good leadership presents three major problems. It is confusing and misleading and does a disservice.

She goes on to talk about the reasons why we are bad. She states that “people in a state of nature are not, in the usually sense of the word, good. This is not to insist that people are bad but rather that the human animal cannot be relied on to behave well.”[i] I’m not so sure that I agree with this statement. She brings up a point that in the past, scholars believed that a leader’s traits, such as intelligence, were more important then any other variable when determining a leader’s ability. They now agree that there are other variables that need to be considered such as the situation, the nature of the task at hand, and the followers.

Why do we follow leaders who behave badly? She suggests it’s out of our need for safety and self-preservation. Getting along by going along is one of life’s early Page 2
lessons and so we need simplicity and stability. We do not want to lose our jobs so we keep quiet and keep things simple. Groups go along with bad leaders because even bad leaders can provide important benefits. Leaders maintain order, provide cohesion and identity, and do the collective work. Either in a group or as an individual, we find that it’s in our best interest to go with the flow and not stir the pot. How can we expect to reduce the number of bad leaders though unless we reduce the number of bad followers like we probably all have been at one point in our career. She states that, “Bad leadership will not, cannot be stopped or slowed unless followers take responsibility for rewarding the good leaders and penalizing the bad ones.”[ii]

The first of Kellerman’s arguments is that bad leadership falls into two categories: ineffective and unethical. An ineffective leader “fails to produce the desired change. For reasons that include missing traits, weak skills, strategies badly conceived, and tactics badly employed, ineffective leadership falls short of its intention.”[iii] Whereas, unethical leaders may be very effective, they just don’t know the difference between right or wrong. Our textbook has a chapter on leadership ethics and social responsibility. The textbooks describes ethics as, “the study of moral obligations, or of separating right from wrong”, and morals as, “an individual’s determination of what is right or wrong”.[iv] I would suggest that they may know the difference, but they choose to ignore it. She then goes on to her next argument that there are seven types of bad leadership: Incompetent, Rigid, Intemperate, Callous, Corrupt, Insular and Evil. She says

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that the first three types (incompetent, rigid and intemperate) tend to be classified as ineffective leadership and the last four (callous, corrupt, insular and evil) are bad because of unethical behavior.

She defines an incompetent leader as, “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...
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