JS Tip 200: From the Leadership Workshops: The Bad Leader Selection Process

After last week’s tip on de jure and de facto leaders, Leo Santiago asked, “I wonder why non-leaders or bad workers with unsavory personality traits become and remain de jure leaders. Why do organizations place folks as they do?”

Several factors:

Information gets filtered. A well-respected leader once said, “One of the toughest parts of senior leadership is getting a straight answer. Too many people tell you what they think you want to hear.” Accurate assessments are hard to come by (at any level).  

The surface is easier to see than the depth. Unfortunately, some senior leaders can be fooled into seeing the “show” instead of the “go,” and choose leaders for shallow reasons.

For example, a person’s physical appearance affects perceptions; it’s called “The Halo Effect.” Could President William Howard Taft—all 335 pounds of him—be elected today?  

Bad leaders tend to promote in their own image. They self-verify. (It’s often the leaders who’ve done the fooling that are the easiest to fool.) “Hey. I’m good—otherwise I wouldn’t have been promoted. I’m gonna promote others just like me.”  

In healthy companies, eventually the problems are discovered and the non-leaders are ignored, passed over, or replaced.

(The process is called “evolution.”)