There is a prevalence of lousy leadership because it does not take too much effort to be a poor leader. There is not a huge barrier to entry for anyone who wants to become a leader. The difficulty arises when you are committed to being a “good” leader. Too many succumb to the mythology of leadership, by fulfilling their compulsion to reward leaders who demonstrably lack character, time and again. Culturally, we heap praise, more power, fame, and fortune upon those with situational ethics and a faulty moral compass. It is a shameful affliction that persists despite the visual measures of lousy leadership we witness every day.
Look for deep customer dissatisfaction, and you will find a weak leader. Scratch the surface of high employee turnover numbers and the painfully low degree of employee engagement, and you will uncover careless leadership. Attorneys may disagree, but a string of settlements become a chain of clues that shackle accountability and reveal the negligent management of problems. A plethora of lawsuits, blooming like a fresh crop, also feed on abundant fertilizer at its base.
There is no doubt that lousy leaders are expensive. So why do good companies become complicit and keep them around?
Hiring managers attempt to protect their ego because they do not like to admit to a poor hire decision. They hide behind process and a calendar rather than confess a lapse in judgment.
Lousy leaders often appear to be rainmakers, and money and positive cash flow is the oxygen of most companies. No one wants to be the one to cut off any streams of income, and if the organization is on life support, it is a difficult time to call out the supposed hero for misdeeds. People hate to jeopardize the lifestyle that they have become accustomed to living. This protective attribute of human nature often devolves into greed, which clouds many decisions.
There’s a fair amount of cowardliness too because people do not want to engage in a confrontation. They convince themselves that the status quo isn’t that bad. The situation is tolerable, and if they wish hard enough, maybe the problem will fix itself. That’s rarely an effective strategy.
Maybe these companies are not as good as we would like to believe. That is the biggest problem with lousy leaders; they diminish everything they touch, including other leaders.
If you are a good leader but don’t use your talents and skills to minimize the damage, or even unseat lousy leaders, you lessen your credibility. I am not talking about being the White Knight, that role often backfires. It takes a team to take down a lousy leader. It requires trust, a sense of stewardship, integrity to your values, and empathy for others; all things the lousy leader lacks and devalues. All these conditions make it harder to minimize the effects of poor leaders, but good leaders must not give up the fight. Lousy leaders destroy established cultures, reputable profits, and, most insidiously the careers, livelihood, and lives of those they claim to want to help. If you agree lousy leadership is expensive, go on a cost-cutting mission.
Also published on Medium.