The cost of bad leadership is tremendous. So Should we invest in leadership education or is it just hopeless? @dducheyne argues that we should change our view on leadership.

Disappointment

Recently, I did a keynote with Leaders in Mind in Düsseldorf. I talked about sustainable leadership. I asked the audience what % of leaders actually met expectations. The % that I got from the people present was frighteningly low. Someone even said only one out of 100 were up to standard. There seems to be a lot of bad leadership around.

In VUCA times we need leadership  to respond quickly to changes. But we seem to have been unable to build lasting leadership. In a recent HR conference I attended, participants reported their fatigue, their disappointment and their fatalism. Pfeffer rightly says that most leaders do not display humanistic behaviour and are selfish. And indeed, to climb the corporate ladder you need to play the system and follow the unwritten rules of the political culture. To beat them, you need to become one of them.

This sounds like dispair. Should we then stop working to improve leadership? What is the point of leadership education? Or should we even replace leadership with something else? What could that be?

Let’s not be naive

Leaders have to do many things. First, they have to steer towards results. Second they have to support people so that they are able and willing to go for these results. Third, they have to make sure that the organisation is sustainable, future proof. And lastly, they need to survive the many political games, disruptions.

I mainly talk about two Ss, supporting people through sustainable leadership. But I know we should not neglect the steering and the surviving. Bad quality of leadership arises when the focus lies on only one of them, especially surviving. If that happens the objective of leadership becomes self-centred. And this is what often happens in politics. Politicians are tempted not to take the right decisions, but the decisions that get them re-elected.

bad leadership
4 functions for leadership (the colours have no meaning)

 

The message is: leaders should focus on all 4 and adapt their leadership actions according to the situation at hand. Someone who works in a highly political or even toxic environment can create optimal conditions in their own team (downwards) but might need to engage in survival mode when dealing with the board. The biggest challenge is then to make sure that the one behaviour (survival) does not jeopardise other behaviours. Leaders who find themselves under pressure might take short-cuts that are harmful.

That’s why sustainable leadership is important. Leaders should be aware of the effect that pressures, expectations, power, etc. have on the quality of their leadership and on their own character. Again, we should not be naïve about leadership in a volatile context, but we should not stop trying to move forward.

If leadership is not based on human characteristics such as empathy, fairness, kindness, reciprocity and the courage to be human in an unfortunately dehumanized world, it will not be sustainable. Someone made the remark that she experienced this kind of leadership in a start-up organisation, but not in the bigger corporation where she came from.

If leadership is not based on human characteristics such as empathy, fairness, kindness, reciprocity and the courage to be human in an unfortunately dehumanized world, it will not be sustainable.

The Cost of Bad Leadership is High

I have seen many bad examples of leadership behaviour. But I also have seen good ones. And when I talk about good or bad, I am not talking about morals. I am talking about the impact a leader has on their environment. Only a few leaders seem to reach a balanced kind of leadership. Nevertheless improving the overall quality of leadership Is important. Because the cost of bad leadership is very high.

The entire audience agreed to that. We cannot even imagine how much damage bad leaders cause. The cost in terms of demotivation, attrition, silent acts of sabotage … is tremendous. Bad leadership creates a toxic culture, hurts people, destroys trust and goodwill, and damages the reputation of the organisation.

Not all of this has a direct monetary value. But it’s clear that bad leadership is a big problem for the viability or sustainability of an organisation.

(Bad) Leadership in its Context

The surprising thing is that people who display bad leadership can be successful. They can thrive in a context that favours one element of leadership over the other. Some organisations do not mind a leadership approach that is less supportive, as long as results are achieved.

Sustainable leadership implies however that the results are future-oriented and that all stakeholders are served. Organisations that continue to favour results over people, and short-term over the long-term might get in trouble. People are looking for a context where they like to work. If that context is characterised by bad leadership, people will leave and will spread the world.

In times of talent scarcity there is practical interest of being human, next to a moral dimension. Bad leadership comes with a cost, and this might be enough to inspire organisations to invest (more) in the quality of leadership.

This will require a different way of dealing with leadership education. I will deal with this in a next blog.

 


 

Reading

sustainable leadership


In my book on “Sustainable Leadership” I explain what sustainable leadership is and how leaders could protect themselves from negative contextual influences. Leaders should base their leadership on sustainable sources, not on unsustainable sources like power, position, pressure or popularity.

 

David Ducheyne

David Ducheyne

David is a specialist in people strategies, leadership and organizational development. He has gathered international experience with Henkel, Alcatel, Case New Holland, Securex and the University of Ghent. As an author he has published on Sustainable Leadership, Customzed Work, Health Management and Learning. He's also an avid blogger and key note speaker.

Bad Leadership Comes With a Cost

3 thoughts on “Bad Leadership Comes With a Cost

  • Dale Hudson
    January 13, 2018 at 10:15 pm
    Permalink

    There are more “bad boss relationships” than there are bad bosses. Yes, some managers are not cut out for the job. But often our boss troubles come down to relationship patterns we establish with them, psychologist and executive coach Richard Boston tells the Financial Times. Before bailing on a job you otherwise enjoy, explore your role, however small it may be, in the conflict. Try to put yourself in your manager’s shoes. What fears or concerns might be leading them to act the way they acting? Are there workarounds you haven’t considered? A bit of reflection and empathy can go a long way.

    Reply
  • Dale Hudson
    January 13, 2018 at 6:52 pm
    Permalink

    Leaders are TAUGHT finite leadership in an infinite world. Bad leaders protect themselves because it’s a natural human instinct to protect oneself from fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. In a self protection mode, no one can perform their job or function, it’s not possible our brain will not allow us to do anything else until we are safe and secure. As a leader, is your organizations culture providing a safe and secure environment in which to lead? Gallup reports that 50% of managers will fail, change initiatives fail or are abandoned 70-90% of the time, the costs of bad leaders in terms of a disengaged workforce ( in the US alone ) tops one trillion dollars, double the costs from a decade ago. We seem to be heading in the wrong direction and have been for sometime!

    Reply
    • hrchitects.net
      January 20, 2018 at 6:05 pm
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      I agree about the self-protection. Leaders find themselves under so much pressure that they loose the courage to be themselves. Instead of using their own being as source of leadership they take power, popularity, position, pressure as sources of authority.

      Reply

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