Must's for Mismanagement: How to be an Incompetent Leader / Managing / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Why are so many incompetent leaders men? Turns out it’s all about a show of confidence, rather than a show of competency. What (not) to do.

In pondering the under-representation of women in senior management roles, the Harvard Business Review posits that men are frequently perceived as better leaders, even while the qualities cited by those who hold that perception frequently are the opposite of what it actually takes to be a good leader.

Unsurprisingly, the mythical image of a ‘leader’ embodies many of the characteristics commonly found in personality disorders, such as narcissism (Steve Jobs or Vladimir Putin), psychopathy (fill in the name of your favorite despot here), histrionic (Richard Branson or Steve Ballmer) or Machiavellian (nearly any federal-level politician) personalities.

The sad thing is not that these mythical figures are unrepresentative of the average manager, but that the average manager will fail precisely for having these characteristics.

Related Article: How to Improve Relations Between Your Managers and Employees

In fact, most leaders—whether in politics or business—fail. That has always been the case: the majority of nations, companies, societies and organizations are poorly managed, as indicated by their longevity, revenues, and approval ratings, or by the effects they have on their citizens, employees, subordinates or members. Good leadership has always been the exception, not the norm.

Why is it that (mostly male) leaders are so frequently perceived as competent, even when they’re not?

How Bad Leaders Rise to the Top

The article, “Managerial Incompetence: Is There a Dead Skunk on the Table” maintains that, “We all know leaders who don’t perform appropriately and have bosses that seem to tolerate their poor performance. And the higher people go in an organization, the less likely leaders will be held accountable for getting things done the right way.”

Which is another way of saying that the proverbial old boy network takes care of its own. The evidence of this is the CEO, the sports team manager, the university president who lands a new job within weeks of being sacked for non-performance from their previous job. Happens all the time. Being fired for failing to lead a company, team or academic institution is not career-ending; in fact, it’s a resume builder. The thinking seems to be: “This guy got fired, so now we can get him. It puts a prestigious name on our brand. Who cares if he does anything else?”

We all somehow manage to lumber along as we all rise to our own level of mediocrity. Fear not, though, you too (men and women both) can practice the very qualities that make you appear to have leadership potential, even while those you lead follow you to disaster. Here’s how:

Work Long Hours

Does this mean you are a workaholic? No, it probably just means you can’t effectively manage your schedule, spend too much time web surfing and can’t get anything done because basically you’re not doing anything. But, heh, at least you’re there.

Don’t Tell Anyone What’s Going On

Because if no one knows what is really going on, then they won’t know you aren’t doing much about it. Ignorance is not only bliss, promoting it helps you avoid getting caught.

Hold Frequent Meetings

We don’t have to tell you that nothing ever gets done in meetings. But it is an opportunity to set an agenda, run a few things by people, and, most importantly, assign tasks you know absolutely nothing about to other people. Maybe they don’t know either, but then you have someone to blame when things don’t work out. And, if they do, well you can always take the credit. After all, they were working on it because you told them to.

Related Article: Leading by Example: Can Managers Reduce Stress in the Office?

Don’t Be Too Hasty

If you make a decision, there’s always a chance you may not make the right decision. Better to wait for more information, consider your options. No need to rush. Things tend to eventually work out. And, if they don’t, you can always blame not having enough information or enough time. After all, nobody can control the weather, even if you could have had a forecast. Hire a few consultants. If they give you bad advice, you’ve got some fall guys. And you know to hire different consultants the next time.

Play Golf

Need we say more? Your golfing buddies are never going to throw you under the bus. Best to miss a putt or two to someone who might be in a position to do so.

Act Like a Man

Women, this is for you in particular. To join a boys club, you’ve got to slap a few backs, talk sports, make a couple of off-color remarks (but don’t do it in an email or any situation where you could be recorded), and hold your beer. Be afraid of commitment. Be very afraid.

What does any of this have to do with work, let alone leading people to achieve goals and share in success? Nothing. Exactly how you too can be a well-respected leader among men. Not being a very good one is not the point.


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