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Why do so many incompetent men become leaders
September 5, 2013 1:37 PM   Subscribe

In my view, the main reason for the uneven management sex ratio is our inability to discern between confidence and competence. That is, because we (people in general) commonly misinterpret displays of confidence as a sign of competence, we are fooled into believing that men are better leaders than women. In other words, when it comes to leadership, the only advantage that men have over women (e.g., from Argentina to Norway and the USA to Japan) is the fact that manifestations of hubris — often masked as charisma or charm — are commonly mistaken for leadership potential, and that these occur much more frequently in men than in women. -- The Harvard Business Review asks why are less than competent men getting leadership positions when much more qualified women aren't?
posted by MartinWisse (65 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well I would love to hope that women start developing shitty hubris and overconfidence, but can I just hope for them not to? Because, in all probability, under-qualified people in positions of power are the cause for the worlds problems (from the petty to the massively serious)?
posted by Napierzaza at 1:40 PM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


why are less than competent men getting leadership positions when much more qualified women aren't?

Sexism.

next question?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:41 PM on September 5, 2013 [53 favorites]


I came here to say what the Empress said, but I'll add a little extra:

The truth of the matter is that pretty much anywhere in the world men tend to think that they that are much smarter than women.

And why would that be?

Sexism.
posted by languagehat at 1:43 PM on September 5, 2013 [13 favorites]


Sexism.

next question?


I disagree that this is a useful answer. To the extent that sexism is a structural and not merely a personal issue, it is an emergent property of the systems that bring it about. It is useful to understand these systems so that we have some way of addressing/changing them.
posted by Jpfed at 1:43 PM on September 5, 2013 [21 favorites]


why are less than competent men getting leadership positions when much more qualified women aren't

what is the patriarchy, alex? I'll take linkbaity headlines for 500.
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:45 PM on September 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


This is a good article, but I find it odd that this idea is being presented as an alternative to the glass-ceiling hypothesis. Seems to me it makes much more sense to say "This is what the glass ceiling is made out of."

(In other words, more or less what Jpfed said: structural sexism is built out of lots of little biases and tendencies and so on, and here we've identified one of them. That's cool and helpful, but it's odd to then turn around and say "See, it wasn't the glass ceiling after all, it was just systemic bias that disproportionately penalizes women." Huh?)
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 1:45 PM on September 5, 2013 [30 favorites]


And why would that be?

Sexism.


Well, I'd actually go for solipsism which I suppose has a side-effect of sexism.
posted by GuyZero at 1:46 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is like saying, "Why are women risk adverse when risk is often rewarded?"

Sexism.

Next question?

It's too pat, barely clever, and doesn't actually address any of the underlying issues.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:46 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I disagree that this is a useful answer. To the extent that sexism is a structural and not merely a personal issue, it is an emergent property of the systems that bring it about. It is useful to understand these systems so that we have some way of addressing/changing them.

I'm not sure what more there is to understand. The article states that much of the reason why incompetent men become leaders is because they are overconfident, and one of the means of this overconfidence in their ability - again, it says this right in the article - is: "The truth of the matter is that pretty much anywhere in the world men tend to think that they that are much smarter than women."

In other words, sexism.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:48 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm just glad to see Metafilter finally address sexism in the workplace.
posted by Edgewise at 1:50 PM on September 5, 2013 [21 favorites]


Honestly, I would have found this a more interesting article if he had pointed out strategies or ways in which women have been recognized as good managers or company policies that have sought out better managers than just on "charisma." It's not breaking news to me that women can be great leaders or that confidence in men is rewarded-- what I want to know is where has the pattern been broken; what companies have invested or gone beyond that?
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:51 PM on September 5, 2013


Sexism is right, though of course the article doesn't really come out and say it, but rather concentrates on the mechanics of how sexism works in practise.

We already knew that blokes are more confident than women and are socialised to be more confident; the lack of female leaders everywhere is a long term, direct result of this.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:53 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fairly interesting that the confidence, charisma, etc. that help you get the job help ensure you botch it once you're in.
posted by Mister_A at 1:58 PM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


Look at one of the great political success stories for women in the last decade: Sarah Palin. All confidence, no competence. Ladies, you need to step up your bullshit game.
posted by Oktober at 2:06 PM on September 5, 2013 [20 favorites]


Shut the hell up people, I have a good thing going here and you are going to jinx it.
posted by LarryC at 2:13 PM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


So I think there's value in identifying the problem as the patriarchy rather than as a specific set of traits associated with men that decision makers tend to privilege. This is because without keeping one eye on the root of the problem — patriarchal control — one might come to believe that a solution to the problem would be for individual women coming to adopt the privileged traits — to project more confidence or whatever. This is not a solution to the problem. It's not a solution because powerful decision makers don't value these traits because of anything inherent to the traits themselves. Instead, they value the traits specifically and maybe exclusively because they are traits that men tend to express more than women do.

If it became the cultural norm for women to project overweening hubris in workplace environments, overweening hubris would become devalued and a different trait would become the key criterion.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:14 PM on September 5, 2013 [15 favorites]


Fairly interesting that the confidence, charisma, etc. that help you get the job help ensure you botch it once you're in.

Well, sure, businesses insist upon the criteria that eventually kneecap them all the time. They want people who won't come out and say "My boss was kind of a problem and, if I'm honest, a real asshole," so they wind up hiring either drones or those of us savvy enough to spin bullshit into gold, then complain they get drones or bullshit artists. They will hire to the bulletpoints on the job description rather than someone who can do the job, so someone with 2 years of experience in the field will get passed over for someone with 10 years of experience in a completely unrelated field because they hit the bullet points. (This happens in my small and specialized industry to such an extent it's a cliche and the company is always bewildered why the new hire is having a hard time working in a weirdly specialized field). They want someone who will spout off exactly what they want to hear about "culture" and conformity and fitting in rather than someone more talented but more mercenary, then wonder why they get a bunch of babbling simpletons or bullshit artists.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:18 PM on September 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


why are less than competent men getting leadership positions when much more qualified women aren't?

Sexism.

next question?


Can we up the discourse around here and actually read the articles in question?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:18 PM on September 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


I can't speak to the disparity between men and women in leadership positions, other than to agree with some combination of sexism, patriarchy, and good ol boy networking, but I can say that I've seen plenty of confident but incompetent men and women rise to leadership roles based on being ballsy, cutthroat, and seeming to have a plan, regardless of actual positive outcome.
posted by stenseng at 2:20 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would also mention that most of the time, the same things that are valued in men (speaking up, directing things, etc.) get women to be seen in a negative light. If women act more like managers, the reaction is negative, when men do, the reaction is positive.

A bit more detail on the sexism thing.
posted by Hactar at 2:23 PM on September 5, 2013 [22 favorites]


YCTAB, one of the points in the article was that it's not just decision-makers who value these traits, it's the members of any group choosing its own leaders:
leaderless groups have a natural tendency to elect self-centered, overconfident and narcissistic individuals as leaders
It's not outside of us. It's us. It's the people without hubris who don't step up, it's the people with hubris who do step up, it's the people on top picking the confident, it's the people below who trust the confident. It's not some external patriarchy, it's a pattern of behavior we're all playing. Unless we don't trust the studies (which would be fair), we've identified the trait distinct from the gender.

So I agree that traits (and jobs) that are put in the "female category" are devalued because of that categorization, but I don't think that's what's going on here.
posted by daveliepmann at 2:23 PM on September 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


I always try to hire people with at least a streak of the mercenary in them, because they tend to do good work. Don't want to have 2 years of shit work to show for your time at the firm! I'm also lucky because I have tangible evidence of who can and can not do the job.

As for me, managing these people? There is no tangible evidence that they are better or worse under me compared with any one else.
posted by Mister_A at 2:23 PM on September 5, 2013


The article meanders a bit before it gets there, kind of dances around taking a hard line on sexism and flirts with some gender essentialist BS, but does ask one good question:

So it struck me as a little odd that so much of the recent debate over getting women to "lean in" has focused on getting them to adopt more of these dysfunctional leadership traits. Yes, these are the people we often choose as our leaders — but should they be?

Interesting in that it puts some pressure on the people who do the hiring to look for better traits, rather than just telling women to act more like men.
posted by emjaybee at 2:23 PM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


If it became the cultural norm for women to project overweening hubris in workplace environments, overweening hubris would become devalued and a different trait would become the key criterion.

Isn't projecting hubris in the workplace already devalued when a woman does it? It's not exactly the same as hubris, but this just makes me think of the problem where assertive women get labeled "bitches".

So, the problem isn't just that the incompetent can bluff their way into positions of power - it's that the culture values "confidence", while at the same time punishing women that display those characteristics.
posted by heathkit at 2:24 PM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yes, sexism.

But also, I know too many 'leaders' who have neither hubris nor overconfidence. Some of the elected officials I work with are dull schlups, and I have no idea how they got where they are - but it's definitely not due to overconfidence (or the gender disparity due to women somehow having less confidence).
posted by kanewai at 2:24 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Can we up the discourse around here and actually read the articles in question?

That looked like a pretty cogent response to the article, to me.

This is not a solution to the problem. It's not a solution because powerful decision makers don't value these traits because of anything inherent to the traits themselves.

Another reason it's not a solution is because the same behavior is not evaluated the same in men and in women. "Assertive" behaviors are more frequently seen as negative when women are the ones performing them.

I always get frustrated with people who say "women should be more confident, and then workplace inequality will go away." I want to shake them and say hey, if women can just learn to be more confident, the reason they haven't done so already is that there are double standards out there.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 2:33 PM on September 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


As well ask why are less than competent men getting leadership positions when much more qualified men aren't.

Which ancient conundrum has been covered by the likes of Peter Drucker and Northcote Parkinson.

A far more interesting subject (to me, at least) is how men vs women work out when they found and run the companies. Especially now as women start more businesses than men do.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:37 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's also the issue of the type of people who pursue power. A lot of people don't want it, and those that do are often unfit to wield it, if for no other reason than they desire it.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 2:38 PM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


Confidence is easy to perceive from afar. I think an important question is how to make the qualities of a good leader more visible.
posted by amtho at 3:06 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Confidence is a part of competence. How can one be competent if one cannot convince others of the course to be taken and get them to go along? The article presents a false dichotomy. A person without the confidence to engage the problems that their competency is required to engage is useless.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:07 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I always get frustrated with people who say "women should be more confident, and then workplace inequality will go away." I want to shake them and say hey, if women can just learn to be more confident, the reason they haven't done so already is that there are double standards out there.

No. We teach women to behave different socially than men. That is the mistake.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:08 PM on September 5, 2013


'T'was ever thus. When it comes to leadership and management, bullshit talks just as well as money, if not better.
posted by Decani at 3:08 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think this article is asking how we can make everyone more perceptive about behaviors that _seem_ like leadership, but aren't.

That would be awesome! Then women could behave sensibly without having to put on a façade of hubris or bravado, and men could be themselves without worrying about accidentally deceiving others.
posted by amtho at 3:37 PM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


From Ironmouth:

No. We teach women to behave different socially than men. That is the mistake.

Erm, did you miss the point? Also, I hope you aren't using men's/male socialization as a yardstick as to what constitutes the good or ideal.
posted by Halo in reverse at 3:38 PM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


No. We teach women to behave different socially than men. That is the mistake.

We do this because of a double standard. It's a self re-enforcing phenomena that's been well studied- assertive women are perceived as being more aggressive than assertive men at the same level of aggression.

While upbringing matters, it also invalidates the experience of women to expect the continued absence of confidence is not also based on sound risk assessment. It smacks almost of blaming the victim and accusing them of being irrational.

Furthermore even our value system infests the conversation- once again women are told to become "more confident" even as some posters acknowledge that this level of hubris may also be unhealthy or everyone.
posted by Phalene at 3:41 PM on September 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


A person without the confidence to engage the problems that their competency is required to engage is useless.

And someone who is all hat and no cattle is worse than useless. A system that sees "confidence" and assumes "competence" is a bad system.
posted by rtha at 3:55 PM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


The linked article is most definitely not arguing for women to act more like men, and in fact the author says he's upset that that advice is being pushed. He writes:

So it struck me as a little odd that so much of the recent debate over getting women to "lean in" has focused on getting them to adopt more of these dysfunctional leadership traits. Yes, these are the people we often choose as our leaders — but should they be?

And he later says:

Most of the character traits that are truly advantageous for effective leadership are predominantly found in those who fail to impress others about their talent for management. This is especially true for women. There is now compelling scientific evidence for the notion that women are more likely to adopt more effective leadership strategies than do men. Most notably, in a comprehensive review of studies, Alice Eagly and colleagues showed that female managers are more likely to elicit respect and pride from their followers, communicate their vision effectively, empower and mentor subordinates, and approach problem-solving in a more flexible and creative way (all characteristics of "transformational leadership"), as well as fairly reward direct reports. In contrast, male managers are statistically less likely to bond or connect with their subordinates, and they are relatively more inept at rewarding them for their actual performance. Although these findings may reflect a sampling bias that requires women to be more qualified and competent than men in order to be chosen as leaders, there is no way of really knowing until this bias is eliminated.

In sum, there is no denying that women's path to leadership positions is paved with many barriers including a very thick glass ceiling. But a much bigger problem is the lack of career obstacles for incompetent men, and the fact that we tend to equate leadership with the very psychological features that make the average man a more inept leader than the average woman. The result is a pathological system that rewards men for their incompetence while punishing women for their competence, to everybody's detriment.

posted by jaguar at 3:59 PM on September 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


I've been reading Susan Cain's 'Quiet' which hits this issue pretty head on, but not so explicitly from a gender angle. It's really not just a gender issue being talked about here: the same bullshit traits that get unqualified people into leadership positions can and do appear in women, too; Sarah Palin is a perfect example. It's also a dynamic that plays against well-qualified men who don't pound their chests and whatnot. Cain's framing of the issue around introversion/extroversion is a bit more helpful and less gender essentialist than the gender framing of the same issue, I think, though I definitely recognize that this plays out in unfortunate ways along gender lines at the same time.
posted by kaibutsu at 4:18 PM on September 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


Great. Metafilter answered "sexism".

Fast forward:

Why do so many incompetent and wealthy people become leaders?
posted by hal_c_on at 4:32 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sexism is part of a mindset that celebrates "male qualities", the Hunter rather than the Gatherer. And while the Gatherer generally outlives the Hunter (as well as avoiding killing fellow Hunters instead of prey), also the Gatherer usually is much more capable of cooking whatever food both bring home.

Gamma Rabbits 4evah.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:48 PM on September 5, 2013


Define "leadership" ? The ship that leads the convoy?

Let's take Mussolini: the men's UberMan? Oh he's so "manly". Or maybe a seducing actor acting a role that is bound to seduce insecure men? Nonetheless, by all means he was a successful leader: he succesfully leaded Italy to ruin.

What defines a "succesful" leader?

Let's tale Mother Theresa: a charismatic figure and a leader. Or maybe a seducing actress acting the role of the perfect feeding mother, perfectly giving, helping the poor and the needy? Nonetheless, allegations of misconducts in management of the donations taint her reputation, as well as accepting allegedly "tainted money". Or pecuniam never olet for money made on other people suffering becomes magically good money if it helps others suffer less?

I don't think sex has much to do with defining "leadership" and "successful" leadership.
posted by elpapacito at 4:52 PM on September 5, 2013


As a sociologist who studies professional identity, I spent a year and a half attending first year law school classes to observe professional socialization in action there, and I watched this manifest, not only along gender lines, but along other dimensions, notably race.

What I was seeking to help explain is the fact that while all the students entering Big Name Law School have stellar LSAT scores and college grades, there, as at U.S. law schools generally, stark patterns of grade inequality emerge by the end of the first year, with white men on top.

What I found was that underperforming women and/or people of color actually put in more hours studying than their more successful white male peers, but their "performance" in the classrooms was rated by professors as less professional--not because of the content, but due to presentation. Confidence in taking a position and refusal to back down when challenged by the professor were deemed paramount, and were undermined when these postures were accompanied by signs of stress, such as blushing, sweating, or stammering. In essence, supreme self-confidentce had to be part of the student's self-concept, not a posture they just put on in the classroom.

Students who argued a position that was in essence incorrect, but did so confidently, were rated more positively than were students who argued the correct position more deferentially.

As others have noted, having this degree of swaggering hubris is treated differently depending on the demographic characteristics of the swaggering person. There were students other than white men who embodied, or came to embody, this degree of self-assertive "ballsines," but many of them were avoided socially by their peers. The women I interviewed who were high-performing students very often reported relationship trouble. Latinos and African American men reported increased difficulties with being treated by others as dangerous and threatening. And the personal difficulties suffered by those other than white men evincing hyperconfidence had a negative impact on their grades.

When I asked the students who were underperforming why they thought that was so, few of them said anything other than they must not be studying enough. This was a number of years ago now, so maybe in post Lean In days, the results would be otherwise, for women, at least. But I don't think this improves anything.
posted by DrMew at 5:02 PM on September 5, 2013 [78 favorites]


Although these findings may reflect a sampling bias that requires women to be more qualified and competent than men in order to be chosen as leaders, there is no way of really knowing until this bias is eliminated.

“A woman has to be twice as good as a man to go half as far.” quote Fanny Hurst
So it has ever been.


Why do so many incompetent and wealthy people become leaders?
posted by BlueHorse at 5:09 PM on September 5, 2013


> Can we up the discourse around here and actually read the articles in question?

I did RTFA, thank you very much. Are you under the impression that if one did that, one would somehow be led to think sexism was not involved? Or is it bad form to mention something so obvious, like pointing out that someone drowned because they were under water?
posted by languagehat at 5:14 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


A system that sees "confidence" and assumes "competence" is a bad system.

This is very easy to say, in the real world figuring out competence is actually a difficult and unavoidable problem and one that isn't solved by saying things like "try harder" and "fix the system" and "don't judge a book by its cover."
posted by leopard at 5:17 PM on September 5, 2013


Is it possible to be reverse sexist? Because I've been thinking, and all the worst managers I've ever had or worked with were all men, and all the best were all women. No exceptions at all.

With the men, it seemed like the worst ones were either the overconfident/undercompetant type, or felt like they at least had to act the part and thus overcompensated to the Nth degree, which was even worse.

I've worked for some women who tried to play that stereotypical male managerish role, and it was painful. The last woman I worked for was in a white collar HR dept where I was one of two men in a dept otherwise comprised of all women. It was great. There was no macho BS, no sports talk at all, no using other people as disposable ladders for their own career goals. It was heaven.

Now I'm blue collar all the way, and am atoning for all that enjoying of my work situation at that time.
posted by nevercalm at 5:27 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Quite a few years ago, I had someone from a little startup call to ask me to come in for an interview. I wasn't really all that interested, but they were persistent and I figured that since they wanted me so badly, maybe I'd just go in and see what they could offer.

So I went in and talked to the HR guy who explained that he was looking for someone to head up a development group, which at the time consisted of an intern and a junior developer. He pointed out that the junior developer was an older guy, but only had about one year of experience. I thought it was kind of weird that he said that, but I'm used to thinking things are weird, so I pretty much ignored it.

The company founder, who I was supposed to be talking to next, had gotten called into an emergency conference call and was going to be late, so he brought in the two developers instead.

The junior developer guy breezed into the room, reading my resume, sat down, and informed me that I was interviewing for an assistant position to him, because he was going to be heading up the group. I had at least 15 years' experience at the time to his almost one. My resume reflected both that and the fact that I was currently employed in a leadership role at a large influential company in the industry. He still thought somehow that I had come in to interview for a position junior to his.

I decided then and there that I really really really didn't want to work there, no matter what they offered me, so I just took the piss for the rest of the interview and then blew it off and left before the founder even got off the phone.

I did speak to the HR guy later and told him that he should be aware that his junior developer thought he was getting promoted to the management position. And for all I know, maybe he did.

They went out of business very soon thereafter, mostly because it was a very volatile industry, but I suspect partly because they were letting confident buffoons run the show there.
posted by ernielundquist at 5:54 PM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is very easy to say, in the real world figuring out competence is actually a difficult and unavoidable problem and one that isn't solved by saying things like "try harder" and "fix the system" and "don't judge a book by its cover."

I know. I wasn't actually trying to offer a fix. I was simply stating my understanding of one of the dynamics in this fucked-up system. (I didn't even say anything like "so fix it already" so I'm not sure why it seems to you like I did.)
posted by rtha at 6:07 PM on September 5, 2013


Well, I think calling something a bad system (and a "fucked-up system") carries the implication that it could be fixed. I wasn't getting the impression reading this thread that we live in the best of all possible worlds.
posted by leopard at 6:13 PM on September 5, 2013


This is rich coming from the Harvard Business School - which has been responsible for entrenching the managerial classes, which they invented, everywhere. Educators no longer run universities; doctors no longer run hospitals; government ministries/departments are no longer run by people qualified in their area of responsibility. At every turn is the "professional manager" - the systems and procedures people. People that have no practical knowledge, skills or talents other than to "manage". These are the clowns that have then tortured our language with weasel words like downsizing, outsourcing, paradigm shifts, efficiency and streamlining... while they slash and burn, and play at mergers and acquisitions. Oh, and don't forget the ubiquitous imposition of the Human Resources department.

Our élite is primarily and increasingly managerial. A managerial élite manages. A crisis, unfortunately, requires thought. Thought is not a management function. -- John Ralston Saul, The Unconscious Civilisation

This has been one of the greatest con jobs in history. The general public is so focussed on detesting politicians, that the managerial classes can go about their merry way trashing our social fabrics and economies with complete impunity... Competence and intellect are not in the role description.

If I was a chick, I would be proud of not participating in what is the Harvard Business School's conspiracy of buffoons.
posted by felch at 6:24 PM on September 5, 2013 [21 favorites]


Ugh. I really should resist commenting, because this is a pet peeve of mine. Incompetent buffoons who are rewarded for their incompetence. We are social animals. There was an evolutionary advantage to following the crowd, because odds were, the path was vetted by multiple participants vs just your own analysis. And how would the crowd decide? Well, often they'd simply follow the most confident member, because that member's confidence was the result of having correctly assessed the best path. And when everything worked as it was supposed to, it was a decent heuristic rule, and advantaged all members who were inclined to follow this model. But that would break down as soon as the confidence was misplaced - because it was not the result of correct analysis, but blind hubris. Now, it worked more often than it didn't so we kept to it.

Combine the confidence factor and our inclination to follow the lead with other reinforcing mechanisms, and the pull is virtually irresistible. Make the leader taller - check. Make the leader more handsome - check. Make the leader act like a leader even through things like lowered empathy and brusqueness (research shows wealthier/more powerful people are significantly less empathetic toward those less fortunate) - and people follow those secondary signals too, because it signals that the person in question is used to wielding power and if so, must have deserved it in the past, and therefore stands to reason deserves it now too. And then people consciously pile on signals - clothing markers, cars, wealth display in general, and people reason 'he was successful in the past accumulating wealth, will therefore be successful in the future, yep, a leader to follow!". People choose leaders not on the basis of actual competence, but on secondary markers of competence which are wrong and/or gamed a certain percentage of time. And that means inevitable regular failures of bad leaders.

And of course all of this is gamed by those who are fully aware of these social dynamics. What disgusts me is that many of the followers are also aware of this on a theoretical level, yet continue to reward this even when it's clear that these heuristic rules are broken in the case of this particular person. And that's how you get the "failed upward" phenomenon, and how people who have clearly hurt the organization are nonetheless rewarded and not punished for their failure and so forth.

Yes, yes, it's all an old molding cliche, but we really are baa, baa, baa. I wish it wasn't so, but time and again, and again, and again. Maybe it's just encoded in us on some kind of instinctive level, the same way animals puff up to scare an enemy because evolutionarily size correlated with advantage and those who understood that survived. But puffing itself is a deception, and already on an animal level - often very primitive animals - we see in a sense, 'political operators' succeed through deception rather than pure merit (size). So if this is so deeply ingrained, what hope do we have? Only through strictly enforced mechanisms of organization, promotion and reward, that takes all of these biases into account.

I think part of my instinctive and strong dislike of authority is having seen so many examples of failure. Which is why I really do believe we should hold people accountable and always question. If Suzy advocated to zig and Bob advocated zagging, and zagging proved a disaster, then I really hope Bob would be demoted in favor of Suzy. Guess how often that happens, anywhere.
posted by VikingSword at 6:35 PM on September 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


No mention of Dunning-Kruger?
posted by a person of few words at 6:40 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


This has been one of the greatest con jobs in history. The general public is so focussed on detesting politicians, that the managerial classes can go about their merry way trashing our social fabrics and economies with complete impunity... Competence and intellect are not in the role description.

This. Every time I hear the phrase "they're all as bad as each other" I die a little inside.
posted by Talez at 6:44 PM on September 5, 2013


Harvard Business Review asks:

Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?

Answer: Harvard Business School.

Evidence: George W. Bush, MBA 1975
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:45 PM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


i am surrounded by competent female leaders in my field. but i work in public education. none of the content of this article applies to leadership where there's no money or power to be acquired. where i come from, the best leaders i know are women.
posted by RockyChrysler at 8:38 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: too pat, barely clever, and doesn't actually address any of the underlying issues
posted by pwnguin at 9:15 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just finished a workday dealing with various "marketing managers." We're an agency specializing in technical stuff traditional marcomm people have not mastered, so we typically deal with marketing managers who act as the conduit or project manager or gatekeeper for the end client.

The one constant these people have is assertiveness. They may have no clue, but they know they're right, and a big part of our job is building relationships with them to gain trust and persuade them to do the right thing that moves the needle.

The reality, though, is we're fighting a losing battle, where sane, rational tactics and strategies are never implemented because the marketing manager doesn't get it. And yet they still hold onto their jobs. Why? Most likely because "half of marketing budgets are wasted, we just don't know which half."

How is this relevant to incompetent male CEO's?

It's very possible to measure and evaluate the success of a CEO by analyzing the bottom line of a company. Did they make profits or not?

But CEO's, in companies above, say 20 employees, are often relying more on political/social intelligence, as well as the "triumph of the will" self-confidence I so often encounter in marketing managers and directors.... "I am right because I know I'm right."

The social intelligence aspect is pretty important; like marketing managers, CEO's have to know how to play office and organizational politics, and that's not something that can be measured as "competence", because it's not the bottom line.

On a meta level, the organizational politics branches out to personal support networks - the old boys club. "He's one of us." Incompetent and competent CEO's will often rely on a powerful sponsor, as well as a power base, either within the company or on the board.

For our marketing managers who do not have power (yet), it goes back to simple likeability.

Competent CEO's, however, are charmers and lion-tamers. That's one the of the real differentiators.

All of these irrational drivers of success!
posted by KokuRyu at 9:59 PM on September 5, 2013


Curious Con Artists, Snake Oil Salesman and Quacks haven't already been mentioned. Why couldn't a Leader be also one of the above?
posted by elpapacito at 2:17 AM on September 6, 2013


I look forward to the day when sexism has been defeated so that my children can work for an equal number of incompetent male and female bosses.
posted by empath at 3:47 AM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is it possible to be reverse sexist? Because I've been thinking, and all the worst managers I've ever had or worked with were all men, and all the best were all women. No exceptions at all.

Women-led high-tech start-ups generate higher revenues per dollar of invested capital and have lower failure rates than those led by men.

What makes a team smarter? More Women.
posted by TheCavorter at 4:36 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I did RTFA, thank you very much. Are you under the impression that if one did that, one would somehow be led to think sexism was not involved? Or is it bad form to mention something so obvious, like pointing out that someone drowned because they were under water?

Absolutely not. But it is below the community to say that this question has been settled with a very broad term like 'sexism' to explain a phenomena. How does this sexism manifest itself? how can it be combated? How does it intersect with race? Does the sexism become more powerful when it combined with a stereotype? Or is it universally activated?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:53 AM on September 6, 2013


Women Rising: The Unseen Barriers.

"The problem with these leaders’ approaches is that they don’t address the often fragile process of coming to see oneself, and to be seen by others, as a leader. Becoming a leader involves much more than being put in a leadership role, acquiring new skills, and adapting one’s style to the requirements of that role. It involves a fundamental identity shift. Organizations inadvertently undermine this process when they advise women to proactively seek leadership roles without also addressing policies and practices that communicate a mismatch between how women are seen and the qualities and experiences people tend to associate with leaders.
A significant body of research (see “Further Reading”) shows that for women, the subtle gender bias that persists in organizations and in society disrupts the learning cycle at the heart of becoming a leader. This research also points to some steps that companies can take in order to rectify the situation. It’s not enough to identify and instill the “right” skills and competencies as if in a social vacuum. The context must support a woman’s motivation to lead and also increase the likelihood that others will recognize and encourage her efforts—even when she doesn’t look or behave like the current generation of senior executives.

The story of an investment banker we’ll call Amanda is illustrative. Amanda’s career stalled when she was in her thirties. Her problem, she was told, was that she lacked “presence” with clients (who were mostly older men) and was not sufficiently outspoken in meetings. Her career prospects looked bleak. But both her reputation and her confidence grew when she was assigned to work with two clients whose CFOs happened to be women. These women appreciated Amanda’s smarts and the skillful way she handled their needs and concerns. Each in her own way started taking the initiative to raise Amanda’s profile. One demanded that she be present at all key meetings, and the other refused to speak to anyone but Amanda when she called—actions that enhanced Amanda’s credibility within her firm."

posted by jenfullmoon at 7:14 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's a self re-enforcing phenomena that's been well studied- assertive women are perceived as being more aggressive than assertive men at the same level of aggression.

You just made my point. So what if women are percieved as more agressive as men at the same level of aggression. We teach women that they must not appear aggressive. Why? It makes no sense. Why are we teaching women that the only method of leadership is consensus? In business and politics, it simply is not so.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:16 AM on September 6, 2013


manifestations of hubris... mistaken for leadership

yes. it never ends. why are we humans so stupid.
posted by Abinadab at 1:43 PM on September 6, 2013


Why? It makes no sense.

Because they will be treated as crazy, thus making the behaviour a waste of energy.
posted by Phalene at 7:01 PM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


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