Why Do People Follow Bad Leaders?
Why Do People Follow Bad Leaders?
By Mark Wager
I’m truly fascinated by bad Leaders, the kind of Leaders that are so bad that it’s almost unthinkable that anyone would give them a position of authority, you know the kind of Leaders I mean. Hopefully you don’t know any but you would have heard of them, they are lazy, they take credit for other people's work, they have favourites within the team where some people can do no wrong while others are constantly micromanaged and criticised, the kind of Boss that spends more time trying to please those above them rather than actually doing any work. I admit bad Leaders fascinate me but what fascinates me more are the people who decide to follow bad Leaders. For those people it seems no matter how bad the Leader is, how unethically they may conduct themselves it’s never enough to deny their commitment towards their Leader. So how and why does this happen? In this weeks article I'm going to attempt to answer the question why people follow bad leaders.
Self interest rationalises bad behaviour
In my experience the number one reason why people follow bad Leaders is self interest. They do so because they personally benefit from working with the Leader. Imagine if you had a Leader that praises you, gives you promotions and bonuses. It's natural to have a high opinion of that Leader and when you have a high opinion of a Leader it becomes easier and easier to justify any bad behaviour that the Leader exhibits. If your life is better when that Leader is around, you don’t want them to go even if they are bad so you start rationalising the bad behaviour. When the Boss shouts at staff, you tell yourself they are just passionate, when they upset people you tell yourself that everyone else is too emotional and when the bad Leader starts putting their own best interests ahead of the teams yet again you tell yourself that’s okay as well and before you know it, the behaviour that would have disgusted you at the beginning is now being accepted by you.
We mistake confidence for competence
Here’s a scenario and let me know if this sounds familiar. Two people are interested in a promotion. The first is exceptional at their job but lacks confidence but the second is incredibly confident but is not so skilled. Who do you think is more likely to apply for the job and secondly who is more likely to get the job. A part of my job is coaching people who have missed out on promotions only to be frustrated that the person who got the job isn't as good as they are but they were more confident during the interview. People tend to mistake confidence with competence. When people talk in a confident manner it’s natural to believe that they know what they are talking about but unfortunately this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the most confident people are confident because they are not smart enough to recognise when they are wrong.
We conform to the teams perspective
Humans are social animals. When we are part of a group of people we tend to adapt our behaviours so that we fit within that group. So at work we look at what people do around us as a guide to how we are supposed to react. We have a need to fit in and if that means we have to change in order to do so then we will. If you move a low performing individual into a high performing team its likely the poor performer will raise their standards just the same way if you moved a strong performer into a weak team you will see the strong performer over time lower their standards. This means if the team reports to a bad Leader and the team is okay with the behaviour it’s very difficult for an individual within the team to challenge such behaviour, we are not wired that way.
We want to be on the winning side
People like winning and we are willing to support bad Leaders if it means that we believe we have a better chance of winning by doing so. Leaders even bad ones have power and by associating with such leaders it provides an opportunity to share that power and power can be very attractive. At the moment in the United States the country is in a state of chaos with the incumbent President Donald Trump refusing to follow a century old tradition of conceding the election allowing the President elect to start the transition process. He is even bringing frivolous court cases suggesting illegal voting where there is no evidence of any such thing. During this chaos it’s easy to place the blame on Donald Tump for being a bad Leader but it goes deeper than that. The real problem is with his followers, his enablers, people around him that humour his indiscretions by telling him he’s right when everyone else knows he is wrong.
We often believe that power belongs to Leaders but that is a wrong statement because a Leader is nothing without followers. It's the followers that provide the Leader with their power, without their agreement to follow the Leader has nothing so the next time you are in a situation with a bad Leader don’t believe you are helpless in fact it’s you and everyone else in the team that has the true power. You just need to be careful who you give that power to.
‘Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.’ - Abraham Lincoln
About the Author
Mark Wager is the Chief Leadership Coach at the Australasian Leadership Institute. Originally from the United Kingdom but now calling New Zealand his home, Mark shows leaders across the Asia Pacific region how to influence, motivate and inspire their teams. Driven by a frustration of attending many ineffective workshops during his 30 year managerial career Mark has made his passion in life to redefine how leaders are trained.
Mark takes advanced psychological theories and makes them accessible to the modern leader regardless of their background, experience or industry, by developing customised Leadership workshops and individual coaching sessions that combine practical real-life scenarios with a mixture of British wit. Mark dispels the myth that there are certain Leadership skills that can’t be learnt.
Leaders from some of the regions most prestigious organisations have been trained by Mark including the delegates of the European Union, Weta workshops, Amnesty International, Unicef, Barnados, St Johns, Red Cross, NZ Basketball, NZ Tennis, NZ Hockey, NZ Netball, NZ Rugby League, Ministry of Justice, Department of Internal Affairs, NZ Defence Force, the Fijian Broadcasting Corporation, The Fred Hollows Foundation, Sofitel resorts, Raddison Hotel Group, Te Whanau Waipareira and many more.
If you would like a free 30 minute Leadership coaching session with Mark you can contact him via the enquiry form below.
Posted: Wednesday 25 November 2020