Bad Leadership Defined
We expect the best from our leaders, but we’ve become inured to news reports of serious political, business, and organizational failures—from Wall Street’s historic financial meltdowns and Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme to tolerance of child abuse in religious institutions and rogue governments in countries like Zimbabwe and North Korea.
Lawrence described “corporate horror shows” like Enron and the mortgage-backed security debacle in the January-February 2011 edition of the Ivey Business Journal:
“The man on the street looks on these fiascos and says, with some justice, that here were a bunch of greedy crooks that were powerful enough to take thousands of innocent employees, customers and investors down with them, not to mention the millions affected by a worldwide financial crisis. I take a somewhat different view. Here were corporations whose governance structure lacked the equivalent of a drive to bond and a drive to comprehend. Had those drives been part of their charters, along with a decision-making process that gave all four drives their full weight, these companies would have had a way to stop themselves.”
Indeed, bad leadership becomes an appalling part of the human condition when those at the top focus solely on acquiring more for themselves. These “horrible bosses” ignore basic human decency and others’ needs. They have no interest in bonding and getting along with others (unless it furthers their agenda). They spend more time covering up their crimes and misdemeanors than finding legitimate ways to succeed, exploring others’ ideas and taking an interest in their colleague’s lives.
Good leaders take appropriate actions and make sound decisions that are not based on self-interest. They manage all four drives, recognizing that inaction and lousy decisions spring from focusing on only one or two drives, to the exclusion of others.
Evolutionary psychologists estimate that about 2% of the population lacks the gene for bonding. These individuals have little to no sense of empathy for others, and they have zero desire to form mutually beneficial relationships. These are, in short, psychopaths. Not all of them are criminals. Some can hide their behavior to avoid being shunned or imprisoned (at least until they’re caught), but all are decidedly dysfunctional.
An inability to bond (or lack of desire to do so) results in a deficient moral compass. These individuals have no conscience or sense of shame, and history has taught us the ramifications of allowing them to ascend to positions of power. (Think Hitler, Stalin and their ilk.)
Unfortunately, a small minority also rise to the rank of CEO/business leader.