In response to my last blog, “Scientists and Sages Can Agree on This,” Mike Lehr of Omega Z Advisors posed a question: “It seems many leadership models characterize leadership as a universal good . . [but] it’s hard to give much credence to any model that can’t explain how ‘bad people’ become leaders. What thoughts do you have on this?”
I answered back: “I love a challenge, Mike. I’ll post my thoughts by Monday, and tweet you the link. Many thanks for asking.”
And it is a very challenging question. The subject is vastly complex. Making matters worse, the English language is so compromised that it’s difficult to answer simply and clearly.
For one thing, Mike, you’re not alone in looking for answers to this question. Earlier on LinkedIn, I was following a thread in the Leadership Think Tank discussion group. Five months ago Milan Grković, who heads the MUI Centar in Croatia, posed the question, “Why We Have So Many Bad Leaders?” At last count, there have been 1529 comments.
Mike’s question is framed in terms of “bad people.” Milan calls them “bad leaders.” It’s an important distinction. Both are valid. There are good (meaning ethical, responsible, compassionate) people who function poorly in leadership roles, and vice versa – not-so-good people who in measurable ways function effectively as leaders.
Unfortunately, good people who are also effective leaders are rare, while bad people who function terribly in leadership roles are all too common.
From childhood on, authoritarian educators brainwash the masses with a “respect” for authority figures, a word experienced somewhere along a continuum between “high regard” and “terror.” So most of us assume we’re obliged to comply without question.
We also been taught to expect that non-conformance has life-threatening consequences. (The tyranny of “experts” is a related but different subject for a future blog.)
Many individuals are placed in leadership roles. Very few have the combined aptitude and practical experience to actually lead. On the other side of the coin, some individuals are highly influential even without an organizational title. Their outstanding ideas and/or example suffice. Einstein is an excellent example.
Further, the description of a “bad” leader ranges from “well-intentioned but ineffective” to “incompetent, toxic and destructive.” Some people placed in leadership roles are hapless puppets.
On the other extreme, some crave power for its own sake, take pleasure in dominating others cruelly, and are quite intentionally evil. (Although business consultants, understandably, hesitate to use the word, the existence of evil is an important, unavoidable subject. A functional definition is given below.)
Different qualifications are required to lead in different situations. We each fill leadership roles at some times and in some areas of our lives. So the definition of an effective leader also changes on a sliding scale.
On the largest scale of magnitude, a universal leader is an educator in the pristine meaning term: one who leads from darkness to light. Christ was the ultimate leader. He instructed students to call him Rabbi, which means teacher.
All of this, however, begs Mike original question of how (meaning the process by which) bad people become leaders. Outside of sheer brute force, HOW are unethical, inhumane, and/or incompetent people selected to fill leadership roles?
I addressed part of this question in an earlier blog on the leadership selection process. (See Democracy Is a Myth.) My doctoral research study proved with 99 percent statistically significant results that an informal pre-selection process precedes the formal one.
Innovative, creative candidates are screened out by current power holders with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. No one is identified, groomed or nominated who doesn’t mirror the values or otherwise suit the agendas of existing (sometimes not-so-good) administrators.
For another perspective, refer back to the Positive Paradigm Wheel model. The previous blog, Sages and Scientists Can Agree on This pictured this holistic, integrated reality map. According to this model, a good leader is one who is not only self-aware on all levels, but is able to link, balance and prioritize them.
Both books on the Positive Paradigm, however, include sections that describe the extraordinary amount of pain, suffering and loss that results from basing decisions and actions on incomplete, incorrect paradigms.
Here, two illustrations must suffice. First is a picture of the prevailing, exclusively materialistic empirical science paradigm. The center is ruled out. Intuition is denied. Emotions and energy aren’t accounted for. All that matters are concrete tangibles and physical image. A leader’s motives and intentions are known only when it’s too late – after the selection has been made and the (sometimes regrettable) results come in.
A “scientific” leadership selection process takes into account only that which is measurable, for example academic IQ. Intangibles like the presence or absence of cultivated Emotional Intelligence (street smarts) fly under the radar, as do ethical intelligence, creativity and a capacity for visionary insight.
When selectors judge only by appearances, it’s easy to deceive them. As Lincoln said, “You can fool all of the people some of some of the time, and some of the people all of the time.” Those are pretty good odds for an ambitious con artist.
In a second variation, all levels of the Wheel are operational, but they operate intermittently and out of synch, each disassociated from the others. The smallest circle which represents Conscience floats outside, detached from daily experience.
On one side of the continuum, this is the picture of a hypocrite, for example a person who operates on one standard with close family, but on another with strangers or at work. It represents someone who presents one image to the public, but acts quite differently when others aren’t looking.
Hitler is a familiar example on the far opposite extreme. This is the picture of evil, meaning anti-life: intentionally shattering and fragmenting the creative pattern. In Positive Paradigm context, the intentions and actions of any person (or group) that destroys its own and/or threatens to annihilate enemy groups, devoid of respect for the inherent sanctity of life, are defined as evil.
The empirical science paradigm has no language or structure for recognizing such malfunctions. In contrast, the Positive Paradigm is designed to diagnose inner dynamics. Use it to identify bad people and prevent them from being given leadership roles.
Again, my thanks to Mike Lehr for this opportunity to respond. Hope this helps.