Flawed leaders vs. enlightened cultures.

by Gil Yehuda on May 27, 2009

in Enterprise 2.0

Let me share and comment on an excerpt from the just published  Harvard Business Review article: Ten Fatal Flaws That Derail Leaders. Authors Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman examined the performance reviews of business leaders who were either fired or considered ineffective.  They found many common characteristics, including these:

  1. Lack of energy and enthusiasm. They “suck all the energy out of any room.” They rarely volunteer and see new initiatives as a burden.
  2. Accept their own mediocre performance. Their mantra is “under-promise and over deliver.”
  3. Lack clear vision and direction. They believe execution is their only job. “Like a hiker who sticks close to the trail, they’re fine until they come to a fork,” say Zenger and Folkman.
  4. Have poor judgment. They make decisions not in the best interests of the organization.
  5. Don’t collaborate. “They avoid peers, act independently, and view other leaders as competitors,” say the authors. As a result, their colleagues don’t help them succeed.
  6. Don’t walk the talk. Their colleagues see them as lacking integrity, setting standards and then violating them.
  7. Resist new ideas. The reject suggestions from subordinates and peers and good ideas aren’t implemented.
  8. Don’t learn from mistakes. They hide their errors and brood about them, failing to use setbacks as opportunities for growth.
  9. Lack interpersonal skills. They’re abrasive or aloof and stingy with praise.
  10. Fail to develop others. “They focus on themselves to the exclusion of developing subordinates, causing individuals and teams to disengage,” say Zenger and Folkman.

Perhaps the most interesting finding was the eleventh of the ten, that many ineffective leaders are unaware of their flaws.  When asked to rate themselves, they score themselves higher than the people they work with rank them.  In other words, they think they are behaving effectively.  And thus they see no reason to “fix” what’s not broken.

Most working people have encountered leaders that fit at least some of the descriptions above.  So reading this list should resonate with you.  I even started to think of names.

Does Enterprise 2.0 offer any solution to the problem of ineffective leaders?  My first reaction was “no”.  But maybe I’m not thinking hard enough.  People develop all sorts of learned behaviors and habits based on environmental feedback. What if you were able to foster a successful, effective culture with values that counteract against these flaws? Can it be accomplished despite the toxic leadership? Let’s say it can.  Would it highlight, or even help correct the leadership issues?

E2.0 is about culture and behaviors – right?  But it’s also not a silver bullet.  What have you found in your successful implementations?  Can toxic leaders survive in an enlightened environment?  Or are they so potent that you cannot succeed with them in the environment at all?

The implications of this question are huge. Think about it.

{ 1 trackback }

Becoming an Open Leader. | Gil Yehuda's Enterprise 2.0 Blog
March 16, 2011 at 4:47 pm

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Gil Yehuda March 8, 2011 at 5:57 am

I'm thinking of reexamining this old blog post: Flawed leaders vs. enlightened cultures. http://bit.ly/eLnKTK Send me your suggestions.


2 Gil Yehuda June 6, 2009 at 8:51 pm

Mick my friend, you speak the truth. And I know exactly where you are coming from. Sometimes transparency reveals that which management wants to hide — their ineptitude. Groupthink and collective intelligence is no guarantee of right-think and intelligence. Wrong-thinking can be filtered by group dynamics, but it can also be magnified too. Cass Sunstein does a great job discussing some of these issues in his book Infotopia, a book I highly recommend. It’s good hearing from you. I hope you are doing well.


3 Mick T. June 6, 2009 at 1:09 pm

You could replace the words “manager” or “management” to make the same point about any other position or field. People (and organisations) can have an innate inability to realise that they may be mediocre at something.

Web2.0 technologies can help ideas percolate and bypass mediocre management. However, if an organisation as a whole is mediocre; mediocre mgt who hire mediocre staff, and innovation is squelched, there may not be a community able to recognise and promote new good ideas.

I keep thinking of an Joel on Software essay about design where he used GM car designers as an example (I can’t find a link to the essay at the moment). If the designers have no sense of taste (an elusive, hard to define characteristic) and the organisation has no sense of taste, whose to question the design of their cars? And if you ask the designers they’ll say they have good taste (and not medicore or bad taste).

Web2.0 in such a closed community may only reinforce the status quo. Such companies may be doomed to mediocrity and failure as all the real bright sparks have already fled or been extinguish.


4 Juergen B. June 3, 2009 at 2:22 am

RT @tweetmeme Flawed leaders vs. enlightened cultures. http://bit.ly/M2cgP


5 Kate May 27, 2009 at 3:19 pm

@gyehuda: your latest blog http://bit.ly/aG3VS reminds me of a study I saw – the incompetent don’t recognize competence. Explains much.


6 Hutch Carpenter May 27, 2009 at 1:01 pm

Reading: Flawed leaders vs. enlightened cultures by @gyehuda http://bit.ly/13hDf6


7 Jenny Ambrozek May 27, 2009 at 12:39 pm

RT@gyehuda New Blog post: flawed leaders #e20 http://bit.ly/aG3VS Excellent ???s about how E2.0 might impact toxic leader survival, or not


8 Gil Yehuda May 27, 2009 at 12:02 pm

New Blog post: flawed leaders #e20 http://bit.ly/aG3VS


9 Gil Yehuda May 27, 2009 at 1:36 pm

Olivier, your contribution is worth much more than 2 cents to me or to my readers. Thanks for sharing.
1. You are right. I used the HBR article as a launch point to a question. I did not intend to highlight these insights as particularly earth shattering. Rather they resonate with most people.
2. Indeed, and this is the rub. We believe that flawed leaders will persist. Evidence demonstrates that flawed leaders pose a barrier to E2.o adoption. And yet, E2.0 has demonstrated success, in some cases improved corporate environments to address some of the bad-habits of the past.

A co-worker once told me (in a Zen Koan like manner, but with his heavy Irish accent) that if you put a cucumber in vinegar, the cucumber becomes vinegary, but the vinegar does not become cucumbery. Who is the vinegar?

3. I’m afraid of taking the “what really is E2.0″ bait.

I admire the fact that you think about and express your thoughts on this topic and how to improve it. Indeed there are many sides to view E2.0 — one is from the perspective of the consultants and practitioners who seek to improve their craft and provide better services to the market. Another is from the perspective of clients who identify needs that they hope can be addressed. There is always an interesting gap, and that’s the area that I’m looking at. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts about this too.


10 Chris Yeh May 27, 2009 at 1:33 pm

Bad bosses thrive on secrecy and obfuscation. They survive by managing up and cloaking their loathsome ways with spin.

Much like standing water breeds mosquitoes, a lack of information sharing breeds bad bosses.

If Enterprise 2.0 makes businesses more transparent, it will reduce the ecological niches that allow bad bosses to survive.


11 Gil Yehuda May 27, 2009 at 12:35 pm

Steve Thanks. It’s easy to get applause by dinging management. We all have our stories. I wonder how many vendors are selling their services as “heterodoxy” vs. “innovative approach”.


12 Steve Ardire May 27, 2009 at 8:51 am

“Enterprise 2.0 is a rejuvenated form or managerial heterodoxy at this stage, not a solution to every single problem”.

Bingo and +1 for managerial heterodoxy


13 Olivier Amprimo May 27, 2009 at 7:46 am

Hi Gil, my 2 cents below.

1. The list you list (;-)) is just common knowledge. I don’t really see the point of citing HBR, except to show the state of decline Management Science is in. [I've been thru a PhD on the topic myself so I can justify where I talk from (a usual defensive strategy in the profession).]

2.” Does Enterprise 2.0 offer any solution to the problem of ineffective leaders? My first reaction was “no”.” I would say: obviously.
Enterprise 2.0 is a re rejuvenated form or managerial heterodoxy at this stage, not a solution to every single problem. It’s not a sect. Bad leaders have existed before, exist and shall survive the notion of “Enterprise 2.0″.
It’s good to evangelize the notion, it’s bad to see the world thru its glasses.

3. E2.0 is not necessarily about “culture and behaviors”. You enter there is an dangerous zone because you are overly focused on the topic.
Two references of mine to highlight the point:
- http://venividiluxi.com/en/?p=79
- http://venividiluxi.com/en/?p=50


14 Sandy Berman May 27, 2009 at 7:36 am

Who was it who said that most people don’t quit a job, they quit a boss? thanks for a thought provoking update.


Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Previous post:

Next post: