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Is your organisation appointing the wrong leaders?

Who is best placed to determine whether someone is a good leader? And who usually decides who gets promoted / appointed?


When you consider how leaders are usually appointed, the people who have the most influence over someone’s appointment to leadership positions are:


  • The person who will become the leader of the applicant
  • Interview panel – usually those who are more senior than the person being assessed and people who may or may not know the applicant well
  • HR / recruitment – often somewhat removed from the applicant’s actual role and business
  • Referees – often chosen by the applicant, usually someone that the applicant got on well with or people who would benefit from saying positive things about the applicant
  • If the people recruiting are well connected and skilled at digging further, people beyond the above list, possibly peers and past team members may have some influence


More research and articles are coming out around choosing the wrong leaders. Some of the recent ones I have seen include:

A Wharton professor and organizational psychologist (Adam Grant) says leaders promote the wrong people, where he says “the more senior you get in your career, the better you think you are at judging character,” but continues, “the more powerful you get, the worse you are at judging character because people are more motivated to try to impress you.”


Why do so many incompetent men become leaders? HBR article and book by Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic. While the title may cause reaction, the messages are important… “Traits like over-confidence and self-absorption should be seen as red-flags. But instead, they prompt us to say, “Ah, there’s a charismatic fellow! He’s probably leadership material!” The result is a surplus of incompetent men in charge, and this surplus reduces opportunities for competent people – women and men – while keeping the standards of leadership depressingly low.”


Power doesn’t corrupt. It just exposes who leaders really are by Adam Grant in The Washington Post


How The Wrong People Get Promoted And How To Change It by Mark C. Crowley in Fast Company


And I’d offer my recent article referring to similar issues, Quietly Powerful Leaders – who are they and why we don’t have enough of them


In the meantime, we continue to hear about the leadership gap:


Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic refers to:

  • A 2011 study by Jazmine Boatman and Richard Wellins, Global Leadership Forecast where only 26% of human resource professionals and other managers rated their current leaders positively and only 18% of future leaders as promising.
  • The HBR article, Talent management: Boards give their companies an ‘F’ indicated that fewer than 20% of boards are confident that their organisations have a grip on their leadership problems.
  • Another HBR article, Do you hate your boss? Shares a global survey where 70% of employees are not engaged at work and of these employees have anything nice to say about their bosses.


So surely we are missing something in how we identify leadership talent and make appointments?


Who has the greatest insight into how the applicant leads?


The people who are most affected by good or poor leadership are the people who are led by them. They are usually the ones who interact with these leaders the most, and their performance, engagement and retention are impacted by the leadership quality. Peers who work closely the applicant also have insights into their ability to collaborate, negotiate, compromise and the ability to focus on the collective outcome.


Why do we not do in depth reference checks with past team members as well as peers? If past team members of applicants had more influence on their likely appointments, I wonder if some of the leadership issues we are seeing will disappear, or at lease reduce? We might see more quietly powerful leaders. I would guess that more of the leaders who listen, who are humble and not so dominating would get appointed, even if they may not come across as confident as others in interviews. We can stop telling women to "be more confident". We might make better progress on diversity and inclusion AND choose better leaders!


Improving how we select our leaders will help with not only gender and other forms of diversity but benefit everyone who will get to work with better leaders. To me that’s what #BalanceforBetter message of International Women’s Day is about.


What do you think?


Related articles

7 reasons why we need more quietly powerful leaders – now, more than ever

Reluctant leaders may be your best leaders

Strong leadership ≠ dominance

The definition of what good leadership looks like needs an update

The dangers of leaders who appear confident but are not so confident inside

Bias towards style over substance is keeping your real talent hidden

We all want leaders who listen. So why don’t we have more quieter leaders?)

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