What Bad Leaders Have In Common

They seriously think the show cannot go on without them.
For example, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer is known for her "tight-fisted," "controlling" management style.

Apple's Steve Jobs was known to be a tyrant.

It's a turnoff.
Most people know instinctively that large, top-heavy organizational hierarchies are both costly and wasteful - but it is hard to imagine what could realistically replace them.

In 2011, the renowned management theorist Gary Hamel prompted some serious reflection on the subject with his landmark article in the Harvard Business Review: "First, Let's Fire All The Managers."

By this he was referring to three distinct systemic problems, aside from the fact that top-heavy organizations are more expensive than they're worth. All of these have to do with irrational decision-making:
  • The people with the most power are the most removed from the action.
  • There is a built-in bias to exercise authority just because you can.
  • It is a system that "systematically disempowers" those at the bottom of the triangle.
Hamel's language resonates with outrage: he talks about "eagerness to exercise authority," "bias," "the cost of tyranny," "kill...a new idea."

A distinguishing characteristic of good leaders is that they step up reluctantly. A great holy man, Moses, even initially said to G-d: "Look, I'm not good enough" to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt.
If you watch President Obama closely, he focuses mostly on hiring talent that aligns with his worldview and can execute. He understands fundamentally that the show is an ideology that goes on without him, and that people are the instruments through which ideas become manifest.

Our favorite brands have always rejected bad, tyrannical leadership, espousing a more objective ethos:
  • Google, through its emphasis on "distributed leadership"
  • Starbucks, through its focus on ethics that are graspable by anyone
  • Amazon, by focusing relentlessly on metrics rather than personalities
Countless others, some well-known and others lesser-known, are delegating leadership down and out toward the center, focusing on simple and meaningful metrics, grooming new blood.
Zappos has accomplished a great feat by making an associated management framework - holacracy - go mainstream - even if right now it is confusing, and even if some employees have decided the unfamiliar arrangement is too much for them.

Some CEOs, like Reddit's Ellen Pao, are modeling accountability by admitting they "screwed up," and then stepping down to let others lead.
Even the federal government - a massive bureaucracy - is shifting away from authority-worship, with a growing hum around conversations that focus onmentoring and other ways to bring newer voices forward.
It's time to end the cult of one, once and for all, don't you think?
An adopt a leadership model with an intelligent network - comprised of many small, ingenious, and interlocking teams.

More complicated, yes, but closer to the crowdsourced, social world we now live in.

More likely to yield rationally positive results.
All opinions my own. Photo by Rishi Bandopadhay via Flickr Creative Commons.