They decimate profits, tank morale, shred your brand to pieces, and set fire to the future of your company. You can’t overstate the disastrous effects of bad leadership. Nearly every problem companies face is originated by—or exacerbated by—the ruinous touch of an incompetent leader promoted beyond their experience or expertise.
Everyone knows this.
That’s why there’s a multi-billion dollar industry built around leadership coaching. There are countless training seminars, self-help books, mentorship programs, consultancies, and business retreats targeting this one simple fact:
Most leaders aren’t capable of leading.
So, why do bad leaders keep getting thrust into positions of power? Well, where do most leaders come from?
Most leaders are just managers who got promoted way beyond their skillset. They were (hopefully) good at managing people, and someone mistook that narrow set of skills for the raw material of a leader.
But management isn’t leadership.
Managers control people who are paid to obey them. (Their job literally depends on it.) Leaders inspire people to follow their vision by proving their success.
How do people become managers in the first place? The truth is, many companies promote managers based on personality—not merit.
Companies get so sucked into their office culture that they forget it isn’t the real world. In office culture, being nice is more important than being effective. Being liked is more important than being right.
Generating good will is more important than generating revenue. If you want to become a manager in most companies, don’t fret about results—just invest all your effort into being liked by the right people and you’ll get promoted to management in no time.
In fact, a recent study demonstrates that people who score low on honesty, but have a high aptitude for office politicking, tend to advance in their career beyond their peers. Not only do results and metrics not matter in the race to management—truth doesn’t matter at all.
Most companies are full of managers whose primary qualification is “makes their bosses feel good.” (Usually the alternative is “is friends with or related to someone else in power.”)
Eventually, a few of those managers are thrust into actual positions of leadership—and that’s when disaster strikes.
From the vantage of a leader, the mirage of office politics dissolves against the hard-edged truth of the real world. Suddenly, results matter. Metrics matter. Budgets matter.
As a middle manager, those things are all formalities. Sure, you sign off on a budget. You fill out some paperwork. But nothing is on the line. As an actual leader, everything is on the line. Real things—people’s jobs, their families, their livelihood, the future of your company. It’s all risked in the hands of leaders who cannot lead. How can they?
How can someone lead you to success when they were never qualified to be a leader in the first place?
Leadership is learned in the crucible of experience. It comes through risk, trial and error, perseverance, and hard-won success. There’s no shortcutting that. There’s no book or webinar or 10-step program that will teach it. There’s no amount of charm of charisma that can compensate for not having it. There is no substitute. Leadership means experience.
If you want a successful business, you hire, promote, contract with, invest in, and entrust your mission to leaders with proven experience of success.
So the next time a project falls apart, take a look at the qualifications of the leader you followed.
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