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“And even if 99.9% of those impacted by a leader think that leader is terrible, it only takes that 0.1% to legitimize that leader. The right people in the right place at the right time saying the right things is all a bad leader needs to stay in power.” – Mary Faulkner


Everywhere you look, there is someone complaining about “leadership.”

Articles cry out, “People leave managers, not companies;” “It starts at the top;” “Frontline leaders are struggling.” It’s a clarion call to arms for employees to demand more from their leadership or find a leader who will appreciate them for who they are what they bring to the team.

I agree – we are having a crisis of leadership right now. From the C-suite to the first-time supervisor, in companies, in governments, in education, in organizations…there is a general concern about how the collective we are being led. Part of it is caused by the amplification of social media – it’s not new, we just hear about it more. Part of it is caused by higher expectations from the general population – we think we deserve better.

But what we don’t talk enough about is why poor leadership stays in place.

photo of Mary Faulkner, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Contributor.

Mary Faulkner, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Contributor.

Bad leaders stay bad leaders because someone (or some group or some system) lets them. Someone is legitimizing their behavior and their leadership style and ensuring that terrible leader stays in their role. There are a number of reasons why this happens:

  • Fear: Some people worry that if they speak out, they will be targeted for retaliation.
  • Agreement: Some people 100% agree with the direction leadership is taking and they want it to continue.
  • Opportunism: Some people don’t necessarily agree with the leader, but they believe they will benefit from the actions the leader is taking.
  • Not-my-problem-ism: Some people think that since it’s not directly impacting them right now, it’s not worth worrying about it.
  • Apathy: Some people think there’s nothing they can do, so they do nothing.

Unfortunately, “bad” is a subjective term. And even if 99.9% of those impacted by a leader think that leader is terrible, it only takes that 0.1% to legitimize that leader. The right people in the right place at the right time saying the right things is all a bad leader needs to stay in power.

If you are dealing with poor leadership right now, and you are in a position to do something about it, don’t just focus on that leader. Yes, by all means, hold that leader accountable for their poor behavior; but think about the support system that allowed a poor leader to stay in place. What behaviors are being rewarded in your organization that would allow that leader to attain their position? What hiring process brought that person there in the first place? Do you have proper governance in your organization? Have you allowed a leadership echo chamber to develop that eliminates honest feedback? Are people working in fear? Are the values your organization claims to have reflected in the behavior of its leaders?

Leaders need legitimacy to stay in place, and ideally, that legitimacy is earned honestly. Don’t legitimize a leader you don’t believe in. Think about what role you might be playing in legitimizing poor leadership and act accordingly. If you can, take direct action – leave the company, the organization, refuse to be a customer, speak out – whatever it takes to de-legitimize poor leadership. If you can’t take direct action, encourage those who can.

Expect more from your leaders…and demand more from the systems that support them. You deserve more than what you’re tolerating.



 
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