Don’t Hire The Confident One – He’ll Become A Bullying Manager

April 03, 2019 - By Wendy Lambourne, Director, MA Industrial and Organisation Psychology, Registered Psychologist with SA Medical & Dental Council

By Rosamund Urwin, British journalist.

COMMENT BY WENDY LAMBOURNE, LEGITIMATE LEADERSHIP: Rosamund Urwin’s article is deliberately provocative and stimulates some useful reflection on leadership.

Legitimate Leadership does not agree with everything that is stated as ‘fact’ in the article. The view that 60–70% of bosses are ‘bad’ is too pessimistic. Our experience suggests a less bleak outlook and that most people in authority can learn, with concerted practice, to lead effectively.

We also do not agree with the cut-and-dried gender bias. Our experience is that there are both men and woman who are good ‘care and growth’ leaders – and the converse.

But we absolutely agree that ‘leadership should be about managing down: turning a bunch of people into a high-performing team’. We also concur that not only appointment but also promotion decisions should be made with consideration of the individual’s leadership behaviour and practice as experienced by those who are on the receiving end of those behaviours and practices – namely, direct reports.

We also agree that ego–driven people in leadership roles are a problem. This is because the job of the leader is too make others, not themselves, big.

There are however other personal attributes which, if they are features of the leader, can undermine their capacity to lead. These are outlined in the article ‘Can anyone Lead?’ by Wendy Lambourne. In addition to being ego–driven those in authority will also not be effective leaders if they are virtuosos or cannot let go of their preference for the technical stuff; are overly-affiliative; can’t let go and trust others or are micro managers; are trapped in victim mode; and lack compassion/empathy.

OUR SUMMARY OF THIS ARTICLE: A leading business expert is warning that male narcissists perform well in job interviews but make disastrous leaders

Job interviews should be scraped to prevent narcissists — who will go on to mistreat their staff — from being hired as managers, according to the author of a new book by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic.

Chamorro-Premuzic a professor of business psychology, believes that interviews encourage bosses to hire in their own image, rather than on merit.

“They invite us to perpetuate our biases,” he said. “What you need is data-driven assessment: CVs, psychological tests and analysis of past performance.”

He believes that the most self-aggrandising applicants perform better in interviews than their more humble and more understated peers.

Chamorro-Premuzic, 43, who teaches at Columbia University in New York and at University College London, says this means that those with an inflated sense of their own worth — rather than those who would make better bosses — often climb the corporate ladder. These candidates, he explains, are usually men. He estimates that 60-70% of workers have a bad manager.

“Narcissists interview really well,” said Chamorro-Premuzic. “We’re not great at judging competence, so when someone is unaware of their limitations, we think: ‘Ooh, they must be good!’

“They charm people initially, but they don’t make good bosses: they are more prone to bullying and harassment, and are resistant to negative feedback. They blame others for their mistakes and take credit for others’ achievements.”

The thesis of Chamorro-Premuzic’s book — Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders (and How to Fix It) — is that most organisations routinely promote the wrong candidates into ever-more senior leadership positions.

“People get rewarded for sucking up, but leadership should be about managing down: turning a bunch of people into a high-performing team,” he said.

“A good boss gives constructive feedback and makes staff perform to a higher level. This is relatively rare, compared to ‘my boss doesn’t care about my development and is more focused on politics’. The irony is that those in the latter group get on.”

Chamorro-Premuzic, who is also chief talent scientist at ManpowerGroup, the American staffing giant, feels that most people’s perceptions about what makes a good leader are wrong. Overconfident, narcissistic and even bullying bosses, such as the late Steve Jobs of Apple and allegedly the Topshop tycoon Sir Philip Green, are hailed as inspirational — at least for a time.

Instead, Chamorro-Premuzic argues that the qualities making a great leader are humility, integrity and competence. He believes that these virtues are more readily found in women, and points to Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, as an example.

“Studies show that women lead in a more transformational way, are less likely to be absentee leaders and have more emotional intelligence,” he said.

If the workplace were a true meritocracy, Chamorro-Premuzic said, most bosses would be women and men with less traditionally masculine skills would be able to advance, too.

“Although I talk in the book about gender, I ultimately argue that it isn’t just about having more women — we need more ‘feminine’ leaders,” he said.

His work has led him to reject the views espoused by many diversity campaigners, who put the onus on women to change their behaviour — particularly by appearing more confident — to get ahead.

“We don’t realise what silly advice ‘women should be more confident’ is,” he said. “There has never been a connection between putting yourself forward for something and being good at it.

“The people who are best at something tend to be very self-critical.”


1.  You have just finished a big project that required you to toil way beyond the 9 to 5. The work has been well received. Does your boss:
a) Thank you for your dedication, remember your efforts when it comes to your next review and praise you to their own boss
b) Send you a “herogram” email
c) Claim all the glory and leverage it for another pay rise — for themselves?

2.  Your boss spends a lot of their time:
a) Helping staff develop their skills
b) Getting on with their own work — but struggling to nurture talent
c) Managing their own reputation with their bosses?

3.  You’ve made a mistake at work. It’s not dire — but it is going to take a lot of fixing, probably involving a never-ending email trail. Your boss:
a) Talks you through the problem and suggests fixes you work on together. Later, they give you constructive feedback on how to avoid the problem next time
b) Expects you to deal with the issue on your own
c) Berates you publicly with red-faced yelling so everyone knows that this was your fault — not theirs?

Mostly As Your boss is a good ’un. Don’t let them leave.

Mostly Bs Your boss is getting by — but failing to manage properly.

Mostly Cs You work for a narcissist. Start looking for a new job.

Read the full article here

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