According to an American study by Hogan Assessment Systems, 78% of employees report that what they like least about their job is their direct boss. 

Incompetent leaders are the main reason for low levels of employee engagement and high levels of passive job-seeking and even self-employment.

Incompetent leadership is a reality. It is not unusual to find leaders in every organization who create a toxic environment where employees are not motivated to come to work every day. Such leaders create a sense of insecurity, alienate employees, and impact the business growth, negatively. Incompetent leaders cause low employee engagement. Their team members don’t get any guidance or feedback, are forced to adhere to unrealistic demands and do not feel appreciated for their hard work. 

Given below are some key traits of incompetent leaders – 

Arrogance and self-obsession

Incompetent leaders tend to be full of themselves. They blow their own trumpet disproportionately. They believe they are achievers, and they often are making it difficult for the organization to punish them for their bad behavior. 

They believe that they are always right

Incompetent leaders believe that they can never make mistakes. They think they are always right and are not open to feedback. They act like Alpha leaders to whom no one can give advice. 

They lack trust

Incompetent leaders lack trust. They micromanage their team and build unnecessary pressure all the time. This leads to psychological stress, and a decrease in performance and overall well-being. Their lack of trust gets reciprocated, and they find it difficult to get buy-in for their ideas and support for their projects from their peers. Failure to create a collaborative environment eventually translates to poor performance. 

Don’t back their team

Incompetent leaders can overly conform to their bosses and not stand up for their team. They may insult their team members in public and put all blame for failure on team members. As a result, they do not inspire confidence in their employees, colleagues, business partners, and other stakeholders, eventually impacting organizational credibility and success.

May remain absent from their roles

They do not make decisions, do not pass on information on a timely basis, and do not invest in developing their team. They do not provide guidance or feedback to their team members. Their team members do not feel appreciated for their efforts. As a result, they frustrate their employees and fail to build high-performance teams. 

When leadership fails, both individuals and organizations lose. The performance and engagement decline and there may even be a reputational loss. 

What can organizations do?

  1. Acknowledge the problem. Senior leaders and organizations must accept the reality of incompetent leaders, identify how the consequences are showing up in their organizations by seeking anonymous feedback from employees, and respond appropriately. 
  2. Select and promote the right leaders. There is a natural tendency to equate overconfidence and self-promotion with talent. One way to minimize leadership incompetence is by increasing the interview skills of human resources professionals, who are responsible for the selection of leaders, and training them to improve their ability to distinguish between confidence vs competence and identify leadership candidates with the right personality traits. 
  3. Identify and actively propagate leadership success principles. Organizations should create success principles for all leaders, decipher how these principles show up in everyday behaviors, and provide ongoing training on these to all leaders. Train leaders to increase awareness of their own negative qualities and support them with coaching for their continuous development. 
  4. Create a supportive environment. Encourage overall wellness and mindfulness. It is vital that leaders get enough rest, surround themselves with competent subordinates who can challenge them, be open to feedback, and actively engage in root cause analysis and way forward, without indulging in a blame game.

To conclude, incompetent leaders are detrimental to the performance of their team as well as the overall success of the organization. It is important, therefore, for senior leaders in organizations to acknowledge the problem, select and promote the right leaders, identify and propagate leadership success principles, and create a supportive environment. By doing so, organizations can foster a positive work culture and ensure that their employees are motivated and engaged in their work, ultimately leading to better business outcomes. 

Have you had an experience working with an incompetent leader? How did you cope? Do share your experiences.