Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders? by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic – Here are my six lessons and takeaways

Why do so many incompetent menBertrand Russell: “the fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”

Putting more women in leadership roles does not necessarily improve the quality of leadership, whereas putting more talented leaders into leadership roles will increase the representation of women.
Women actually make better leaders. But men are almost always given the leadership positions. And, women are encouraged/taught/trained to develop and demonstrate predominantly male traits.  This is a mistake. We should elevate the better leaders into the leadership positions. And, since women have more of the traits that deliver better leadership results, we should have more women in leadership positions
From Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders? (And How to Fix It) by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic


I present synopses of at least three new books (new to me) each month. I find that different books, in different ways, complement and shed light on ideas in other books.  It’s all about learning!

For example, this month at the First Friday Book Synopsis, I presented my synopsis of Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders? (And How to Fix It) by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic. And this Thursday, I will present my synopsis of A History of America in Ten Strikes by Erik Loomis.  One would think that these books have little “overlap.” But one would be mistaken.

A not-so-subtle message in both books is that people in any position of power do not much want to share that power, or give up that power.  And thus, there are plenty of people who couild/would be better is such positions that are overlooked, and shut out.

The book by Mr. Chamarro-Puzic is a very good book about leadership in general.  It deals with what makes a good leader, and it is definitely research-based. (The author is an accomplished academician).

And, yes, the book is about benefits that would come if we had more women in leadership positions.

In my synopses, I always ask: What is the point? — We promote (too many) incompetent men to positions of leadership. Many of these incompetent men do not serve us well as leaders. Maybe it is time for a change; maybe we need fewer bad leaders, and more good leaders. Maybe it is time for more female leaders.

And I ask: Why is this book worth our time? Here are my three reasons for this book:
#1 – This book is a good overview of the latest findings about leadership; about what makes good leaders.
#2 – This book is an academically rich, footnoted book. In other words, it is based on what we know; not just on opinion.
#3 – This book is a reminder that leaning on intuition and first impressions can lead us the wrong way.

Here are a few Quotes and Excerpts from the book that I included in my synopsis – the “best of” the best of Randy’s highlighted passages. I’m including a few more than usual in these blog posts. (There are even more included in my synopsis handout).  There were so, so many good highlights: 

Google “my boss is,” and you’ll see the following autocomplete options: “abusive,” “crazy,” “mean,” “incompetent,” and “lazy.”
Since women make up around 50 percent of the adult population and, throughout much of the industrialized world, outnumber and outperform men in college, we might expect at least equal representation of women and men in leadership positions.
In most parts of the world, the notion of leadership is so masculine that most people would struggle to name one famous female business leader.
This book explores a central question: What if these two observations—that most leaders are bad and that most leaders are male—are causally linked? In other words, would the prevalence of bad leadership decrease if fewer men, and more women, were in charge?
Women’s paths to leadership are undoubtedly dotted with many barriers, including a very thick glass ceiling. But the more I have studied leaders and leadership, the more I believe that the much bigger problem is the lack of career obstacles for incompetent men.
Quite clearly, good leadership is not the norm, but the exception.
Women as one solution to bad leadership. …reliable evidence shows that among leaders, women generally outperform men
Specifically, women elicit more respect and pride from their followers, communicate their vision more effectively, better empower and mentor their subordinates, approach problem solving in a more flexible and creative way, and are fairer and more objective in their evaluation of direct reports.
“All of the aspects of leadership style on which women exceeded men relate positively to leaders’ effectiveness, whereas all of the aspects on which men exceeded women have negative or null relations to effectiveness.”
Where women are different, they perform better. Where men are different, they perform worse.
Do we really want to ask women to replicate a broken model?
We are, it seems, less likely to tolerate high confidence in women than we are in men. This bias creates a lose-lose situation for women.
We not only end up choosing more men to lead us but ultimately choose more-incompetent men.
In an environment that selects leaders for overconfidence, people who are overly self-critical—perhaps even a tad insecure—should be in high demand, but they are more likely to be ignored or ridiculed, on the assumption that they are not sufficiently strong or secure to lead.
In reality, narcissistic people are no more creative than others are; they are just better at selling their ideas to others. They are masters of impression management. Impression management is a key skill for getting ahead at work, regardless of whether you’re a narcissist or not.
Because the premium for being self-centered is therefore bigger for men than for women, the public’s reaction to narcissistic leaders is generally more negative when they are female (e.g., Martha Stewart) than male (e.g., Richard Branson).
The most effective CEOs were not charismatic but were remarkably persistent and humble. They excelled not at self-promotion but at nurturing talent in their teams.
“As a group, women outshone men in most of the leadership dimensions measured.” In fact, in only one of the ten leadership skills assessed—envisioning—did men receive higher ratings.
On all the other nine skills, both men and women rated female leaders higher, and female leaders rated women higher on envisioning. Male subordinates and male supervisors rated men and women roughly equally on vision.
If an organization hired leaders on the basis of their high EQs, it would end up with leaders who were more honest and ethical.
A leader who underrates his or her own performance is more likely to be a better leader, perhaps because the individual’s humility and relative insecurity will motivate him or her to work harder to succeed.
Past performance is usually a good predictor of future performance, except when the context changes.
The same biases that lead managers to hire the wrong candidate in the first place will continue to contaminate their evaluations of the candidate’s performance once he or she is on the job.
When they display stereotypically masculine traits, women are dismissed for not being a typical woman; when they display stereotypically feminine traits, women are dismissed for not being a typical leader. Consequently, women need to be more qualified than men do, to compete with men for the same leadership roles.
But if organizations want leaders to drive change, they would be well advised to hire moderate misfits rather than candidates who are a perfect fit for the current culture. A carbon copy of the rest of the team could perpetuate rather than disrupt the status quo. At the same time, hiring people who are radically different will rarely generate the desired change.
If we want better and more effective organizations and societies, we first and foremost need to improve the quality of our leaders.
Leadership is more likely to improve if we start drawing more heavily from the female talent pool,
But even more critically, we must put in place much bigger obstacles for the disproportionate glut of incompetent men who are so adept at becoming leaders, to everyone’s peril.

Here are a few of the notable points made in book: 

  • Let’s say a few words about leadership — what it is; what it accomplishes:
  • we should remember that leadership is a resource for the organization—it is good only when employees benefit from it, by boosting their motivation and performance.
  • Good leadership requires intellectual capital. – The key components of intellectual capital—domain-specific expertise, experience, and good judgment.
  • if someone has the right intellectual capital, social capital, and psychological capital, they will have more potential to be a good leader.
  • A leader’s performance is the sum of actions that lead to the achievement of organizational goals, and objective measures of the leader’s performance enable an organization to determine whether its leadership selection process actually works.
  • In general, men…
  • are more self-centered, and less other-centered. — Men focus less on developing others and more on advancing their own career agenda.
  • speak up before they are “ready”
  • In general women:
  • Because women have greater emotional intelligence than men do, women display more self-control, empathy, and transformational leadership when they are in charge.
  • have to be “ready” before they speak up
  • Overconfidence – and privilege:
  • Why are men more likely to be overconfident? The simplest explanation is that men are more likely to live in a world in which their flaws are forgiven and their strengths magnified. Thus, it is harder for them to see themselves accurately. Overconfidence is the natural result of privilege.
  • Narcissism and psychopathy – (narcissists disproportionately occupy the leadership ranks).
  • self-centered! – they have deficits in empathy (psychopaths are known for their cold dispositions — The absence of empathy is probably a major cause for their lack of moral constraints). – they have high levels of entitlement.
  • To the researchers’ surprise, narcissistic individuals were quite happy to confess to being narcissistic…
  • narcissism is more frequently found in men; thus, in male leaders…
  • Narcissism and psychopathy are so fascinating because they can simultaneously help individual leaders advance their careers while hurting the people and organizations they lead.
  • Various studies put the rate of psychopathy in senior management roles at anywhere between 4 percent and 20 percent. Even at the lower end, that’s four times higher than the general population rate, which is just 1 percent. …Likewise, the prevalence of narcissism in the overall population is only 1 percent, yet studies suggest that among CEOs, the figure is 5 percent.
  • narcissistic leaders also tend to have difficulties with execution, so they aren’t likely to deliver on their big plans.
  • Humble leaders produce more effective workers:
  • When leaders behave humbly, employees emulate this behavior and display more modesty, admit mistakes, share credit with others, and are more receptive to others’ ideas and feedback.
  • “The research is clear: when we choose humble, unassuming people as our leaders, the world around us becomes a better place . . . Yet instead of following the lead of these unsung heroes, we appear hardwired to search for superheroes: over-glorifying leaders who exude charisma.”

And here are my six lessons and takeaways:

#1 – Overconfident, not-self-aware leaders can bring serious and lasting harm.  We must learn to guard against being fooled by such leaders.
#2 – Men have traits that help people over-judge their capabilities. (Their traits help them over-judge their abilities).  We need to be better at spotting, and rewarding, actual leadership abilities that produce desired results.
#3 – Leadership development training programs, and coaching, can help – but only for certain types of people.
#4 – Beware of charisma. Beware of overconfident people. Men have these traits in larger numbers than women.
#5 – Women should not strive to lead like a man. We should learn how to better embrace women leaders who lead like a woman.
#6 – This much is clear.  We do not have enough good leaders. This book will help you think through many issues of leadership.

So, should you read this book?  Yes.  You will learn about leadership in general.  You will learn about IQ and EQ, and the impact they have on leadership. You will certainly learn about gender differences, and you will learn that the title is correct:  we do have way too many incompetent men in leadership positions.  In other words, we need more women in leadership positions, BECAUSE they actually have more of the human traits that make for better leadership.

This is a good book!


My full synopsis, with my comprehensive, multi-page synopsis handout plus the audio recording of my presentation will be available soon from this web site.  Click here to see our newest additions.

2 thoughts on “Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders? by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic – Here are my six lessons and takeaways

  1. Mike Green

    I love this blog! It’s like having a Cliff’s Notes reading concierge. Even the books i’ve read, like Gladwell’s “Outliers” et al still informs me through the lens of another reader. And that adds to my knowledge bank & understanding of how someone else interprets the same reading. I’ll follow you on twitter & look for more blog post announcements. Awesome work!


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