October 22, 2004
Jack Covert Selects: Jack Covert Selects--Bad Leadership
Bad Leadership: What it is, How it Happens, Why it Matters by Barbara Kellerman, Harvard Business School Press, 250 Pages, $26.95 Hardcover, October 2004, ISBN 1591391660 Clever title. It was eye-catching enough for me to grab it from the stack of Harvard Business School Press books I had been sent recently. First, I wanted to know what bad leadership is. Looking at the table of contents gave me a pretty solid clue. Names like Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot, David Koresh, Andrew Fastow and Leona Helmsley gave me a good idea of where the author was going. The book is divided into three parts. The first part, The Bad Side, discusses and explains the reasons behind bad leadership. The second part, Leading Badly, deals with the seven types of bad leadership, and this part alone is well worth the price of admission. The seven types of bad leadership she identifies are: Incompetent, Rigid, Intemperate, Callous, Corrupt, Insular and Evil. As she elaborates: dividing the universe of bad leadership into seven types gives us certain advantages. First, the ability to distinguish among the ways of being bad orders an untidy world, where the idea of bad leadership is as confusing as it is ubiquitous. Second, the seven types serve a practical purpose. They make it easier to detect inflection pointspoints at which an intervention might have stopped bad leadership or at least cut it short. Finally, the types make meaning of being bad. They enable us to know better and more clearly what bad leadership consists of. Each type of bad leadership has a chapter that starts with a brief example, and offers us illustrations of very recognizable people with the story behind their bad leadership. Each chapter follows a logical template that gives context, history and hindsight of the leader and his/her followers. The last part, From Bad to Better, sheds light on how to rid ourselves from bad leadership. This is a very well-written, easy-to-understand, scholarly look at leadership from the underside. It shows us that we have to recognize bad leadership, and in doing so, dares us to not only examine the dark side of leadership, but to become better leaders ourselves.