Saturday, December 19, 2009

Leader Business Question

Would you rather have a leader who is nice, but incompetent, who is mean, yet fully capable?

I recently came across this question in a book I've been reading and it got me thinking. Surely we have all witnessed these diverse leadership styles and personalities.

On the one hand you have everyone's favorite person; someone who makes the team feel good; an encouraging, likable, friendly, approachable leader. And yet they know absolutely nothing. They lack the necessary technical underpinnings to guide the team. Strategy, crisis management, and mission accomplishment are foreign concepts. The very thought of this person ever making a decision sends shivers down your spine. And in a best case scenario, they never have to do so. Staff meetings are fun...but unproductive. These leaders are enjoyable to be around, they generally leave you alone, and they make you feel good.

On the other hand, you have the mean old cuss, the abrasive, spiteful boss who is just impossible to be around. But they know what they are doing. They are absolutely competent with a brilliance that is universally recognized and, at least by those who DON'T work for them, they are great leaders. The reality is often something completely different. They treat people horribly and think little of things like counseling, mentoring, or training. Communication is almost non-existent and empowerment is not in the mix for these abusive bosses.

While these sound like leadership extremes, we see them all the time, don't we? Nice but incompetent leaders who should never have gotten to their positions. Same for mean but capable leaders who know what they are doing but make everyone's life miserable. Both of these types make us question how some leaders get as far as they do.

So which do you prefer? And how do you manage your boss under either of these conditions? Since we don't get to choose our leaders (well...except when we vote for politicians...and when we accept new employment!), we need to be able to operate under either condition. We still have to get our work done and accomplish the mission. We have to protect our teammates from the challenges created by both styles. And we have to learn what we can from either extreme.

What are your experiences with either one? Add your comments and let's discuss! And don't say you prefer one who is nice AND competent. That's too easy! I'm looking forward to your thoughts. That's Leader Business!


Jo Ann said...

This is really a complicated question and one based on extremes. Management is about ability and skills, attitude and values, knowledge and understanding, but also about personality and mental stability. I have had both types of bosses, but the incompetent leader was usually mean too. The Peter Principle says we are promoted to our level of incompetence, which means we have many incompetent leaders out there. Having worked in the both the private sector and the government sector, I feel that mean bosses are tolerated more in the private sector whereas the nice incompetent boss is more accepted in the government sector. Having said this, no boss can be great without a good supporting team.

Mean micromanagers destroy their staff both individually and as a social organism. Instead of team, they are left with a pack of stray dogs because they do not value human capital. Incompetent and nice bosses got to where they are somehow and usually when they are bad at their job they are good at making it look like it is not their fault, or they would not be there. In your example, because they are nice, they perhaps are better able to surround themselves with a better team more than the mean boss can. To quote Henry David Thoreau, “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” The choice is ours to decide which team we want to be on. Too often, we allow ourselves to be subjected to unacceptable behavior, but one of the keys to managing your opponent is to know your opponent.

Sunny said...

OK this is a good and very thought provoking question, thank you for that! If I had to absolutely choose one, I would go with the nice leader and here's why, it's not that it's more pleasant but let's face it, people with a technical background are not rare and let's not forget that management is about delegating, so at the end of the day the nice leader who has a good head on his shoulders will find great talent, trust their capabilities and empower them to be his assets at the time of execution of a decision(s). To me that's a leader who creates an environment that is not only pleasant but doesn't hide or try to make up for his/her technical shortcomings cause he's fully equiped with people assigned at the right tasks who can be called on for techinical questions, does that make sense?

I'm a strong believer that good managers/leaders focus on managing systems that's why our military is one of a kind because it's systematized (sp?) and not dependant on one person.

Therefore, if the leader is smart enough, technical skills or not they would focus on building a good & strong human infrasture and system that works like a well oiled machine with a solid foundation of good talent. Have you read any of Michael Gerber's books, E-myth series, it's got amazing insight just like you do, if you haven't they're great books, check em out! Great read even for people like you who are a pleathura (sp again?) of knowledge!

Thanks for yet another great topic, keep em coming~Sunny

Tom Magness said...

Thanks for stopping by, JoAnn. You add so much to this forum. I like your "benefit of the doubt" to the nice boss in that at least he/she might be able to surround themselves (willingly) with competent people. No one wants to be around a tyrant -- no matter their other qualities. Thanks for your comments!

Tom Magness said...


Your thoughts are right on the money -- as always! I like the thought that at lease the "nice" boss will empower and delegate more and surround themselves with good people. Good teammates can cover a lot of holes for a less than competent boss. Thank you for all that you share. I love the way you think! TM

Tan said...

I can handle mean as long as its not directed at me personally. I have no tolerance for incompetance.