Followers’ Role in Enabling Bad Leaders

Barbara Kellerman

Barbara Kellerman

Seven types of ineffective and unethical leaders can be enabled by followers, according to Harvard’s Barbara Kellerman, in research that precedes the current U.S. political climate by more than a decade.

She categorized bad leaders as:

Incompetent – Failing to create positive change;
Rigid – Not adaptable to new ideas, conditions;
Intemperate – Lacking self-control;
Callous – Uncaring and unkind, discounting needs and wishes of group members, especially subordinates;
Corrupt – Advancing self-interest ahead of public interest, through “lying, cheating, and stealing”;
Insular – Disregarding health and welfare of outsiders;
Evil – Committing atrocities, use pain as an instrument of power, exert severe physical, psychological harm to men, women, children.

Kellerman’s earlier work focused on Hitler’s leadership, and asserted that his power wouldn’t have existed without followership.
She acknowledged that uninvolved bystanders who do not speak up enable bad leaders to continue their practices.

John Darley

John Darley

This effect was documented in social science research more than forty years ago by NYU’s John Darley and Bibb Latané of Columbia, labeled “Bystander Apathy” or the “Genovese syndrome.”

Bibb Latane

Bibb Latane

Given status differentials between leaders and subordinates, followers can break out of complacent observership only if organizational structures are in place to call attention to ineffective and unethical leadership practices — without negative repercussions.

Kellerman highlighted an intuitively-understood phenomenon, but extend her work by identifying implementable practices for various organizational structures.

-*What “bad leader” roles have you observed in your organization?
-*What seem to be effective ways to interact with a “bad” organizational leader?

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©Kathryn Welds

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