Followers’ Role in Enabling Bad Leaders

Barbara Kellerman

Barbara Kellerman

Seven types of ineffective and unethical leaders are often enabled by their followers, according to Harvard’s Barbara Kellerman.

She categorized bad leaders as:

Incompetent – Failing to create positive change,

Rigid – Not adapting 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, using pain as an instrument of power, exerting physical, psychological harm.

Kellerman’s earlier work focused on Hitler’s leadership, and asserted that his power wouldn’t have existed without complaint followership.

John Darley

John Darley

She noted that bystanders who do not speak up enable bad leaders to continue their practices.

“Bystander Apathy”  was documented more than forty years ago by NYU’s John Darley and Bibb Latané of Columbia.

Bibb Latane

Bibb Latane

Given status differentials between leaders and subordinates, followers can break out of complacent observership only if organizational structures enable them to call attention to unethical leadership practices.

Kellerman suggested mitigation 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?

©Kathryn Welds

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