Tag Archives: Barbara Kellerman

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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Are You Enabling a Bad Leader?

Responsibility for ineffective and unethical leadership is held by many parties, not just leaders themselves.

Barbara Kellerman

Barbara Kellerman

Harvard’s Barbara Kellerman argued that followers – and certainly Executive Board members –  can precipitate, enable and collaborate in bad leadership.

She studied followership of incompetent, corrupt, and evil leadership in public and business settings.
Kellerman concluded that both followers and uninvolved bystanders who do not object enable bad leaders to continue their practices.

John Darley

John Darley

Supporting her contention is experimental demonstration of  the powerful impact of “Bystander Apathy” by New York University’s John Darley and Bibb Latané of Columbia.

Bibb Latane

Bibb Latane

Because followers have less power and status than leaders, complacent observership can be the norm when organizations don’t establish processes to report ineffective and unethical leadership practices with protections against negative repercussions.

Given the challenges of challenging bad leadership practices, followers can increase chances of understanding organizational culture and leadership practices by conducting pre-employment “due diligence”  before accepting a role,

Questions to evaluate “fit” with a leader include:

  • How do you prefer to communicate with your direct reports?
  • How do you mentor, coach, and develop your direct reports?
  • How would you describe your work style?
  • How do you manage conflict within the team?
  • How will you measure success in this role after a year?
  • What are your three most important values?
  • How do your direct reports describe your management style?
  • How are you and your team perceived in the organizations?
  • To what extent do you involve your team members in decisions?
  • How do you support work-life balance for team members?

These queries can’t guard against unexpected circumstances like managers rapidly moving to a new group or restructurings that result in an unevaluated new manager, role, or group.
However, they may provide additional guidance to potential “warning signs” of “misemployment,” and reduce responsibility for complicity in enabling poor management styles.

-*What questions have you found most effective in assessing work style “fit” and compatibility with a potential manager?
-*What “bad leader” roles have you observed in your organzation?

Related Reading:

LinkedIn Open Group Psychology in HR (Organisational Psychology)
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Blog: – Kathryn Welds | Curated Research and Commentary

©Kathryn Welds