Leading from behind: 10 ways to identify leaders who are losers

I have just finished reading Bad Leadership by Barbara Kellerman, a study of the dark side of the human condition. It looks at the failings of leaders from Pol Pot to Martha Stewart, and considers the importance of understanding the impact of leadership failure on our organisations.
Friends and colleagues then developed our own top 10 ‘leaders with the least’:



  1. The ‘I’m invisible’ leader; if things are going pear-shaped, you won’t find me around. I won’t be out in the business, either. I’m much more likely to be doing important stuff, like e-mails.
  2. The ‘I’m ready for my close up’ leader; I’ll take the credit without acknowledging the contribution of the team. I like to talk about valuing people, but I don’t want them to make me look bad. There’s only room for one ego around here and that’s mine.
  3. Mr or Mrs Teflon; it won’t go wrong on my watch, and if it does it’ll be your fault. I’ll make sure my back is covered by always asking for advice to be confirmed in writing. After all, I have to put myself first.
  4. The coward; I talk tough, but when there’s bad news, I think you might be the right person to give the message rather than me.
  5. The corporate hypocrite ; there is one rule for me and another for everyone else. Not practising what I preach means I pretend to adhere to corporate values in public, but behind closed doors I always do the opposite.
  6. The ‘couldn’t manage my way out of a paper bag’ leader; I talk about performance management, then set people off without giving clear direction. When my expectations are not met I know who to blame: you. I may have to yell at you in public – no harm in showing my authority.
  7. The incompetent; I am incompetent, condescending, patronising, paternalistic and somewhat reminiscent of a bad day in The Office. I say all the right words but you still want to punch me because, fundamentally, I can’t do my job.
  8. The micro-manager; I love getting involved in your work. I need to know every detail of what you are doing and why. It may mess up your deadlines a bit, but that’s your problem.
  9. The emotionally obtuse; I always listen to the ‘yes’ people rather than the ‘what if’ people because I’m afraid of challenge and see it as disrespectful. I like the three wise monkeys’ way of management: I neither see, hear, nor speak evil (it has kept me in this job).
  10. And finally, a lesson in manners from the sisterhood for those unreconstructed macho male leaders:



  • Don’t swear in front of us when you don’t know us. It’s not big, it’s not clever and it gets on our nerves.
  • Don’t go on and on about how important your family is, and how you have to dash off to get to Sophie’s school play. If we are still stuck in the office clearing up your mistakes and missing our kids, you will be seen for the hypocrite you really are.
  • Don’t use exclusively football and cricket analogies. We like sport too, but we’re poking our eyes out with boredom at your inane references.
  • Don’t tell us dirty jokes as it confirms our view that you have no activity going on in this department and this is the only cheap thrill you get, and when you are speaking to us you will find you get a better response if your gaze is directed at our faces rather than our cleavage.
  • Don’t pretend the Boys Club doesn’t still operate, because we have experienced it personally (watch out for the Girls Club though, as we are coming to get you).


Angela O’Connor, HR director, Crown Prosecution Service

Management styles: too cruel to be kind
Bad management is widespread across the UK

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