Why do smart organizations spend millions of dollars on leadership development, yet often place leaders without essential leadership skills into senior leadership roles?


As someone who for the past 25 years has been working in and with organizations as an organizational and leadership development professional and executive coach, and a leader myself, I have observed and worked with thousands of leaders.  I am someone who believes in leadership development and that people can learn leadership skills if they have the right mindset.  There are some situations, however, where leaders are placed in senior leadership positions without already having some requisite skills, or exhibit downright dysfunctional behaviors. 


Here are the five types of misplaced leaders I have seen over the years.  Do you recognize any of them?


#1: The “Abusive” leader:  


This leader misuses his/her power to control and belittle others.  He or she berates others publicly, yells and loses control in meetings, and uses sarcasm and intimidation.

The encounter I remember most vividly with this type of misplaced leader is unforgettable.   He had just been appointed as a president and was getting his new team together.  I was asked to facilitate his team building session.   He walked into the conference room for this meeting and berated his HR director in front of the group for not moving the chairs next to his chair to allow him room to “spread out”.  “Did you forget that I am the president?” he inquired loudly.

He began the meeting by “setting his expectations”, which was reminding everyone of some simple “facts” as he called them. He told his new team that he wanted everyone to remember that he alone was the president and that this meant that his decisions and judgment trumped everyone else’s.  He ended his soliloquy “daring” anyone to “try and take him on” because he needed to cut back on his staff anyway. 


This was his “team building” approach.  No, I am not kidding.  I was in the room. 


#2:  The “What Were You Thinking?” leader:

Another type of misplaced leader is the leader who consistently exhibits poor judgment in how he/she communicates with people that work for him/her, despite repeated feedback on the behavior.   I have heard some of the most ineffective intended “pep” talks from this type.   One was a leader answering his new team’s question about how he was able to “survive” as a vice-president for so many years with the change of five different “regimes”.   His answer went something like this:

“Basically, I do whatever the new president tells me to do.  I get in the boat and start rowing.  I don’t rock the boat or question where the boat is going.  And I especially NEVER try to change the boat.  That is sure death.  I’ve seen so many people who are relieved of their positions because they keep trying to change things.  That is just stupid.  I am here to just do what I’m told.  It’s not my company anyway.” 


#3:  The “Impression Manager” leader: 


You know this type.  Everyone in the organization knows the leader’s reputation for being difficult to work with and his/her direct reports and peers dislike and have little respect for him/her.  But this leader is a master at “managing up”, saying all the right things to the people above him/her, positioning and posturing with organizational politics, and perfecting his/her outside image.  He/she is usually good technically in whatever function he/she represents and a master at selling him/herself to senior leadership but exhibits poor collaboration skills.  He/she usually has received feedback on the need to be more collaborative over the years, to no avail.


#4:  The “Awkward with People & Uninspiring” leader:


This one is also one of the most common misplaced types I see over and over again in top leadership positions. This person is usually labeled as “super smart” and knows his/her “stuff”.  He/she works incredible hours, is amazing with details, absorbs information like a sponge, and has incredible analytical abilities. Minor detail is that he/she lacks basic social skills, has difficulty interacting with and motivating people, and does not articulate a vision and get others excited about the future.  Interacting with people is even sometimes painful for this type.   Basic people interactions, this leader avoids or struggles with.  Yet he/she is put in top positions because of his/her ability to “get things in order”.  


#5:  The “Tactical” leader:


This type of misplaced leader has been a hard worker throughout his/her career and is known as a “doer”, “organizer”, and “executor”.  He/she can craft the most brilliant power point presentations and always delivers the goods for his/her boss. He/she has risen through the ranks as the “hero”, rising to every occasion to save the day.  He does what he is told, and then some.  In a senior leadership role, he has his team “take the mountain” every day.  Question is “Is it the right mountain?” or “should it even be a mountain?”  “What will the future look like?”  “How do we begin to define the new terrain?”  This leader is at a loss with those questions, and soon his/her followers are lost too.  Or they become extinct.


So what about you? 

Do you recognize these types of leaders in your organization? 

Are you unintentionally placing these types of leaders in key leadership positions? 

What is the long-term impact on your organization’s health and employee engagement?