Fifty per cent of managers are incompetent, so how did that idiot get to be your boss?
Surveys keep telling us that between 65% and 75% of people rate their managers as the worst aspect of their jobs. Is this just baseless moaning, or are they right?
Actually most are right since research into managers shows that around 50% of them are incompetent (DeVries, 1993). The reasons they can’t do their jobs are pretty simple. When Leslie and Van Velsor (1996) looked at the research across different organisations and different employees, they found these four points summarised the problems with failed managers (research described in Hogan & Kaiser, 2005):
- Poor interpersonal skills. Horrible managers look down on you from on high like irascible emperors. They are insensitive, cold and as likely to be nice to you as give their pay-checks to charity.
- Can’t get the work done. They repeatedly set overly ambitious targets and then repeatedly fail to meet them. They don’t follow through on their promises and they’re likely to betray your trust.
- Can’t build a team. It’s perhaps the most essential skill of being a manager. Team-building requires building trust, assigning roles and goals, promoting good communication and providing leadership. Terrible managers are totally incapable of any of this.
- Can’t cope with promotion. Who knows how they got that promotion, but it’s clear the new job is beyond them. As soon as they’re settled in, everything starts to fall apart.
If 50% of managers are that bad, how do they become managers in the first place?
The answer is that horrible managers do have desirable qualities—that’s how they got hired in the first place—but they also have undesirable qualities, which often outweigh them. Hogan and Hogan (1994) have looked at decades of research on this and they find that most horrible managers have a personality disorder. And the thing about personality disorders is:
Personality disorders are hard to detect
Many horrible managers are narcissists and, sadly, people like narcissists at first. They seem like fun people to be around. In time, though, we come to notice that narcissists can’t learn from their mistakes and go around with a massive sense of entitlement. What seemed charming on day one is revealed as arrogance over time. Unfortunately this usually doesn’t become obvious until too late.
Failure of the selection process
Managers are often recruited from outside the organisation using interviews. Both narcissists and psychopaths are great at interviews: making a good impression in these sorts of situations is what they excel at. Instead, more formal selection tools should be used with information collected about the person’s ability to be a manager from the people who know best: the manager’s subordinates.
In other words: you should vote for your boss.
Can you imagine?
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks.