Dr. Rob Sheehan: Traits of Incompetent Leaders

What are the traits of incompetent leaders?

I know – sadly – you could probably make a long list, with footnotes and examples of poor leaders you have endured.

However, there is some good news.  According to a recent article in Harvard Business Review*progress is being made in identifying bad leaders.

For example, research in 11 different experiments have shown that one of the best questions you can ask someone in order to determine if they are narcissistic is “Are you a narcissist?”  It turns out that narcissists are both aware and proud of their narcissism.  Run away quickly if you get a “Yes” answer!

Here are nine questions you could ask prospective job candidates (and yourself).  The extent to which someone answers “yes” to these questions is an indicator that they will be an incompetent leader:

1.  Do you have an exceptional talent for leadership?

.2  Would most people want to be like you?

3.  Do you rarely make mistakes at work?

4.  Are you blessed with natural charisma?

5.  Are you able to achieve anything you want, just by putting your mind to it?

6.  Do you have a special gift for playing office politics?

7.  Are you destined to be successful?

8.  Is it easier for you to fool people, than for people to fool you?

9.  Are you just too talented to fake humility?

Positive answers to these questions correlate with arrogance and overconfidence, which are significant indicators of poor leadership.  People who have these traits are uninterested in portraying themselves as humble – so they answer truthfully.

We can make much better hiring decisions by identifying toxic employees in the selection process.  Consider adding some of these questions to your interviews and save yourself a lot of trouble in the longer term.


*Chamorrow-Premuzic, T.  “How to Spot an Incompetent Leader,”  Harvard Business Review online, March 11, 2020.

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