Saturday, October 10, 2009


[from John] One of my sons is taking a course on leadership and motivation. The instructor assigned a research paper on "Why do bad leaders hire bad managers". The instructor believes, or teaches, there is just as many bad leaders as there are good leaders, he wants to expand on the leadership topic by including bad leaders. The instructor gives three examples of bad leadership. First are the leaders that only hire managers that are yes men so that he/she can promote their own agenda. The next is the leader that will only hire managers that are under skilled so nobody can make them look bad. The last is the leader that is self-absorbed and they only hire managers that will make them shine, but the managers do not have the skills to manage the employees. The class agrees that the number one reason for the lack of motivation is a result of bad management.

I find the theme strange. It seems a negative approach to teaching leadership and motivation. Still, as we have been discussion motivation it may be a subject to pursue.

"Why do bad leaders hire bad managers?" Obviously because they are bad managers themselves.

While I agree somewhat with the instructor’s examples, I suspect that poor leaders hire poor managers, if they do; it is because they are poor managers themselves. I am also not sure I agree with the instructor that there are as many bad leaders as good leaders. I suspect that bad leaders fall by the wayside while bad managers may stay in their job but not advance.

We must separate leadership from management. A good leader inspires people. He motivates them to perform at their best. A good manager is a good organizer. He motivates people because they are comfortable with their boss and with their jobs and know they will be rewarded for their efforts. Two different things. Let’s explore this further.

Does a poor leader hire poor managers or does he make poor managers?
This is an important question, to use the army, as an example, you must work with the people assigned, good or bad. The task is to make do with what you were given by training, supervision and by making sure, he or she understands what is expected of them.

In the military, or at least the army, where I have my experience, progression up the ranks in interesting. Leadership is the key during the early stages, at the squad, platoon and company levels. As one advances he is assigned staff positions where management skills are developed and as he reaches the higher levels he combines the two skills of leadership and management as do successful CEO’s.

In civilian life, you have the opportunity to interview applicants. You can match your needs against his or her resume. You then chose what appears to be the best applicant. Even with the best applicant, a good leader must train the newcomer. Teach him what is expected of him.

A poor leader may chose the applicant for wrong reasons, but more than likely the applicant will become a poor manager because the leader does not do his job of training and integrating him into the job.

It is also possible that a good leader has a bad manager foisted on him. Internal politics does exist and he may have no choice. A good leader will be aware of the internal politics and work to avoid the problem. A poor leader may be fearful for his job and accept a lesser qualified person.

We have been discussing motivation a lot lately. A person is motivated because he or she can see and achieve some goal. It may just be compliments from your boss or it may be more, but motivation will not exist if the individual cannot derive some benefit from his effort. A poor leader who criticizes and badmouths his employees, who also criticizes his bosses and the company will not have motivated people including the managers below him.


joel said...

Thanks, John, for an interesting post. When I think of the qualities you speak of, I think of George Washington. He embodied both leadership and management skills. In addition, he had another important quality. He is often compared to the Roman general and leader, Cincinnatus.
See for example,

He had the quality of lack of lust for power even when it was offered to him on a platter. That's an important characteristic which contrasts with the personal ambition that so often sours leadership. -Joel

JohnS said...

We don't see George's quality - lack of lust for power- amongst out national leaders today or maybe I am cynical.

It is certainly a worthwhile trait.

I will pass on your comment to my son.

Ira Glickstein said...

Thanks John for this great Topic and Joel for your comment on it. I had mostly good to excellent managers at IBM (then bought by Lockheed Martin) in Owego, NY, plus two stinkers. The best managers saw their job as enabling me to do my creative work by running interference with upper management and by securing resources -people and facilities- for that work. Some of these good managers were technically competent and some were not, but they did not feel threatened by my technical competence. When I was successful, they shared the enjoyment and recognized that it made THEM look better as well. If some projects were unsuccessful (such as a loss on a proposal bid), they accepted responsibility and did not pass out blame.

The poor managers seemed threatened by my technical competence and also by their lack of management ability. I got myself transferred out from under them as soon as I could and turned one of them in to upper management.

I was never a manager in the formal sense of having a department and telling employees when they could take their vacations and signing time cards.

However, I was a leader on several projects, mainly research and development and proposal efforts, and was responsible for the budget and schedule. My preference was for highly competent engineers who had knowledge and experience beyond what I had in some areas and who were self-starters. They would go off and do whatever was asked of them, only better! I usually suggested an approach and filled them in on what I knew and gave them access to published materials, etc. If they came back with a different approach I would encourage that. If it was successful, I would be as happy as they were. If not, I would not say "told you so" but would support them in changing their approach.

Ira Glickstein