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Title: Bad Leadership: What it is, How it Happens, Why it Matters (Leadership for the Common Good)
Author: Barbara Kellerman
Publisher: Harvard Business School Press, 2004
ISBN: 1591391660

Reviewed by Seth Allcorn

The author creates a typology of bad leaders and leadership types which are then fit to case examples that include many horrific and usually well known (even infamous) examples of bad leaders. The author begins by noting some of the tensions about writing about bad leaders as compared to good leaders. However, it is clear that one can and should learn from the case materials provided and that defensiveness is misplaced. The book is accessible and easy to read. The author provides a few short case examples followed by one that is much more extensive to illuminate each type of bad leadership. Readers are led through an all too common landscape of leadership, management, and corporate horrors often tacitly supported by boards, external auditors, and regulators. The book, by combining an array of bad leadership examples, provides an authoritative look at this darker side of the workplace. The typology provides a framework that encourages examination of the workplace for the attributes of each type. The author also underscores the enabling aspects of submissive, fearful and indifferent followers who help to create and sustain the leader’s pathologies. The book however does not attempt to explain in any depth why bad leaders behave the way they do leading to the suggestion of books such as Leaders, Fools and Imposters by Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries as one example of a psychodynamically informed examination of leadership pathology. The concluding chapter offers some standard and idealistic suggestions for avoiding and combating bad leadership; a somewhat disappointing concluding chapter for an otherwise good book. As the author notes, there are no easy answers when it comes to the adverse outcomes created by the darker side of human nature.

 

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