Book Notes: Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?

Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders? (And How to Fix It) by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Research finds that there are lots of bad leaders and these leaders have huge impact on the teams which they lead. As such improving leaders has a huge impact on the business. The book also highlights that people who tend to be self-centered, feel entitled and narcissists tend to emerge as leaders taking control of resources and power.

Confidence Disguised as Competence – people naturally feel that people who are more confident are more competent however there is no link between how good you think you are doing at a job and your actual ability. Being overly confident can have huge consequences – such as making a bad decision then pushing it too much.


  • An unrealistic sense of grandiosity and superiority, manifested in the form of vanity, self-admiration and delusion of talent.
  • Narcissists’ have high confidence but fragile so crave validation and recognition from others.
  • They have less interest in others and as such lack genuine consideration for people other than themselves.
  • High levels of entitlement – when you think you are better than others you perceive unfairness where there is none.
  • They are perceived to have high levels of creativity, but in reality there is no difference to others they are just better at selling their ideas.
  • They are worried about how they look – masters of imanage memagement coming across as attractive and confident.
  • Assuring people that their own personal brand is bigger than the firms is a classic narcissistic statement.
  • Narcissistic tendencies are more likely to get in your way than to help. They have a particularly bad long-term effect on other people.


  • A lack of moral inhibition, which at an extreme is manifested in the form of strong antisocial tendencies and an intense desire to break the rules, even just for the sake of it.
  • When psychopaths break the rules they feel no guilt or remorse.
  • People with psychopathic tendencies are prone to making reckless behavioral choices. This reduced concern for danger will put them and others at risk.
  • A lack of empathy – they don’t care what others think or feel, despite being able to understand those feelings.
  • Psychopathy offers few advantages to effective leadership – most psychopaths are incompetent as leaders. This poor overall performance is largely because of their lack of diligence, disdain for deadlines and processes, their failing to assume responsibilities resulting in them being rated poorly by both their bosses and subordinates. An inability to build and motivate team members, an unwillingness to accept blame and responsibility, a lack of follow through and impulsive unpredictability.


  • Unlike Narcissism and Psychopathy which are personality traits – Charisma is in the eye of the viewer.
  • People naturally like charismatic people, so this clouds how people perceive how a leader is actually performing and are evaluated more favorably.
  • Charismatic leaders excel at giving people hope – charisma is great for selling a vision.
  • However charisma has no strong link to performance but can easily, and incorrectly, end up being used as a proxy measure for leadership. This would then lead to us ignoring other leadership signals such as competence, integrity and self-awareness.
  • Humble leadership tends to cascade down turning leaders into genuine role models. They display more modesty, admit mistakes, share credit with others, and are more receptive to others’ ideas and feedback.

What good leaders look like

  • Intellectual capital
    • Domain specific expertise, experience and good judgement
    • Such people can rely on their instincts regarding work problems because experience and expertise have made their intuition more data-driven.
    • This boosts team morale and employee engagement.
    • Companies sometimes over-rely on technical expertise, it does matter but EQ and “soft skills” are also important especially when moving from an individual contributor role to a leadership position. As AI takes on more of the data work technical expertise will likely reduce in its importance.
  • Social capital
    • The network and connections that leaders have – leaders with wider and deeper connections within and outside of their organisation are more effective.
    • “a great person attracts great people and knows how to hold them together”
  • Psychological capital
    • How individuals will lead
    • Good characteristics
      • How people act on their best days, constituting of their general learning ability (intelligence) and major personality traits (curiocity, extraversion and emotional stability).
    • Bad characteristics
      • Distancing traits – being highly excitable and moody or having a deeply skeptical, cynical outlook which makes it hard to build trust. Additionally passive-aggressiveness.
      • Seductive qualities – assertive, charismatic leaders gaining followers and influence bosses through their ability to manage up. Narcissism and psychopathy – hindering a leaders ability to build and maintain high-performance teams and contribute to the long term success.
      • Ingratiating traits – these can have positive connotations in followers but rarely do in leaders. Someone who is diligent might be great when a lone worker but can translate into a preoccupation with petty matters or micromanagement. Someone who is dutiful and eager to please those in authority can easily become too submissive.
    • The inside
      • Their values – their internal moral compass, e.g. people valuing tradition will struggle in a disruptive innovator.

Having intellectual, social and psychological capital results in more potential but it is not guaranteed. The context in which they are working is a key to their success, or failure.

  • Dominance – cultures embracing assertive, overconfident and authoritarian leaders.
  • Spontaneity – the level of acceptance of spontaneity and improvisation, how accepting of uncertainty.
  • Individualism – what is values higher the contributions of the individual or the results of the team. In individualism environments more people aspire to be leaders to stand out personally.
  • Status – how the power is regarded between individuals, in status oriented cultures those higher up are always better off.
Aspect of leadershipCommon perceptionEvidence-based view
Defination of leaderPerson in charge or with powerPerson who builds a winning team
Goal of leaderGet to the top, be successfulHelp the team outperform rivals
Leader’s performanceEquals leader’s career successDepends on team’s performance
Subordinates’ rolesHelp the leader succeedUnit in the pursuit of a shared goal
Key leader attributesConfidence and charismaCompetence and integrity
  1. Some characteristics are hard to change – 30% of leadership is determined by genetic factors.
  2. Good coaching works – of course not all coaches will work for you but finding the right one can help especially growing EQ potentially by 25%.
  3. Beware of leaders’ strengths – don’t forget the weaknesses and don’t overdo the strengths as these can turn to arrogance, risk-taking and hubris.
  4. Self-awareness is essential – it is key to know have you come across, what you are doing well and what does not work
  5. It is not easy to go against our nature – leaders tend to become more exaggerated versions of themselves. It is key to counterbalance so leaders go against their nature to go to places they would not have gone.
  6. Coachability is an integral part of potential – the people who take up coaching are the people who need it the least, they are the people who are more self aware and looking to improve. It is the bad leaders who don’t feel they need the coaching who actually do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.