How to Spot an Incompetent Leader (Summary from Harvard Business Review)

To read this article in Myanmar language, click here

“Culture, whether good or bad, is just the product of the values and behaviors of our leaders,” writes Harvard Business Review (HBR) author Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic.

Toxic organizational culture does not happen immediately. It is often the result of the quality of the company’s leadership team and repeated behaviors over time. We recommend this article summary of HBR’s, “How To Spot an Incompetent Leader.” In it, Chamorro-Premuzic offers ways to identify incompetent leaders who contribute to toxic culture; and, importantly, he recommends simple, but effective ways to prevent incompetent people from becoming leaders in the first place. 

He distinguishes two types of leaders: “Competent leaders cause high levels of trust, engagement, and productivity, [but] incompetent ones result in anxious, alienated workers who practice counterproductive work behaviors and spread toxicity throughout the firm.”

Incompetent leaders can be identified by the negative effects they have “on their subordinates, followers, or organization.” Arrogance, or prideful overconfidence, is a central character trait of incompetent leaders. Leaders who display confidence and demonstrate competence are far more effective and trusted than those who express overconfidence and under-deliver.

  • Human resources function as important safeguards against incompetent leaders. It is vital that human resource personnel “improve their ability to distinguish between confidence and competence.” Chamorro-Premuzic explains that we all have a “human tendency to equate [pride] and arrogance to talent. While women can exhibit traits of arrogance and overconfidence, “men tend to be more overconfident than women… [partly because] gender differences in impulsivity, dominance, and aggressiveness appear in all cultures and from a very early age – but also for cultural reasons.” He suggests that if we were to hire based on competence, there would be more women in leadership positions than are currently.
  • We have a flawed, stereotypical view of leadership. “Overconfidence,” writes Chamorro-Premuzic, “is the natural result of privilege.” Competent leaders, including women leaders, can be overlooked because they do not display the “flawed leadership archetypes” such as “self-promotion or reckless risk taking.” These are the very traits that contribute to ineffective and incompetent leadership.
  • Simple, science-based assessment questions can predict and evaluate good and bad leaders. These nine questions have reliably measured arrogance and overconfidence because people with these characteristics are usually “uninterested in portraying themselves in humble ways.”
  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 a 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?

Click here to take the actual assessment and find out your own competence score.

  • Commit to selecting competent leaders based on humility and integrity. Unfortunately, we are often attracted to and promote leaders who portray charisma, overconfidence, and narcissism. These traits are shown to lead to toxic organizational culture and low employee engagement. If we want our companies and organizations to be defined by the values of humility and integrity, then our leaders’ behaviors must demonstrate these values time and again. Human resource executives, in particular, must determine and hire competent leaders who will bring out the best in their employees and lead the company to success.

To read the full article, click here.


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The DeBoer Fellowship develops change leaders across all sectors of Myanmar society. Through a multi-year training class and additional public programs, the DeBoer Fellowship serves Myanmar by helping to grow competent, compassionate, and ethical leaders. For more information about DeBoer Fellowship or to apply for the Fellowship, please visit:

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