You can't pursue any sort of career for long before you realize that advancement and promotions are not always handed to the most effective or competent people. Whether I am talking with engineers at GM or Ford (there's a glut of these folks in my neck of the woods), with professors and school administrators, or with old colleagues in publishing, everyone has a story or two about incompetence they've witnessed in the upper echelons of their fields.
An article from the Harvard Business Review website (August 2013) looks at this question through the lens of gender equality. The post's rather cheeky title is "Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?" As the author puts it, “The main reason for the uneven management sex ratio is our inability to discern between confidence and competence,” and it's that last bit that hits me as true. I am not sure about the gender gap and its causes, but I do believe people have difficulty recognizing the incompetence that sometimes lurks behind a confident façade.
Citing an article in the American Psychologist from 1994, the author goes on to say: “In fact, most leaders — whether in politics or business — fail. That has always been the case: the majority of nations, companies, societies and organizations are poorly managed, as indicated by their longevity, revenues, and approval ratings, or by the effects they have on their citizens, employees, subordinates or members. Good leadership has always been the exception, not the norm.”
So if we admit that most organizations have difficulty recognizing the traits that make for an effective leader — and I am not necessarily ready to admit that — what's a board to do? One of the things the article highlights is that our culture has a flawed image of what a leader should be, an image that “embodies many of the characteristics commonly found in personality disorders, such as narcissism, psychopathy, histrionic or Machiavellian personalities.”
Christian seminaries are uniquely equipped to deconstruct the culturally prevalent image of a successful leader and create an ideal based on the leadership of Christ — an ambitious undertaking that turns the whole idea on its head.
The question is, What would that look like?
(To explore that idea a bit, see "The Greatest Leader of All," published earlier this year on the Forbes website.)
Image: Adapted from "Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles" by Meister des Hausbuches, 1475 (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin).