The large pool of incompetent leaders in business and IT

When you have been in IT for 35+ years, you get to meet and work with a goodly number of incompetent leaders.
When they are genuinely incompetent, and clearly so, it begs the question “how the hell did that person get to that position”?
There are all sorts of circumstantial reasons, varying from favoritism, nepotism and reciprocity, through being in the right place at the right time, through to the main issue that is surfaced in the second paragraph of this HBR article:

In my view, the main reason for the uneven management sex ratio is our inability to discern between confidence and competence. That is, because we (people in general) commonly misinterpret displays of confidence as a sign of competence, we are fooled into believing that men are better leaders than women. In other words, when it comes to leadership, the only advantage that men have over women (e.g., from Argentina to Norway and the USA to Japan) is the fact that manifestations of hubris — often masked as charisma or charm — are commonly mistaken for leadership potential, and that these occur much more frequently in men than in women.

In short, it is easy for many men to fake confidence, and many people mistake confidence for competence. The converse of this tendency is also prevalent. Solid, experienced people get overlooked in many teams and organizations because they are poor at self-promotion, often being introverts who find talking about themselves a deeply uncomfortable experience. Many people also perform better than they interview, so they get passed over for new roles because another candidate “aced” the interview. (as anybody who has studied hiring processes knows, interviews are at best an inexact way of screening candidates, and a poor-quality interview process is no better than throwing darts at candidates’ names on a board).
Women are more likely than men to be less fluent at self-promotion. Not only does self-promotion fall outside of their natural personality, it places them in a zone where they are fending off criticism from both sexes that they are engaging in artifice to advance their careers.
What I do know is that I have been exposed to many astonishingly incompetent, venal leaders over the years. Aside from their level of incompetence, the other common factor was their appalling listening skills. Probably as a result of hubris, they assumed that anything that they did not already know about could not be important, because if it was, they would already have known about it. As a result, they tended to reject inputs about their organizations that failed to match the narrative in their heads. (I once was informed by a Director-level person that a presentation that I had prepared about the failings of a delivery partner, while correct, would not have any impact because senior leaders had already decided that the delivery partner was an asset, and the presentation conflicted with that narrative, so it would be ignored). Leaders who reject information that fails to match their preconceptions will crash and burn eventually. They may seem to escape, but everybody in their organization will know what really happened, and their credibility will be zeroed.


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