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Seduced by incompetence

Bibi Boas Bondesen

The quote comes from Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, the author behind the book with the provocative but shred title “Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders (and How to Fix It)”. Pia Torreck and  Jasmin Dahl from IESF Denmark dive into this concept and problem. You may ask yourself the question “What is an incompetent leader?”, but you must start somewhere completely different.  One must start by defining the concept, management competence. According to Chamorro-Premuzic, there exists a misinterpretation of the term, where candidates are considered competent and leadership-strong, if only they possess characteristics such as impulsivity, dominance, courage, and over-assertiveness. We tend to equate hybris and arrogance with talent and let this seduce us.

Why is it a problem?

You could look to the 2016 election in the United States, when Donald Trump was elected. Part of the answer to why Trump won the election may lie hidden in characteristics of Trump. Confident and charismatic are just some of the words you could describe Donald Trump with. According to Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, these are some of the characteristics one can attribute to incompetent leaders. His research shows that incompetent management creates anxious, alienated, and thwarting employees rather than productivity, efficiency, and value creation.

The question is whether we manage to detect, reveal, and avoid incompetent leaders when recruiting and promoting.

According to Tomas – character traits such as aggressiveness, determination and dominance are values that we risk mixing with Machiavellian self-promotion and reckless risk-taking. The democratic form of leadership loses to the authoritarian form of leadership when the Machiavelli leader, narcissist and everyday sadist become leaders, which eventually damages the bottom line.

Therefore, recruiting skills over charisma and incompetent managers is vital not only for the working environment, but also for the bottom line.

It is fundamental to a company’s performance creation that a clear line is drawn between the manager’s perception of “how good you think you are” and “how good you actually are”. The more these are in sync, the closer we get to real skills rather than seductive incompetence.

How can it be avoided?

Recruiting top leadership candidates – Executive Search – is not just a look at the CV and a job interview, but much more. We find candidates based on data, evaluation and by being skeptical of gut feelings and instincts. We are pursuing whether results have been achieved in the previous jobs that the candidate has worked in. According to Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, this is also the way forward. He has listed nine simple self-evaluating questions that make it easier for companies to point the narcissist out from the crowd.

Confidence or competence?

  • Do you have an exceptional talent for management?
  • Would most people wish they, were you?
  • Do you rarely make mistakes at work?
  • Do you have natural charisma?
  • Do you achieve everything you set out to do just by deciding on it?
  • Do you have a gift for conducting office politics?
  • Are you destined to be successful?
  • Is it easier for you to cheat people than it is for people to cheat you?
  • Are you too talented for false humility?

Typically, the incompetent leader will answer “Yes” to several of the questions. It might seem easy to divide incompetent leaders from competent leaders, but there is no doubt that it is a problem for the bottom line and working environment. The solution is focused recruitment. The solution is analysis and data rather than gut feelings. Executive Search must be done with evidence-based methods.

About the author

Bibi Boas Bondesen


Director Executive Search, Head of International


  • Executive Search Consultant
  • Head of Business Development
  • Trade Support
  • Client Services Manager

Bibi has delivered Executive Search to a wide range of industries.
Bibi has most recently worked with Executive Search at Spencer Stuart and The Ashton Partnership in London, and she was previously employed by Morgan Stanley.
She has a Bachelor’s degree in Business Mathematics and Statistics from the London School of Economics and an MBA from Copenhagen Business School.

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