Bad Leadership – and the Leadership Industry

Nearly no one was surprised that Sepp Blatter was reelected yesterday for a fifth term as president of FIFA. This in spite of the fact that a few days earlier the long-held and widespread suspicion that FIFA – the association responsible for governing international soccer – is riddled with corruption was at least preliminarily confirmed. Fourteen FIFA officials were charged by the U.S. Justice Department with racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering. So far Blatter himself faces no legal charges. Nevertheless, at a minimum, he has presided for seventeen years over an organization that has scandalized and degraded the world’s most popular sport.

The mystery is not that Blatter is, at the least, miserably incompetent. The mystery is that he was reelected in spite of his screamingly obvious failings. We should not, in other words, be astonished when a bad leader is hell bent on remaining in place. We should be astonished when a bad leader’s followers make the deliberate decision to keep him in place, even when their motivations for doing so seem on the surface to be apparent.

Of course any student of history knows how dreadfully difficult it is to dislodge even the most evil of people in positions of power. Once leaders and yes, managers as well, have secured their status, somehow disposing of them, getting them out, pushing them aside, is dreadfully difficult, no matter how malevolent their transgressions or the extent of their incompetence.

What pains me particularly is how little the leadership industry has to say about all this. How fixated it is on developing good leaders – how ignorant it is about stopping or at least slowing bad leaders. This is not to say that no one has studied bad leadership; some have. But our numbers are woefully small, which is one reason why bad leadership is as little understood now as it was then, at the inception of the leadership industry some forty years ago. We should be embarrassed – even ashamed.


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