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Bad Leadership: What It Is, How It Happens, Why It Matters (Leadership for the Common Good)

3.6 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1591391661
ISBN-10: 1591391660
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"How," asks Kellerman, "will we ever stop what we refuse to see and study?" Research director of the Center for Public Leadership and lecturer in public policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, Kellerman focuses in opening chapters on the nature of leadership, the rise of a "leadership industry," the complicit role of followers, the definition of bad leadership and reasons for its occurrence. Kellerman's style combines the direct prose of the boardroom with the erudition of the classroom; relevant citations abound, from Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes to Newsweek and Washington Monthly. Kellerman posits seven "types" of bad leadership and devotes a chapter containing a few brief examples and one detailed analysis to each. Drawing from the corporate, nonprofit, government and public opinion sectors, she examines instances of incompetence, rigidity, intemperance, callousness, corruption, insularity and even evil. Her focus isn't limited to individual behavior; context and the actions of followers are also considered. For example, the International Olympic Committee is faulted as much as its former president for scandals and commercialism that have sometimes undermined the games. High-level cabinet members, prominent legislators and the nation as a whole share the blame for the Clinton administration's failure to intervene in Rwanda's genocide. The stories, and Kellerman's final section of correctives, are complex and nuanced; there are no easy answers.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Bound for the top of the business best-sellers lists--at least in terms of the controversy it will generate--Harvard lecturer Kellerman's book argues cogently, compellingly, and with an amazing clarity for the identification of bad leadership and, then, for its removal. Too long has the concept of leadership been viewed only in shades of white within America--and, thus, too long have we denied the existence of bad leadership. Neither are followers excused, for they, too, have a real culpability, asserts Kellerman. Types fall into seven categories, either ineffective or unethical, and include incompetent, rigid, intemperate, callous, corrupt, insular, and evil. And for each, she selects one recent example on which to focus, in addition to minor players, from former Mattel CEO Jill Barad and Reverend Jesse Jackson to Jim Jones and Saddam Hussein. As any good academic problem solver, she lists those corrections necessary for leaders and followers to adopt. The real question is, Will this book be ignored? Hopefully not. Barbara Jacobs
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Series: Leadership for the Common Good
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press (September 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591391660
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591391661
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #144,390 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John Matlock on September 20, 2004
Format: Hardcover
We live in a time where the news is filled with countries, corporations, and other organizations that are failing to perform as they should. Ms. Kellerman has analyzed several of these and identified fundamental seven types of leadership that are prone to failure.

INCOMPETENT: The leader and at least some followers lack the will or skill to sustain effective action.

RIGID: The leader and at least some of his followers are stiff, unyielding, and unwilling to adapt to new ideas, new information or changing times.

Intemperate: The leader lacks self-control and is aided and abetted by followers who do not intervene.

CaALLOUS: The leader is uncaring or unkind, he ignores or discounts the needs of the rest of the organization.

CORRUPT: These people lie, cheat, or steal. They put self interest above all else.

INSULAR: They disregard or at least minimize the health and welfare of those outside the small center group.

EVIL: Some leaders and at least some followers commit atrocities.

In each of these catagories, she identifies leaders that illustrate her point. This leads to an understanding of why such bad leadership is harmful to the organization, and if the organization is the political leadership of a country, it is bad for the world.
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Format: Hardcover
It's not clear what we're supposed to learn from this book. As other reviewers have observed, Kellerman identifies five categories of bad leadership -- but they're ad hoc, arbitrarily derived groupings. Therefore we can't identify systematic causes of bad leadership, which would lead to meaningful prescriptions.

Kellerman uses a broad definition of leadership that encompasses corporate leaders appointed by a board, elected leaders, founders of companies (like Martha Stewart), and self-appointed crazies like Jim Jones. Can we really load all these forms into one category -- and still come up with meaningful conclusions?

As others have noted, Kellerman's bias raises questions about credibility. She faults Bill Clinton for lack of leadership in three separate arenas -- more than any other "leader" in the book. Yet Clinton's health care "failure" can be partly attributed to a huge spending campaign by insurance companies, which she does not mention. His lack of action in Rwanda pales next to foreign policies by leaders who extended wars for political reason and ... well' we won't even go there.

As for the Lewinsky affair, Kellerman writes (p 35) that "tolerance for moral fallibility, even if evident only behind closed doors, has been low." Really? Many American leaders (JFK, LBJ, and others) have had rather varied experiences behind closed doors. Some countries remain baffled by the American concern with our leaders' "moral fallibility." And is Confucius really the appropriate source to cite when discussing modern leaders and their morals? Why not a historian or political scientist?

On page 43, Kellerman refers to Martha Stewart's "charges stemming from insider trading," noting that Stewart can be "mean.
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Format: Hardcover
"Bad Leadership" lists 7 characteristics of bad leadership and gives examples of each. Some examples don't clearly reflect the bad quality being highlighted (e.g. the IOC chairman mentioned as incompetant seems more corrupt and insular). The 7-10 page descriptions of each bad leader are interesting, but rather than focusing on the leadership flaws/failings, the author merely gives a "Reader's Digest" summary of each leader.

However, the worst criticism I have for the book is its extreme redundancy. Every chapter describes the "bad followership" involved, which can be summarized as "Don't follow bad leaders". The author also spends many pages discussing how difficult it is writing such a book.

I hope someone else writes a good book on bad leadership/bad followership, as I find this topic very intriguing. Unfortunately, there seems very little insightful thinking involved in this book, and the fact that this was allowed to be published in this state is a perfect example of "Bad Followership".
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book after hearing Kellerman give a lecture recorded on NPR. Her speech, based on her book Bad Leadership, was precise and purposeful. Not surprisingly, the book contains her precise language and her purpose, which is to show us how leadership, even when in the hands of well-intentioned people, can go wrong. She first argues that too many of us, inundanted with optimistic, often business-oriented books about leadership, assume, erroneously, that leadership is somehow synonymous with goodness and virtue. To the contrary, Kellerman argues, leadership goes wrong more often than not. In what appears to be a reverse pyramid from benign to malignant, Kellerman catalogs the seven deadly sins of leadership: 1. incompetence 2. rigidity 3. intemperance 4. callousness 5. corruption 6. insularity 7. evil.

She gives historical (Hitler) accounts and more contemporary (Rudolph Giuliani, Howell Raines) to illustrate her definitions of bad leadership.

She concludes by prescribing corrective measures. Her book is invaluable in that for us to fully grasp good leadership we must first comprehend its antithesis. A negative definition of leadership in all of its facets is a necessary nudge in the right direction.
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