Why do so many incompetent men become leaders?

What you need to know:

  • Chapter 5 is devoted to a discussion of the female advantage in leadership. Chamorro explores a central and intriguing question arising from a proposition that since most leaders are bad and most leaders are male, are the two factors linked.

The headline of today’s opinion is the title of a fascinating, innovative and provocative book which my son Chris Acemah sent me from the USA. Since it arrived a few days ago, I have been engrossed in reading what one commentator calls, “the single most important book on leadership of our time”.

Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic attempts to answer two fundamental questions: First, why is it so easy for incompetent men to become leaders? Second, why is it so hard for competent people, especially competent women, to advance and become leaders?

The author was born and brought up in Argentina, a country which has experienced many of ups and downs, not unlike Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda and many African states. He is a leadership psychologist who is currently a professor of business psychology at University College London, England and Columbia University, USA.

Chamorro narrates the story of Argentina, which resembles that of many African countries, including Uganda. He writes that a century ago, Argentina was not just a land of opportunity, but was one of the richest countries in the world with a higher GDP per capita income than France and Germany. Since the end of World War II, in 1945, Argentina has been in constant decline and is today a poor, debt-ridden and volatile third world country.

Chamorro explains the tragedy of Argentina on page 7 and argues: “The main reason? One bad leader after another. So, I ask myself the obvious questions: How can smart and educated people make self-destructive leadership choices, political term after term, without learning lessons from previous failures? How can rational people who have their own best interests at heart fall for charismatic con artists who promise them the impossible while pursuing harmful agendas and corrupt selfish interests?”

Does that not ring a bell in the ears of Ugandans of sober mind who have been promised a middle-income status in 2020, zero tolerance with regard to corruption and hakuna mchezo, to mention but a few of numerous empty promises made by you know who.

Chamorro laments that “this depressing state of affairs propelled me to leave Argentina” but he has promised to do whatever it takes to explore, gain understanding of the root causes of his country’s predicament and “help fix this toxic side of leadership”. Africans need not reinvent the wheel. We can learn many important lessons from mistakes made by the likes of Argentina.

The nine chapters of the 218-page book published by Harvard Business Review Press are as follows: Why most leaders are inept; Confidence disguised as competence; Why bad guys win; The charisma myth; The female advantage; What good leaders look like; Learning to distrust our instincts; How leaders get better; Measuring a leader’s impact.

The female advantage

Chapter 5 is devoted to a discussion of the female advantage in leadership. Chamorro explores a central and intriguing question arising from a proposition that since most leaders are bad and most leaders are male, are the two factors linked. In other words, would the prevalence of bad leadership decrease if fewer men, and more women, were in charge?

According to a recent global opinion poll, 60 per cent of people in the world believe their country is on the wrong track because of wrong priorities and misdeeds of their leaders. The figure for most African countries, including Uganda, must be 90 per cent or more.

With regard to whether women could be better suited to perform leadership roles, Chamorro quotes Chinese businessman Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, who wonders why technology firms do not employ more women like his company where 49 per cent of staff are female. Jack Ma argues that men have high IQ, but low EQ, unlike women who are balanced in both.

EQ (emotional intelligence) which is widely believed to be a central quality for effective leadership is defined as the ability to understand and manage one’s own and other people’s emotions. EQ is acknowledged to be the best single measure of people skills.

Uganda is a classic case study of why so many mediocre, dishonest, irresponsible and incompetent men have become leaders, one after another, since independence. It is high time Uganda tried women as national leaders. I believe Ugandan women could perform better than men. Let us give women a chance to lead Uganda in 2021. For God and my country!

Mr Acemah is a political scientist and retired career diplomat.
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