Identifying incompetence

Jan 23 2008 by Print This Article

The epidemic of bad management is a global one, but wherever it is found, incompetence is marked out by some common traits. Over at, Margaret Heffernan has assembled this list of the ten habits of total incompetence.

1. An inability to act, is the number one bad habit. A real leader makes a decision while the incompetent ones find excuses not to.

2. Keeping things secret is another key trait. As Heffernan writes, "If you treat employees like children, they will behave that way - which means trouble. If you treat them like adults, they may just respond likewise."

3. Being overly-sensitive to everything is next in line. Most of the time managers think it's the employees who are, but they are normally describing themselves.

4. Refusal to deviate from procedure is a sure sign of incompetence. Heffernan states, "Managers who cleave to the rule book…have forgotten that rules and processes exist to expedite business, not ritualize it."

5. An incompetent manager will have a preference for weak candidates when a job opens up.

6. A boss who has no idea what they are doing will focus on small tasks and ignore the bigger picture.

7. Being unable to set and stick to deadlines is another definite warning sign.

8. A manager who is unwilling to hire former employees, perhaps from a previous company, is one who is not looking for people qualified to do the job.

9. Some bosses are addicted to consultants so they don't have to make the hard decisions.

10. Finally, truly bad supervisors are the ones who work the longest hours. As Heffernan writes, "they think this is a brand of heroism but it is probably the single biggest hallmark of incompetence."

Keep those signs in mind and then, if you want to be an effective leader of people, try your hardest to avoid them.

Older Comments

It's interesting how many of these traits characterise Gordon Brown - indecisive, bullying, addicted to consultants, weak team members, secretive . . . .

Trevor London

I'd have to argue with point 2. It's essential to have some secrets when you are a manager. In fact, they are essential currency to navigate the competitive managerial minefield.

The key is to not let your workers know that you are hiding secrets. That is the sure sign of an incompetent manager.


How To Be A Boss London

Chris - I don't agree

An mature way to deal with confidential information is to be honest with what is and what is not confidential To treat someone with respect and to honestly say 'sorry, that is confidential information' is fine with most employees

what the article is focussing on is 'mushroom management' i.e. to be kept in the dark and fed bullshit