Originally answered Sep 10, 2017
Pointy-haired bosses: The Peter Principle posited that people are promoted to their level of incompetence. I have observed a harsher reality in which many managers are like the pointy-haired boss in Dilbert. When I ask people if they have had mostly good or bad bosses, they generally answer with the latter. This condition can be described as Mediocracy:
- Rule by those who are of average, or below average, competence
- A society in which people with little (if any) talent and skill are dominant and highly influential
- A system which is the antithesis of a meritocracy
Why is this the prevalent condition? The reasons include:
- Fear: managers are afraid to make waves, stand out, rock the boat, disagree with others, stand up to their chain of command, risk failure, think independently, or uphold a set of principles.
- Selfishness: managers mostly look out for themselves, including achieving power, controlling others, keeping their job, getting promoted, earning raises and bonuses, and enjoying perks.
- Poor role models: due to the scarcity of good leaders, budding managers emulate their pointy-haired bosses.
- Replication: when poor managers hire and promote new managers, they perpetuate mediocrity by hiring and promoting more poor managers.
- Threat avoidance: bad bosses don’t want to be shown up by their subordinates or look bad in comparison to them, so they make sure that people even weaker than they are are hired and kept around, and that excellent people are not hired or promoted, or are transferred or laid off.
An Onion article, Executive On Hot Streak With 2 Straight Logical Decisions, exemplifies the low expectations we tend to have for leaders. We have a long way to go to improve the prevailing state of leadership.