The Bright and Dark Side of Leadership

By Cheuk Yue Wan, Georgiana Darau |

Do those bright, well adjusted, and socially skilled managers hired through well-developed assessment always get success at the end?

The results of a 30-years study shows that half of those managers were fired. Another research showed the percentages of management failure ranged from 30% to 67%, with an average of about 50%. CEOs could account for 14% to 40% of an organization’s financial consequences. Statistics showed 70% of employees worldwide are disengaged at work due to bad management and leadership. It is believed that about two-thirds of existing managers are ineffective, but because many are good at internal politics, fewer than half will be caught. Managers fail for a surprisingly consistent set of reasons: emotional immaturity, arrogance, micro-management, dishonesty, indecisiveness, poor communications, etc. Why is this happening? Researchers also proposed that those leaders who stand out are less concerned about their relations with their subordinates and, at the same time, certain dark side personality traits actually help them stand out.

Leadership emergence vs Leadership effectiveness

There is an important difference between leadership emergence and leadership effectiveness. Leadership emergence involves standing out in a group, and modern organizations tend to reward the winners of the within-group competition with ‘high potential’ nominations and promotions (e.g. salary rises, more senior titles, and bonuses). In contrast, leadership effectiveness concerns forming and managing a winning team, unit, or organization, and it is most indispensable when groups face crises. Nonetheless, organizations confuse leadership emergence and effectiveness. Observer ratings on leadership emergence seem to also indicate leadership effectiveness. However, we prefer to define effectiveness exclusively in terms of the impact a leader has on employee motivation, team dynamics, and tangible results, notably team performance.

Why would people so easily confuse the two concepts? According to the Implicit Leadership Theory, which argued that most people need external direction during crises and certain other people opportunistically co-opt these needs and assume leadership roles. The leaders evoke visceral feelings in followers, which is a pure animal instinct of fear and the need to reside. That’s how followers define effective leadership. The four perspectives that followers would consider as a leader’s potential are integrity, good judgement, competence, and vision, at least in perceived way. However, these are more related to leadership emergence instead of leader effectiveness.

Personality, IQ, EQ, and experience qualities of a desired leader

The highly effective CEOs had the same personalities: ‘Self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy’; at the same time they were ‘incredibly ambitious – but their ambition [was] first and foremost for the institution, not themselves’. Thus, they were a blend of extreme personal humility and ‘intense professional will’. They built high performing teams starting with proper employee selection, and finally effectiveness always trumps emergence.

Intelligence can be defined as the ability to think clearly, which entails reviewing assumptions, reflecting on performance, and making changes as needed. It is important for problem detection as well as problem resolution in between-groups competition. On the other hand, emotional intelligence (EQ), usually defined as the ability to identify and manage one’s and other people’s emotions is an important component of soft skills for managing people. Empirical research reported that employees whose bosses score lower on EQ are significantly more disengaged. EQ is also related to leadership emergence because it is positively related to supervisory ratings of job performance. However, both intelligence and high EQ are not always positive characteristics. High intelligence may imply they are good at playing internal politics. And high EQ is related to narcissism, even at the genotypic level. It is clear that too much positive self-belief leads to self-enhancing delusions. Second, being able to recognize emotions in others and empathize with them is positively related to narcissistic exploitativeness. It may be more useful to consider EQ in terms of emotional sensitivity and reactivity than an actual ‘intelligence’.

Similar to intelligence, experience affects leader competence. However individuals vary in their learning speed, their talent to apply that learning to novel situations, and the ability to unlearn false covariations. Evidence indicates that ‘learning agility’ predicts leadership success but not effectiveness. It is possible that the individuals who seem better able to learn from experience are also adept at managing upwards and attracting attention to themselves.

Leadership development trends in organizations

There is a trend that organizations are investing more resources into leadership development. Big data shows there is a growing trend of organizations to quantify performance and make evidence-based management decisions. Despite this increased emphasis on leadership training, public confidence in corporate leadership training has declined by 30%. 70% of Americans think we have a leadership crisis that is leading to national decline. Three quarters of respondents thought the leadership training programs in their organizations were ineffective. There are six reasons to explain that.

  1. Many organizations define leadership using idiosyncratic competent models, and when organizations do not know what they look for, they rarely find something meaningful.
  2. Organizations often send the wrong people to leadership development programs – including people who are primarily interested in being promoted and unwilling to listen to feedback.
  3. Most programs teach the wrong content; training in public speaking, building relationships, and influencing others is about learning to stand out and not about building a team.
  4. Most leadership development programs are targeted at individuals; if organizations want higher performing teams, they also need programs targeted at intact teams.
  5. Many organizations offer leadership development programs for the wrong reasons; senior leaders read trendy business books and decide to send ket staff through related programs to save their organizations.
  6. Training participants are not required to apply what they learn and the training programs are rarely evaluated.

Unfortunately, none of this is likely to change soon because many people are powerfully invested in maintaining the leadership development status quo.

All in all, it is important to differentiate the concepts of leadership emergence and leadership effectiveness. This blog introduced some important leader’s qualities and some of them could act as double-edged swords that could bring negative effects to the organization. We also discussed the paradox of the growing trend of leadership development and the credibility towards those programs.



Hogan, R., Curphy, G., Kaiser, R. B., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2018). Leadership in Organizations. In Ones, D. S., Anderson, N., Viswesvaran, C., & Sinangil, H. K. (Eds.). The SAGE Handbook of Industrial, Work & Organizational Psychology, 2v: Personnel Psychology and Employee Performance; Organizational Psychology; Managerial Psychology and Organizational Approaches. (Vol. 2, pp. 269–288). SAGE Publications Ltd.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top