Interest in leadership dates back to ancient times. Despite the abundant academic literature generated over such a long period of time, the richness and complexity of the term makes it difficult to provide a clear definition. In this sense, Fiedler pointed out that there are almost as many definitions of leadership as there are leadership theories. As Jiménez, Chinchilla, and Grau explain in their new publication, leadership has generally been associated with a positive bias. In fact, we read books about good leaders, not bad ones. In this sense, we could consider bad leadership as an oxymoron.

Unfortunately, today we continue to witness the influence of bad leaders and their mismanagement in public and private spheres, such as politics, the corporate world, the media, science, as well as in our homes. Bad leadership can take many forms, from the more explicit, visible and illegal such as fraud, corruption, environmental degradation, or bullying, to much more subtle, silent and non-punishable forms such as indifference.

We might think that bad leadership is a minor issue. However, according to a study published in the Journal of Leardership Studies, one third of the participants considered their superior to be a bad leader. These are big words. They felt that they showed favouritism, took an employee’s idea as their own, or admonished a colleague in the presence of others.


Misuse of power results in bad leaders

The nature of the dark side of human action has been a theme consistently addressed throughout the history of thought. Two clear examples are Leviathan by the English philosopher Hobbes (1588-1679) and The Prince, written by the Italian political theorist Machiavelli (1469-1527). Understanding the dark side of human action, however, remains a contemporary theoretical challenge, as Salvador Giner points out in Sociología del Mal (Sociology of Evil).

There has been a recent effort in the organisational and management literature to understand why some employees, managers and corporations behave badly. According to Kellerman in his article Bad leadership, it is important to first understand that leaders, good and bad, are “power bearers”. In other words, they are people who have been offered power as a means to achieve their team’s goals. Therefore, the answer lies not in power, but in the use of power.

From bad leaders to responsible leaders

As the reader can imagine, it is not easy to move from bad leadership to responsible leadership. However, there are some clues. For example, Pérez López proposes to consider three criteria in every decision. These are effectiveness, efficiency, and consistency. Bad leaders only consider the first two criteria, the achievement of the objective, and learning for oneself. But it’s only responsible leaders who include consistency, learning from others, as the third criterion in every decision, along with task achievement and learning for oneself.

We must be able to generate new spaces to rethink the importance of consistency, of the other, of others. According to Pérez López, even business schools themselves forget this point; there’s a necessary focus on effectiveness and efficiency, but consistency is the forgotten aspect. It is, therefore, necessary to make a paradigm shift where interactions with the team go from being transactions to relationships, and employees, from employees to people in all their fullness. It’s a subtle shift in perspective, but this subtlety can change the paradigm necessary for responsible leadership to emerge.



Jiménez, E.; Chinchilla, N.; Grau-Grau, M., (2021), “From bad leadership to responsible leadership: the revolution of motives among leaders”, Debating Bad Leadership: Reasons and Remedies, Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN: 978-3-030-65024-7