Key Takeaways – Dysfunctional Leadership Conference

On Wednesday the “Dysfunctional Leadership Conference” took place in London. Here are our main takeaways from two of the speakers, who were no less than Scott Gregory, CEO of Hogan Assessments and Professor Adrian Furnham.

Let’s start with Scott Gregory‘s talk about Absentee Leadership

Absentee Leadership Scott Gregory CEO Hogan Assessments

Absentee Leadership Scott Gregory CEO Hogan Assessments

Research shows that managers are typically fired for one of 11 reasons – all covered by the HDS, Hogan Development Survey. The Dark Side of Behaviour – the moments under pressure and stress when we are not self-aware and tend to overuse our strengths (and turn them therefore into weaknesses). This managerial derailment can be easily observed (not from the person herself / himself, but from others) cause it’s our reputation.

Absentee leadership

Absentee leadership on the other hand is very hard to observe. Simply for the reason that the leader doesn’t do anything at all. He or she is simply absent. Absent from the duty and responsibility of leading people. This means delaying or not giving feedback, not providing employees with clear directions, delayed decisions or no decision-making at all (waiting until the decision has been made), lack of rewards, interest and motivation. In a nutshell: it doesn’t make any difference whether the leader is present or not. It always feels as he / she is absent.

Absentee leadership has been found to be the least effective form of leadership. Aasland, Skogstad, Notelaers et al. (2010) that up to 84% of all employees suffer from some form of destructive leadership. The most relevant one with 21% was absentee leadership.

Job satisfaction

Within a 6 month two 2 years time frame absentee leadership is negatively related to job satisfaction. This means that absentee leadership has even longer, negative effects on employee’s job satisfaction that tyrannical leadership.

Even if you wouldn’t care whether you employees are happy and satisfied at work you’ll probably care about performance. Performance, which correlates positively with job satisfaction – so you should care!

Happy employees are also less prone to leave the company because they are more committed. The overall damage for the organisation amounts to a minimum of $ 30 Billion (up to $ 300 Billion) in the US alone. That’s quite some money!

The individual contributor

One label that struck me was ‘the individual contributor’ as a dysfunctional leader. Aren’t we all looking for contributors that are independent, stand on their feet and work hard? Sure we do. However, in a leadership position this kind of behaviour can be devastating. When the person is more focused on their own performance. Also, a fixed mindset – keeping the same tactics that worked in the past, without adopting flexible to the new situation – can become difficult and even dangerous.

Sales environments & individual contributors

Often we find this kind of behaviour in environments like sales where top performers are being promoted into managerial roles. Often, without paying any attention to the person’s desire and understanding of leadership. But because it’s often unfortunately the only way to get recognition and a pay raise, people take the role on.This leads to leadership being seen as a privilege rather than a responsibility. Those individual contributors, especially when not professionally trained and accompanied on their transition into the new role, can fail and demotivate a whole team. Someone who is used to make money, earn commission and be competitive will probably have trouble understanding that from now one he / she is no longer part of the team.

They are the leader. Their job is not to earn commission but to show and coach others how it’s been done. The individual contributor often has trouble delegating and and involving others.


Conclusion Absentee Leaders

The biggest problem with absentee leaders is that they are very hard to spot – because they don’t do anything, literally. They don’t seek proactively trouble, they don’t pick fights and even their teams are often not even ineffective – because they learn how to do it without their leader if the team consists of top performers! Because those effects are hard to spot and difficult to handle organisations are likely to accumulate absentee leaders over time.

Thanks a mil Scott Gregory for these incredible insights! 

Absentee Leadership Scott Gregory CEO Hogan Assessments

Absentee Leadership Scott Gregory CEO Hogan Assessments


As mentioned earlier I’d like to also add the main highlights form Professor Adrian Furnham‘s talk “Why leaders fail and derail“. Please find those below.

Why Leaders Fail & Derail by Professor Adrian Furnham

Why Leaders Fail & Derail by Professor Adrian Furnham

Incompetence vs Derailment

One of the most interesting points for me was the difference between incompetence and derailment. Unfortunately, we often do not understand derailment or don’t know what it is. Therefore I loved the two definitions.

Incompetence: Not having enough of some important characteristics.

Derailment: Usually having too much of a characteristic.

This means that incompetence is the pure lack of something. This could be characteristics like intelligence, conscientiousness etc.

Derailment leads us to overuse our strengths. This often happens when we are stressed, under pressure or in general in extreme situations. An eye for details becomes perfectionism. Ambition becomes cockiness or arrogance etc. (If you’d like to find out how you derail, please do get in touch! Hogan’s HDS (Hogan Development Survey) assesses exactly this and is the only assessment that identifies derailers.  Stephanie is a certified Hogan consultant and is more than happy to assist you!) 

Management Failure

Professor Furnham has shown some very interesting facts and figures from research on the ‘estimated base rates for management failure’.

The turned out Mean was 47% and the Median was as high as 50% – the base rate of bad leadership is up to 50%. Wow. Half of all leaders suck.

3 root causes of derailment

Derailment tends to have three main root causes:

  1. Troubled relationships
  2. Self image and awareness
  3. Major changes that require adaption

3 fundamental issues

  1. Always selecting in and not selecting out
  2. Assuming linearity between competencies and success
  3. Not seeing or understanding the dark side of bright side traits and vice versa – the paradoxical benefits of subclinical pathology

Here are some examples of competencies and their potential dark sides for a better understanding of the issues above.

Team Player – could lack independent judgement, indecisive and not a risk taker

Innovative – could be unrealistic, impractical and lacking resourcefulness

Analytical thinker – potential analysis paralysis


Professor Furnham went on to outline leadership derailment with personality disorders. Extremely interesting but probably not too relevant in this context in this moment.

Therefore I’d cut it off here. Thanks a mil for checking out this content and thanks a mil Professor Furnham for these incredibly interesting insights and your fun and engaged way of delivery.

Why Leaders Fail & Derail by Professor Adrian Furnham

Why Leaders Fail & Derail by Professor Adrian Furnham


Aasland, M. S., Skogstad, A., Notelaers, G., Nielsen, M. B., and Einsarsen, S. (2010): The prevalence of destructive leadership behaviour. British Journal of Management, 21(2), 438-452.


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