The Wrong Reasons to be a Leader

[May 19, 2018]  We’ve all witnessed those in leadership positions who were there for all the wrong reasons.  It matters not what profession one is in, there will always be someone who is there that should be there.

I saw it in my first U.S. Army Company Commander who had already been promoted twice and had one of the few positions that called for considerable responsibility and intellect to succeed.  Thus, being smart and dedicated are traits that cannot overcome the problem of being there for the wrong reasons.

The most common wrong reasons to be a leader are money, power, and prestige.1  Other reasons do exist.  I knew a man who joined the railroad to become a conductor because all his family worked on the railroad and it was expected of him to do the same.  He was not a good conductor.  Tradition also plays a part.

Historically, those who become leaders for the wrong reasons have serious problems somewhere in their careers.  Along the line of their profession, something trips them up and their true character’s show.  If one becomes a leader for the wrong reasons, that person will often lack the personal will, courage, and staying power it takes to succeed.

They are often indecisive, unable to connect with people, lack the necessary social skills, and are not sufficiently resilient.  It may be that they fail to be sufficiently transparent as a leader.  It could be that they are not honest with or loyal to those that work for them.  Or, it could be this leader cares more about themselves and their career than for anything else.  As such they are not ready to be a leader.

One can, however, overcome this problem by better preparing themselves for leadership.  Leaders who are socially and professionally balanced can adapt to most any situation.  It is true that not everyone should be a leader and not everyone wants to be one.  But to be a good leader, one must want to be one for the right reasons.


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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

22 thoughts on “The Wrong Reasons to be a Leader

  1. Dale Paul Fox

    Another good article for us. Thank you Gen Satterfield.

  2. Doug Smith

    If you have any experience as a leader in a large company or any one that is very successful, I believe you will find occasionally a leader that shouldn’t be there. Why? They often don’t even know why they are there but it usually boils down to the fact that they are there for the wrong reasons. Money, prestige, or power … all make for bad reasons to be a leader and one that will always come back to haunt everyone involved.

  3. Darryl Sitterly

    Experience, merit, ability to lead – all these seem not to matter much in our politically correct world. Best to start your own business, hire the best, and then run circles around the competition.

  4. Gil Johnson

    I once competed for a lead engineer job at a large university. I lost out to a younger woman engineer. She had no leadership experience. Leadership was, however, required. After a year she was fired. The university leadership looked like fools. She had the job for the wrong reason … she was a woman. I’m not being sexist. The university leaders were sexists because they favored her because they wanted diversity over competence. Everyone lost.

    1. Albert Ayer

      I hear stories like this all the time.

    2. Bryan Lee

      Until our society moves beyond the stupid, this will continue.

    3. Jerome Smith

      How sad but how common this incident has become.

  5. Eric Coda

    Several commentators have noted that when people are put into leadership positions (for the wrong reasons) and those leaders fail, it can lead to reinforcing stereotypes about them. For example, a woman is given preference over a man. If she fails, then people will say, “Hey look, she was just a woman and they don’t make good leaders.” This is why good senior leaders should put people in leader positions who WANT to be there and have the credentials to succeed.

  6. Scotty Bush

    Thank you for another entertaining and educational article.

  7. Mark Evans

    I recently lost 20 pounds on a diet that is called “the Caveman Diet.” Basically, you eat anything you want but only once per day. Wow, it was hard to do. But it worked. My wife said she was amazed at the discipline to stick to it for the 3 months it took to lose the weight. Discipline is hard. Discipline requires strength. Note everyone has it.

  8. Dennis Mathes

    I too have seen people who are in leadership positions for the wrong reasons and the results are often really bad for everyone, including that leader. I once had a boss who was Power Hungry. There is no other way to say it. He wanted to boss people around and got some sort of perverted joy from it. He was fired after two weeks on the job. But the damage to the company’s reputation had already happened. Why he got the job in the first place was the problem that showed poor senior leadership at the top.

  9. Shawn C. Stolarz

    Good article today and something I never really gave much thought to. Thank you Gen Satterfield for an early Saturday morning article to think about.

  10. Jonathan B.

    I think we’ve all seen people pushed into leadership positions they do not want and never would have accepted. However, it is up to them to develop themselves so that they can do the right thing for their employees and not become a bad leader who is there for the wrong reasons.

  11. Max Foster

    Good article but I will pick up on Georgie’s post and note that sometimes people are given leadership positions and they accept it simply because it was offered. They don’t really want it but the feel obligated. That is also not a good reason to be a leader.

  12. Georgie M.

    Wow, I have run across my share of bad leaders who were there for the wrong reasons. Maybe it was my interpretation of why they were there or in some cases they told me. Many lacked the willpower to stay and do a good job. That is the crux of the “wrong reasons to be a leader.” My last boss was a woman who was given the position because she was a woman. She didn’t really want it but the company CEO wanted it to look like we were “diverse.” Yep, we were diverse and had poor leadership because of the CEO’s poor decision.

    1. Janna Faulkner

      Good story Georgie. I know what you mean and it gives woman a bad rap.

    2. Scotty Bush

      I saw this too happen on several occasions and the results were not pretty. It also reinforces stereotypes.

  13. Army Captain

    Good list of reasons why. I met my fair share of poor leaders and many of them were there for all the wrong reasons.

    1. Army Captain

      Anita, I think we’ve all witness them. Our job as leaders is to get past the problem by working with and supporting those who are in that situation.

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