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Good and bad leaders can be the opposite sides of the same coin

Flipping coin

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We know a bad leader when we see one. For example, a factory boss who lies constantly, humiliates his employees, and creates cost overruns on a major project is clearly a disastrous boss. But on CNBC.com, Gautam Mukunda, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School and author of Indispensable, notes those were all characteristics of someone commonly considered a fabulous leader – Steve Jobs.

Prof. Mukunda plays with our mind a bit more by suggesting that the best leaders defy the experts, taking their company to great success through their unusual insights. "Most of the time, if all the experts disagree with someone – they're right. That's why they're experts. And there's no consistent way to tell, in advance, when the experts are right and when they're wrong," he notes.

So we have the irony that the worst leaders as well as the best leaders often defy expert opinion, and the resulting failures for bad leaders lead them to infamy.

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Worst and best leaders are also similar in how they are chosen. The worst leaders, he suggests, are generally not thoroughly evaluated before given power, and turn out to be incompetent or make mistakes others would have avoided.

But often the best leaders surprise everyone by making unexpected choices. That happens because they weren't thoroughly evaluated, either, and the people who chose them did not realize how unique their thinking might be.

"These two opposite ends on the spectrum of leader success are often two sides of the same coin," he concludes.

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About the Author
Management columnist

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. More

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