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Incompetency at the C-Level: Identifying Causes and Strategies for Success

Incompetency at the C-Level

In recent years, we've witnessed a concerning trend in the corporate world: an increase in incompetency among C-level executives. This issue isn't exclusive to a single gender; it affects both male and female leaders.

While not all executives fall into this category, it's important to understand why this phenomenon is on the rise and how employees can thrive while working under such leadership. To start, let’s explore the potential causes behind this trend and offer practical tips on how to navigate it successfully.

"Incompetent leaders often have one skill that's really well-developed: they're very good at convincing others they're more competent than they really are." -Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

Confidence vs. Competency

One of the key challenges when dealing with incompetent C-level executives is their ability to project confidence. Many of these leaders excel at bluffing their way through situations, creating an illusion of competency that can be deceptive.

As Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, an expert in leadership and talent management, aptly puts it, "Incompetent leaders often have one skill that's really well-developed: they're very good at convincing others they're more competent than they really are." This phenomenon highlights the critical distinction between confidence and competency.

Confidence, while important, is not a reliable indicator of leadership competency. In fact, research suggests that there is often an inverse relationship between confidence and actual skill.

Incompetent leaders may exude confidence, but their actions and decisions may lack substance. This can lead to misguided strategies, poor decision-making, and ultimately, negative outcomes for the organization.

Jim Collins, in his seminal work "Good to Great," delves into the concept of hedgehog leadership. He emphasizes the importance of leaders focusing on what they are genuinely good at, aligning their skills and passions with their role.

In contrast, incompetent leaders often lack this alignment, leading to a mismatch between their perceived confidence and their actual ability to deliver results. Collins' hedgehog concept encourages leaders to have a deep understanding of their strengths and limitations, something that many incompetent C-suites seem to lack.

The ability of some leaders to bluff effectively can make it challenging for employees to discern bet

Why do so many incompetent men become leaders

ween genuine competency and mere confidence. In such cases, it becomes even more crucial for employees to rely on their own judgment, continuously assess the leadership's actions, and seek out data-driven evidence of competence.

This approach aligns with Collins' principle of disciplined people, disciplined thought, and disciplined action to ensure leaders are rooted in reality rather than illusion.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic further elaborates on the issue of incompetent male leaders: "Incompetent men are especially effective at masking their shortcomings because they possess a unique ability to charm, manipulate, and deceive others into thinking they are more talented than they actually are."

Such a statement highlights the gender-neutral nature of incompetency and underlines the importance of looking beyond stereotypes when evaluating leadership.

Static Knowledge vs. Lifelong Learning

I've observed another noteworthy issue: Many C-level executives, despite graduating from prestigious Ivy League schools, seem to halt their learning journey the moment they receive their diplomas.

Not only does their education come to a standstill, but their mindset also ceases to expand. New concepts, strategies, and, in some instances, even software, become mere buzzwords to them.

This stands in stark contrast to the concept of lifelong learning, where individuals embrace a continuous journey of educational pursuits and personal development throughout their lives. The absence of this commitment to ongoing learning epitomizes this stark difference.

I implore corporate hiring managers to exercise sound judgment in their recruitment procedures by redirecting their attention away from qualifications obtained over five years ago.

Although academic credentials hold significance, it is equally, if not more, vital to underscore what candidates have autonomously acquired and cultivated.

In our swiftly evolving business environment, the capacity to adapt, engage in perpetual learning, and remain attuned to cutting-edge trends and technologies stands as an indispensable trait.

This innate commitment to enhancing one's skills frequently serves as a compelling indicator of a candidate's potential for flourishing within the dynamic corporate landscape.

Understanding the Rise of Incompetency

It's a well-acknowledged truth that people often quit their boss, not their job.

This occurrence frequently stems from the perception of incompetence demonstrated by their immediate supervisor or manager. When employees feel that their bosses lack the necessary skills, leadership qualities, or understanding of their role, it can lead to a lack of motivation and job satisfaction.

Platforms like Glassdoor, which enable employees to voice their opinions anonymously, serve as a crucial channel for feedback. However, it's disheartening to observe that, all too often, Human Resources or other C-level executives respond defensively to these opinions rather than embracing them as valuable insights.

Instead of dismissing such feedback, companies should recognize it as an opportunity for growth and improvement, using it to create actionable plans for enhancing leadership competency and, ultimately, fostering a healthier and more productive work environment.

Hence, the question persists: why do we continue to witness the prevalence of incompetency? This inquiry often occupies my thoughts, driven by my extensive corporate experiences.

Below are several possible factors. However, I eagerly invite your insights and thoughts on the matter, which you can share in the comment section below.


Nepotism emerges when individuals avoid being challenged and instead surround themselves with yes-men and yes-women, leading to an atmosphere of incompetence.

Nepotism also contributes to having incompetent employees

Frequently, I observe this practice of forming a close-knit circle of colleagues or friends who have shared past employment experiences within the same company. Unfortunately, instead of conducting objective evaluations of their skillsets, decisions tend to be heavily influenced by personal preferences, perpetuating the cycle of incompetence.

Lack of Accountability

A culture of impunity, where C-level executives are shielded from consequences for their actions, can foster incompetence. When leaders are not held accountable for their mistakes, they may become complacent or take risks without considering the potential fallout.

Rapid Promotions

In today's fast-paced business environment, many executives are promoted quickly without sufficient time to develop the necessary skills and experience. This haste often results from a desire to fill leadership positions urgently, leaving these individuals ill-equipped to handle their responsibilities effectively.

Lack of Diverse Perspectives

Homogeneity in boardrooms can lead to groupthink, where executives make decisions without considering alternative viewpoints. When a C-suite is dominated by individuals with similar backgrounds, experiences, or worldviews, it increases the likelihood of poor decision-making and incompetence.

Misaligned Incentives

Compensation packages that prioritize personal gain over company performance can incentivize executives to make decisions that maximize their own wealth rather than benefiting the organization.

Thriving When Working Under Incompetent Leadership

When faced with the challenge of having incompetent C-suite leaders at the helm of the company, and recognizing that we may not have direct control over their leadership, what strategies can we employ to discover opportunities for growth and thrive in such complex environments?

Be Adaptable

Flexibility is key when dealing with incompetent leadership. Be prepared to adapt to changing circumstances and take on additional responsibilities when necessary.

Build a Support Network

Forge connections with colleagues who share your concerns about leadership and engage in constructive conversations that foster collaborative problem-solving rather than idle gossip. By sharing experiences and seeking advice, you can collectively navigate the challenges more effectively and find innovative solutions to the issues at hand.

Communicate Effectively

Maintain open lines of communication with your immediate supervisor, even if they are not the C-level executive. Express your concerns, provide feedback, and propose solutions when appropriate. Constructive feedback can help improve the overall situation.

Focus on Personal Growth

Use the experience as an opportunity for personal and professional growth. Identify areas where you can develop your skills and knowledge, and take advantage of training or learning opportunities within and outside the organization.

Side Gigs

For those adept at time management and adeptly juggling multiple responsibilities, consider maintaining one or two side gigs that align somewhat with your full-time job.

These additional roles could take the form of consulting opportunities or positions that offer valuable experiences not available in your primary job.

By proactively taking ownership of your professional development in this manner, you can continuously enhance your skills and broaden your expertise.

Recognizing When It's Time to Move On

We're all familiar with the adage, "enough is enough." There comes a moment when your inner instincts signal that it's time to explore new horizons, and it's essential to heed that call.

For those who prefer a more analytical approach over intuition and gut feelings, consider evaluating the following indicators to ascertain when it's the right moment for change.

1. No Signs of Improvement:

If the incompetent leadership persists despite your best efforts to adapt and communicate, it may be a sign that the situation won't change anytime soon.

2. Stalled Career Growth:

If you find that your career progression has stagnated or your development opportunities are limited due to ineffective leadership, it might be time to explore roles elsewhere that align better with your goals.

3. Declining Job Satisfaction:

A constant feeling of frustration, stress, or dissatisfaction with your work can have a negative impact on your well-being. Your mental and emotional health should be a priority.

4. Better Opportunities:

When you come across a new job opportunity that offers better prospects, a more supportive work environment, or a chance to make a greater impact, it may be worth considering a move.

5. Self-Evaluation

One piece of advice I frequently share, and a practice I personally followed during my corporate tenure, is to regularly explore the job market and actually apply to a few positions that align with the current skill set and accomplishments.

This proactive approach can help you gauge the accuracy and relevance of your skills, especially if you've been guided by incompetent superiors.

If you find yourself unable to progress past the initial interview stage, it should raise some concerns. The rationale behind this is straightforward: your current role is not positioning you for the level of success you deserve.

If this article strikes a chord with you, rest assured that you're not alone in grappling with these challenges. I firmly believe that there's a solution to every problem when we choose to take responsibility for our own actions rather than placing blame solely on our employers.

Please don't hesitate to share your questions or insights in the comment section or reach out to me directly. Always remember, positive change begins the moment we commit to taking action.