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In Search of Better Leaders: A Q&A with Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

All Things Work's Theresa Agovino spoke with Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, author of Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders? (And How to Fix It) (Harvard Business Review, 2019) and chief talent scientist at ManpowerGroup, about why men have the inside track on leadership roles even though women may be better suited for those positions. Chamorro-Premuzic is also a professor of business psychology at University College London and at Columbia University, as well as an associate at Harvard's Entrepreneurial Finance Lab.

What was the reaction to the book's title?
People either hated or loved the book without reading a single page.

Could a woman have written a book with that title?
Many of my female colleagues said, "You realize that people are only paying attention to the book because you're a man." If people pay attention because I'm a man, so be it. I feel that I have a responsibility to write about it because I'm a man. Follow the arguments and the evidence and refute and criticize if you want, but the book is evidence-based. It is data-driven.

How did so many incompetent men become leaders?
For most of evolution, leadership was a function of visible, physical traits. It was quite tangible. The person to lead the group and ensure its survival needed to be strong, courageous and honest. Today it's more complex. We need people who are strategic, critical thinkers, curious, intelligent, empathetic. Leadership has changed in complexity, but our approach for making inferences about leadership has not evolved. We make inferences on people we barely meet. This is why fundamentally when you ask someone what makes a good leader, they think things like confidence, charisma, likeability. This is what they can see. We need technical skills, competency, honesty—things that are harder to identify in short interactions. We have outdated systems to identify leaders.

Do you think women are better leaders?
Most people agree that people with higher EQ (emotional intelligence), people skills, integrity, self-awareness and coachability are assets to be effective leaders or managers today. If we truly selected leaders on the basis of EQ, women would be overrepresented. Feminists don't like this. They say men and women are equal, but I disagree. Evidence shows that women are more empathetic, have higher levels of agreeability, altruism, higher degrees of self-control and self-awareness, humility, coachability, and those are assets. If we don't acknowledge this, we're making it harder not only for women to get into leadership but for men with more feminine profiles to get ahead, too.

You say companies spend $360 billion on leadership and management training. Why don't we have better leaders? Is that a good idea?
It's out of proportion to return on investment. A lot of the problems that are trying to be solved with training and executive coaching could have been prevented if people had been selected appropriately. We're much better at predicting behavior than changing behavior. People should spend more time, money, resources to evaluate employees and leaders before they join their companies

Theresa Agovino is the workplace editor for SHRM.


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