The one sentence summary

There is a better way to select leaders than a deeply flawed system that rewards arrogance over humility and loudness over wisdom, to the detriment of competent women and men who don’t fit the stereotype.


  • Research shows that men are more likely to be overconfident, narcissists, and psychopathic than women. These traits help them to achieve a leadership role, and then hurts their performance when in it.
  • Women have higher rates of transformational leadership, personal effectiveness and self-awareness than men. All driven by higher emotional intelligence (EQ).
  • Good leaders require:

1. Intellectual capital – domain-specific expertise, experience and good judgement.

2. Social capital – the network and connections at their disposal.

3. Psychological capital – how they lead when using their capabilities. This includes their bright side (what they do when at their best), the dark side (less desirable traits) and the inside (their values and moral compass).

  • 75% of people quit their jobs because of their direct line manager, and 65% of Americans say they would rather change their boss than get a pay rise.
  • What if these two questions are causally linked – that most leaders are bad, and that most are male. Or, would the prevalence of bad leadership decrease if fewer men, and more women, were in charge?
  • Most leaders are inept – unaware of their limitations, overconfident, abrasive, and very much in awe of themselves. Ironically, people tend to equate leadership with the very behaviours that often signal bad leadership. Overconfidence is a classic example – often cited at interview as the reason why a man got the job.
  • Confidence has become a surrogate for competence. There is no relationship between the two.
  • Bad guys win for various reasons. Narcissism and psychopathy are common character traits that often disguise toxic qualities behind charm and so-called charisma (see the charisma myth).
  • Narcissists aren’t more creative than anyone else – they just sell their ideas to others better. They are masters of impression management. Men are more likely to be narcissists because sexual selection favours dominance, competition and status seeking. Over time, they have become more assertive and entitled.
  • Meanwhile women have become more narcissistic, but it doesn’t work, which is why it is dangerous to encourage women to lean in or act more like men to climb the corporate ladder. In fact women are punished for behaving like men.
  • Three reasons not to have narcissist leaders:

1. They are significantly more prone to have counterproductive and antisocial work behaviours, such as bullying, fraud, and harassment.

2. They tend to perform well at the start, and then tail off. They are not good at execution.

3. Narcissism changes little over time, so they won’t change, and don’t respond well to criticism or coaching.

  • What makes someone psychopathic? Lack of moral inhibition, tendency to make reckless choices, lack of empathy. They don’t care what others think.
  • There is a charisma myth. There is no true definition of it – it is intangible, and is in the eye of the beholder. And yet it is cited as a vital quality for almost every leader. Alarmingly, it only takes us 5 seconds to decide whether someone has ‘charisma’ – another flaw in the interview process.
  • It’s not all bad though – charismatic leaders increase staff morale and loyalty. There is a positive correlation between charismatic leaders and stock ratings, but not with actual company performance.
  • The average benefit of firing toxic workers is 4 times greater than adding a good employee to the organisation.


  • To act on all of this data, we need to distinguish between the common (mistaken) perception of leadership vs. the scientific view:

Leadership aspect   Common perception           Evidence-based view

Definition:               In charge with power       Build winning team

Goal:                        Get to top, be successful   Help team outperform rivals

Performance:          Career success                    Depends on team

Subordinates:         Help leader succeed          Unite in shared goal

Attributes:               Confidence & charisma    Competence & integrity

  • Data-driven lessons about leadership:
  • Some characteristics are hard to change
  • Good coaching works (but mostly with humble leaders)
  • Beware of leaders’ strengths (look at weaknesses for the full picture)
  • Self-awareness is essential
  • It is not easy to go against our nature
  • Coachability is an integral part of potential
  • In summary: stop interpreting displays of overconfidence, narcissism, psychopathy and charisma as signs of leadership potential. Instead, acknowledge the importance of EQ.
  • Putting more women in leadership roles does not necessarily increase the quality of leadership, whereas putting more talented leaders into leadership roles will increase the representation of women. The big problem is really a lack of career obstacles for incompetent men.


  • Not much, but by the end of the book, this is more about leadership generally than the male/female discussion.