Google "my boss is" and you get fill-in-the-blanks like "toxic," "unbearable," "crazy," and "abusive." (You also get an array of words not fit to print.)

Even if you've never had a truly terrible boss, chances are you've worked for someone who wasn't nearly as good as that person thought he or she was. And according to organizational psychologist and former lecturer at Harvard and Stanford, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, statistically that person is far more likely to be a man than a woman. 

The author of ten 10 books and over 150 scientific papers, Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic knows what he's talking about, and he asserts the following: men are both more likely to be inaccurate in their perception of their own talents and more likely to succeed in their careers.

Why do they succeed more often? In part because when you fool yourself into believing you're excellent at what you do, you're better at fooling other people, too.

According to Chamorro-Premuzic, while women are under-represented in leadership positions, the bigger problem is that most leaders are incompetent. This is disturbing because whether you're looking at leadership in business or politics, incompetent leaders wreak havoc wherever they go. They provoke low levels of engagement, prompt burnout and stress, and damage both trust and productivity. 

There are three primary reasons why so many incompetent men become leaders. First, a lot of people have trouble distinguishing between confidence and competence.

"Across cultures and countries, we tend to assume that confident people have more potential for leadership," says Chamorro-Premuzic, "but in any area of talent, including leadership, there is very little overlap between confidence (how good people think they are at something) and competence (how good they actually are at something)."

Second, people love charisma. As a culture we're obsessed with it, especially since the advent of mass media. However, charming individuals who can make others laugh or be outrageous do not necessarily make the best leaders. In fact, Chamorro-Premuzic argues, "the best leaders are humble rather than charismatic, to the point of being boring."

Third, as a culture we tend to find narcissistic people fascinating. "We've always admired famous people," says Chamorro-Premuzic, "but our admiration for people who admire themselves or are famous for just being famous has been rising for decades." (Kanye and the Kardashians come to mind.) 

This is particularly problematic because narcissists see leadership as something to which they're entitled--and don't really care about taking care of others. They demonstrate a marked lack of empathy, which not only leaves them unable to authentically bond with their teams, but means they frequently act without integrity and take risks that are ill-advised. They tend to be bad for the people around them and bad for the business overall.

By contrast, "the best leaders keep their narcissism in check," says Chamorro-Premuzic. "They care a lot about other people, including what they think of them, and they spend a great deal of time worrying about their reputation, which is why there are very few scandals about them."

So how do you prevent an incompetent man from becoming your next leader?

First of all, look for the qualities that actually make for excellent leaders; don't be seduced by charisma. Says Chamorro-Premuzic, "Instead of falling for people who are confident, narcissistic and charismatic, we should promote people because of competence, humility and integrity. 

Interestingly, Chamorro-Premuzic adds that just doing this "would also lead to a higher proportion of female than male leaders -- large-scale scientific studies show that women score higher than men on measures of competence, humility and integrity."

Second, don't just trust your instincts. Don't fixate on the impression you got from the sole job interview. Your intuition isn't always accurate. Do deeper research on this person, especially researching their humility, integrity, and empathy skills. Are they a good listener? Do their former colleagues rate them high when it comes to integrity? Remember that someone who's excellent at what they do and humble may look boring. That's OK. 

Third, when seeking to help more women in your organization advance, change the culture so that you're not unconsciously encouraging women to act more like incompetent men. For example, don't tell women to "lean in" when they don't have the skills to back it up. Don't tell them to spend more time advancing their own interests or engaging in self-promotion.

The solution to getting higher-quality leaders is not by telling modest, steady people to advocate for themselves more. It's to seek out humble, empathetic, emotionally safe, reliable people who are good at what they do and put them in leadership positions.

Do that and watch your organization thrive.

Published on: Jan 24, 2020
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.