Autor: dr.sc. Silvija Vig

“Followers who knowingly, deliberately commit themselves to bad leaders are themselves bad.” – Barbara Kellerman

  1. Values

First of all, it should be noted that those who follow bad leaders do not think of them as bad leaders. The reason for this lies in the same values by which they are guided as well as in the level of their moral awareness, that is, moral reasoning. It is hard to imagine that someone who is at higher levels of moral reasoning can follow a leader who is at lower levels and vice versa. Also, values motivate an individual to behave only if they are important to the individual or better said if they are activated in the individual. For example, if moral values, such as righteousness, benevolence, or altruism, are not important to the individual, neither moral judgment nor ultimately ethical action will be reached, and these followers will probably consciously and purposely side with bad leaders.

2. Prejudice

Another recurrent reason is the prejudice individuals have toward the notion of successful and effective leadership. In a meta-analysis of 187 studies of individual differences proposed to be relevant to effective leadership, Hoffman and colleagues found that seven traits were reliably and significantly associated with leader effectiveness. These included energy, dominance, self-confidence, grandiosity, feelings of belonging, low levels of empathy and charisma[1]. However, paradoxically, these are all qualities that are associated with narcissism and therefore narcissistic leadership that falls into the category of poor leadership. While for the qualities of integrity, credibility, honesty, transparency, humility, compassion, fairness and modesty, they find that they have no place in the business world, and all these are qualities of authentic leadership.

3. Personal interests

The next reason is certainly personal interests. To meet their needs, often times basic human needs such as security, protection and belonging, individuals side with bad leaders. However, satisfying one’s self-interests due to which individuals often seek political or material gain, pulls them into a vicious circle that is difficult to get out of. It seems that immoral leaders have the special power of recognizing the human needs of their close associates, which is not unusual because they are guided by the same values, thus offering and providing them with exactly what is most important to them, what they value most, and that is usually a position in an enterprise or society, power, recognition, money, and the like, and in turn, they seek loyalty and total commitment. If they oppose the leader or want to leave the group of his followers, they not only lose everything they have received, but by doing so, they endanger their livelihoods and the existence of their family, and lose all other privileges they have enjoyed as their leader’s followers. Such a vicious circle, and the leader’s realization that his followers are dependent on him, gives him the right to exercise autocratic leadership style which is often accompanied by hassling and disparagement of his close associates, justifying it by an informal, colloquial style of communication towards those who have failed to fulfil their obligations.

4. Need for authorities

One reason may also be the need for authorities whom the followers can admire and obey. According to Freud, we could attribute this intense need to “the longing for a father, which we have all been carrying in ourselves since our earliest childhood.”[2] Having someone as an authority means that we have someone we can follow, who know what they are doing and who are responsible for everything that happens. Such a need is more prevalent especially in collectivist countries, whose political order ensued from a totalitarian or a communist system. In his study of national cultures, Hofstede also explored the dimension of “Power distance” according to which many collectivist countries such as Croatia (score 73), China (score 80), Serbia (score 86), Albania (score 90), Ukraine (score 92), Russia (score 93), Romania (score 90), Saudi Arabia (score 95), Slovakia (score 100) are highly rated, which means that people accept a hierarchical order in which everyone has a place, but which is simultaneously governed by inequality; the subordinates wait to be told what to do, and an autocratic leadership style is considered to be ideal[3].

5. Cohesion and identity

Furthermore, groups often follow bad leaders because even bad leaders often provide some important benefits, maintain order, ensure cohesion and identity, and take care of affairs of common interest.[4] However, such leaders rarely consult others and although they seem to delegate tasks, in principle they always make the final decision on their own. Their delegation comes down to giving detailed commands, such as “Call him, tell him this and that, do this, do that, not in this manner, I told you how to do it…“, instead of giving the followers the freedom to choose methods, in alignment with the company’s values, thus making them responsible for the outcome and thus taking control over everything, but not assuming responsibility. If something goes wrong, very often they will blame their co-workers.


[1] Hoffman, B. J., Woehr, D. J., Maldagen‐Youngjohn, R., Lyons, B. D. (2011) Great man or great myth? A quantitative review of the relationship between individual differences and leader effectiveness. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology84(2), 347-381.

[2] Kellerman, B. (2006) Loše vodstvo. Zagreb: Naklada Zadro.

[3] Hofstede Insights (2019) Country Comparison, Croatia. Available on: https://www.hofstede-insights.com/country-comparison/croatia/ [20. 04. 2019]

[4] Kellerman, B. (2006) Loše vodstvo. Zagreb: Naklada Zadro.