We Need To Talk About Toxic Incompetence In Leadership

This kind of behavior could kill your company

Joe Procopio


What do leaders do when they realize they suck at leadership?

Well, they do a lot of things. And some of those things are OK, they should even be encouraged, to a point. I mean, not everyone is a born leader. Some of us have to learn the hard way — we get thrust into leadership and wind up making some pretty critical and embarrassing mistakes along the way.

But some of those flaws can leak into what I’d call toxic incompetence. I’ll uncover those leaks here so you can spot them, and I’ll give you my best advice for dealing with incompetent leaders.

And hopefully even keep you from becoming one.

Toxic Leadership Usually Starts Out As Visionary Leadership

Let’s get a couple things out of the way immediately.

First: I think “toxic” is a word that gets way overused for the wrong reasons.

Just because I don’t like something doesn’t make it toxic. I don’t like brussels sprouts. They stink. That doesn’t make them toxic. It just makes me sensitive.

And just because something offends me doesn’t make it toxic either. Reality television offends me, on a deep, spiritual level. Doesn’t make it toxic. I want to call it toxic, but I’m mature enough to know that I just don’t understand it. And I’m comfortable with my ignorance there.

I say this because most people don’t like or understand most visionaries.

You’re about to argue with me until I throw Elon Musk at you.

Love him or hate him, everyone can agree that Musk is either disliked or misunderstood as a visionary (or both). Now, as a leader, is he toxic? I don’t know. I don’t work for him.

But I can tell you that the vision thing gets amped up from dislike and misunderstanding to toxic levels of incompetence when the actions of the leader start to consistently work against the progress of the company. This switch is often hard to spot, because executing on vision takes bold steps and risk and dislike and misunderstanding.



Joe Procopio

I'm a multi-exit, multi-failure entrepreneur. NLG pioneer. Building TeachingStartup.com & GROWERS. Write at Inc.com and BuiltIn.com. More at joeprocopio.com