The Cascading Effect of Good and Bad LeadersRecently Zenger Folkman correlated assessment data from three organizational levels to look at the cascading impact of senior leader effectiveness on their direct reports and in turn on the next level below them.

The study found that managers who worked for the worst executives had awful engagement levels in the 24th percentile. However, managers working for the best executives had soaring engagement levels at the 82nd percentile. If the level reporting to a manager was led by a horrible executive their engagement was in the 39th percentile. This compares with those levels reporting to a manager led by an outstanding executive showing engagement levels at the 61st percentile.

This is quite a bit different than their managers’ engagement with either very poor or very good executives heading up their group. If executives had no effect on their managers’ leadership effectiveness the average manager’s score would be at the 50th percentile given the large sample of 6,094 people.

From this and other analysis in this study Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman conclude:

• It’s not easy to be a buffer: a bad boss is a drag on a leader’s effectiveness.
• It is possible to work for one of the worst leaders and yet be rated as one of the best yourself.
• Great leaders do more good than poor leaders do harm.
• To those who say their destiny is in their own hands, we’d say they could be right — the cycle of poor leadership can be broken.
• Good leaders are expending a lot of energy they could be using more productively when they have to manage and buffer a bad boss.
• So often in our practice senior leaders ask us to “fix” the leaders below them. The reality is our job would be much easier if the leaders at the top were as highly committed to fixing themselves first.
• Leaders cast a strong shadow on those who report to them.

Jack and Joe just published their findings in their columns in Harvard Business Review blog Will Your Bad Boss Make You a Bad Boss, Too? Jack expanded on this research in his Forbes column, The Results Are In: Bad Leadership is Contagious.

For over three decades, Jim Clemmer’s keynote presentations, workshops, management team retreats, seven bestselling books, articles, and blog have helped hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. The Clemmer Group is the Canadian strategic partner of Zenger Folkman, an award-winning firm best known for its unique evidence-driven, strengths-based system for developing extraordinary leaders and demonstrating the performance impact they have on organizations.