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E218 | Why the World is so Full of Rubbish Leaders with Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

Did you know that the 80:20 principle also works in reverse? Whilst 80% of your output will come from 20% of your people, the same is true of your problems. Meaning 80% of the errors will be caused by 20% of your people. 

But, says Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Organisational Psychologist, currently Chief Innovation Officer at ManpowerGroup, companies spend way more time on development than they do on talent acquisition. 

So, what can you do about that? Well, don’t miss Tomas on this episode of The Melting Pot explaining how technology is revolutionising the recruitment role, why assessing candidates is a costly mistake, the difference between genders in terms of curiosity, why the world is so full of rubbish leaders, and how we can bring about change in leadership. 

This is a fascinating episode, truly insightful. Download to listen. 

On today’s podcast:

  • The problem with testing candidates 
  • It’s hard to know if you hired the right person
  • Why is the world full of rubbish male leaders?
  • How to bring about change in leadership
  • The definition of leadership competence


Why the World is so Full of Rubbish Leaders with Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

Having written 10 books and over 150 scientific papers on the psychology of talent, leadership, innovation, and AI, making him one of the most prolific social scientists of his generation, Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Organisational Psychologist and Chief Innovation Officer at ManpowerGroup, is an international authority in psychological profiling, talent management, leadership development, and people analytics. 

What does a Chief Innovation Officer do?

“Specifically, my team tries to use technology, data and assistance all the way to analytics and AI to help recruiters reimagine human potential and find better jobs and careers for people.”

The world of recruitment hasn’t changed much over the last 50 years, says Tomas. But, in the last few years, the landscape of talent and skills has changed dramatically. Companies now use data for evidence, and algorithms and analytics to match people to the right job. 

The team that Tomas leads is responsible for creating solutions, products and tools that augment recruiters’ productivity in the pursuit of helping people find more meaningful, relevant and prosperous jobs.

But does that mean he’s making recruitment at scale more productive? Or making low volume recruitment more accurate?

“You would never hire a CEO without actually spending time interviewing them, and putting them through a long assessment. But if you have to hire 200,000 people, and you have to pick between 2 million candidates, and these are relatively predictable, homogeneous jobs, you cannot afford to spend six hours with each candidate.”

As such, all of the innovation in the recruitment space is focused on the high volume end of the market, says Tomas. And this has had a huge impact on the activities of recruiters in this space. Because technology with its data centric innovations, is forcing them to become less tactical and more strategic when they sift CVs.

“The idea is like in any other field; that technology should take care of the stuff that is repetitive, predictable and standardised. And then humans need to upskill and rescale themselves and become more like talent agents.”

The problem with testing candidates 

While assessments are still hugely beneficial to evaluate someone’s soft skills, the problem with tests is that they typically take 30-40 minutes. And in today’s hectic world, even five minutes is too long for some people. 

It’s a candidate’s market at the moment, meaning companies simply can’t afford to put people through an assessment. You have to make hiring decisions, says Tomas, on the data that you have, or the data that you’re able to ingest and use, in an ethical and legal way. 

“And then if you can throw in three or four questions that through machine learning and AI can have a similar predictive power, as in the old days, 20 questions, then you do that, but it’s probably in about 20% of the cases that we use assessments.”

What’s interesting, though, is that if they do use assessments, it’s to provide candidates with feedback, because, says Tomas, there is a lot of value in people better understanding themselves. Especially if you want them to make the right choice.

“Finding people has been commoditised; you can go onto LinkedIn and find anybody, but the ability to know people and understand what it would mean to have a certain person running a business, that is when you need to use the science.”

It’s hard to know if you hired the right person

It’s not easy to know whether you made a mistake or not when hiring, says Tomas. The same happens when people vote for a prime minister or for a president. It’s very hard to actually make an objective assessment of whether somebody did a good job or not.

So much of these decisions are based on our intuition, and when you have volume, you can quantify your hit rate and your error rate much better, because you have the data to guide you. 

“You know through this algorithm you have 20% fewer people leaving or quitting a job, or engagement and productivity goes up by 30-40%. You can do that when you have volume. If it’s a single CEO who tells you “in my last job I increased profitability by 30%, market cap by 40%”. You think: is it because of you or despite you?”

Politics is a great example of this, says Tomas, people are still debating whether Boris Johnson was good or bad. But you can’t run an actual experiment to see what would have happened had Tony Blair, Theresa May, or even Stephen Fry been Prime Minister. 

Difference between men and women

In Tomas’ new book, he says there’s a fixation on AI, but in the process humans have become dumber. We are diluting ourselves and downgrading our intellect as opposed to upgrading ourselves through the help of information and knowledge.

And while there is no intellectual difference between the sexes when it comes to getting dumber, he says, there is a gender difference in curiosity. Men, for example, are more sensation seeking, thrill seeking, and are more likely to be an adrenaline junkie.

“The more masculine you are from a self identification perspective, the more you seek these activities, and the more you enjoy tsunami surfing, scuba diving, and even eating spicy food, and smoking and taking drugs. I mean, there’s a reason why typically self destructive tendencies and habits that put your life at risk are more common in men.”

Women, on the other hand, says Tomas, have high levels of social curiosity. They’re more interested in other people. Which is why they tend to listen more than men. And they have higher levels of empathy.

Why is the world full of rubbish male leaders?

Having first vocalised this question in an article in 2012, Tomas says, his book, on the same theme, has garnered popularity because it’s the question that everybody has been asking themselves, or wanting to ask, but were too afraid of asking. 

But, he says, in recent years, we’ve seen a surge in the number of women who aren’t very competent also come to power. These are women who resemble or embody many of the dysfunctional and even parasitic characteristics of an incompetent man. 

And while some may argue, at least we’re equalising the stakes, having both incompetent men AND women in power. Wouldn’t it be better, Tomas suggests, to raise the bar for everyone and ensure that we only select leaders based on talent, not on charisma or who shouts the loudest?

“The best gender diversity intervention is to focus on talent, not on gender. If we selected leaders like we tasted wine, in a sort of blind wine tasting exercise, we would end up with 50 or 60% of women in charge.”

How to bring about change in leadership

When you focus on gender, you all too often simply hire women who display male characteristics e.g. the bulldozers, the bold, abrasive ones who lack empathy, competence and technical expertise. You may be changing the gender, Tomas argues, but you aren’t upgrading the quality. 

“We are the product of 300,000 years of evolution. For some of this time humans lived in pretty egalitarian groups. Hunter gatherer societies and foraging societies were more egalitarian than most countries today. But then in the last 500 years the model of the alpha male and the very aggressive dominant kind of leader has been the dominant feature.”

In organisations, inside out transformations are the ones that lead to real change, says Tomas. But they’re difficult to instigate because those who are the status quo have no desire to disrupt or eliminate themselves. 

“If you’re the turkey, you don’t want to vote for Christmas. If you’re an incompetent man in charge, you don’t want to allow competent people, women or male, to have your job.”

The definition of leadership competence

Leadership, says Tomas, is a psychological process, whereby an individual enables a group of people to become a team, a high performing team, and they do this by possessing a range of qualities, tactics, strategies, strengths, and competencies that enable people to collaborate effectively. And competence, says Tomas, is just that. 

“You can be in a position of influence or power, but if you’re not making others better, and if you’re not at least temporarily eliminating the selfish interest that humans have, and enabling them to become a team or a unit, then you’re not a competent leader.” 

There’s an interesting idea, says Tomas, that Freud suggested, which says that humans are paradoxical creatures in the sense that we are both incredibly pro-social and collectivistic, but at the same time we’re also very selfish. 

“We depend on others and need to get along with others. But as soon as we do, we also want to get ahead of others and compete. And so this tension between your desire to beat others and outperform them and succeed and accumulate resources, and your need to collaborate with them in order to outperform other groups is what leadership articulates and manifests.”

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