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7 Signs of an Unteachable Leader

Your greatest career lessons will come from your career’s worst bosses. 

It’s estimated 20% – 40% of managers are diminishers – people who drain the intelligence and capability from their teams. They are narcissistic and frequently are unteachable. Yet there is no course taught in school at any level offering ways to spot or effectively deal with them.

According to Kirk Hanson, university professor and Executive Director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, there are 7 clear cut signs of the unteachable leader.

Unteachable leaders tend to…

  • Believe they know it all.
  • Think they should be in charge.
  • Sometimes believe the rules don’t apply to them.
  • Believe people shouldn’t fail.
  • Believe they are better off getting things done all by themselves.
  • Believe they are better than others with less talent or status.
  • Think they are as important as or more important than the organization.

If you are working for such a diminisher, there are a few strategies that can help you maintain your sanity. Here are few I’ve found to be effective:

  • Limit your exposure to them. To the extent possible, interact with them in a group setting as they may be less likely to be a complete bosshole in front of others.
  • Focus on their strengths. The more you can appreciate them for the value they add, the less emotional suffering you’ll experience for the value they destroy.
  • Grow from their criticism. They will expose deficiencies in you. The more you can learn and grow from them, the more value you’ll add in the future.
  • Use them as a role model. Yes, a role model…of what NOT to do to others.
  • Avoid right fighting. You may be right, but s/he is in the right position at the moment so steer clear of any unnecessary battles.
  • Demonstrate confidence. Showing signs of fear or intimidation to an unteachable leader is like swimming among sharks with a bleeding wound. You will become chum. Don’t be chum.
  • And finally, find a new role with a new boss if the experience is too caustic. Jobs can be replaced, your health cannot.


Chances are high that you’ll encounter an unteachable leader at some point in your career. You now know what to look for and are equipped with a few strategies for not only surviving but thriving in spite of the presence of a diminisher.

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