Research Hit: When Bad Leadership is Effective

Andy Hab
2 min readJun 15, 2024

Playing favourites can, sometimes, be beneficial, but only sometimes.

Now that title sounds like a contradiction? Isn’t bad leadership, well, bad?

Yes, it is indeed a contradiction. I think the question to answer is why bad leadership is sometimes effective — even though it shouldn’t be.

Yes, I’d like to know that!

And in this study, which I have pulled up from last year, I just didn’t get around to writing about it before, it focuses on a specific aspect of bad leadership, namely playing favourites.

Which is great if you’re the favourite but not so great if you’re not!

Precisely, and this was the question asked: how does this impact team performance? Haoying Xu of the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey conducted a piece of research with in total 1’100 employees in various Chinese businesses and across different sectors.

And the results were surprising.

So, playing favourites, which is a form of bad leadership is good? Surely not!

No, but it can be beneficial in some situations. Not only for those favourites, obviously, but for the rest of the team also.



Andy Hab

Sharing fascinating, fun, and important knowledge on the brain and human behaviour - most days. And masters track athlete - still going strong!