The risks of having incompetent leaders in politics (I’ve seen it)

Isti Marta Sukma, M.A.
4 min readFeb 11, 2024
Roman Emperor Nero, food for thought.

Today, I shed a few tears as I watched a documentary detailing the systematic destruction of my country’s democracy. It feels incredibly personal to witness the visual representation of timelines depicting how the current regime has dismantled the system from within.

I never thought I would find myself in my dimly lit room, far away from home, on the verge of tears, contemplating the state to which my country has succumbed.

What is even more interesting to me is the fact that the destruction and decay are so subtle, coming from a leader who seems innocent, rather incompetent.

It got me thinking: do incompetent leaders pose more dangers than the ones who are seemingly authoritarian?

The first “Lack”
1) Not understanding political concepts

First, there is a failure to comprehend power — how it is formed and its in-depth effects on the people, a lack of awareness regarding the risks associated with certain strategies.

When a leader is willing to do anything for power, the general academic and critical public often interpret this as stemming from manipulation or the tactics of highly skilled political leaders. However, it is sometimes overlooked that such behavior may arise from pure ignorance.

Such leaders may lack the ability to distinguish between coercive, incentive, and normative power. They struggle to understand how to refrain from using them inappropriately or how to employ these powers effectively.

Some leaders are simply illogical; they do not possess the capacity to thoughtfully navigate political challenges and, instead, resort to any means they believe will accomplish their perceived ‘simplified’ objectives.

As someone who has studied power extensively over the last ten years, encompassing disciplines from international relations and political science to philosophy, ideologies, and political theology, I can confidently assert that ‘If you really understand power, you would not want it.’

Incompetent leaders are also historically blind; they lack awareness of the events that unfolded in the past, the consequences faced by previous leaders, and the potential future impacts their policy making, leadership style, or political moves may cause.

They follow a simple, linear path of thinking, often unable to grasp the complexities of contextual politics. Lacking knowledge of political theories, proper methodology, and ethical considerations, they navigate political landscapes with a simplified perspective.

The Second “Lack”
2) Originality. As Hannah Arendt’s pointed out, Banality of Evil.

In a democratic society, leaders inherently hold roles as party officers. They are trained to hold specific positions, and, of course, they are also taught how to become a ‘great leader.’

There is nothing inherently wrong with this, however, incompetent leaders lack originality in the values they uphold. This makes it easier for those around them to influence and infuse their own ideas, effectively turning these leaders into the perfect political puppets.

Incompetent leaders struggle to adhere to or form consistent ideas, rendering them perfect opportunists who unknowingly create opportunities for others. They can be described as individuals with an extremely vacant or just…empty disposition.

When you are a strong-willed individual, you are already committed to certain goals you genuinely believe in; you occasionally adapt when presented with new evidence or better ideas.

However, when you are banal, incompetent, and lack the ability to think logically, you tend to rely too heavily on the opinions of those around you, leading to rapid, visible changes in your leadership. The lack of a firm identity compels you to focus solely on ‘political survival,’ as pointed out by Hannah Arendt in her essay ‘Lying in Politics’.

The Third “Lack”
3) Shame. The lack of shame.

Ever come across a Pinterest quote that goes, ‘If you are dead, you don’t know you are dead, but it is painful for those around you. The same if you are stupid.’ That’s essentially how an incompetent leader can be perceived by their (critical) people.

Intelligent leaders possess a broader understanding of how impactful their political moves can be. It’s akin to a football match — as a football manager, you’re in charge of every situation on the pitch. A victory is your victory, and when your team is losing, it’s undoubtedly your strategy at play.

Leaders who lack brilliance often lack this kind of awareness. They oversimplify situations and, influenced by what they hear around them, their political strategy becomes chaotic, baseless, and essentially devoid of shame.

Such leaders will not lose sleep even when people are screaming their names on the street, demonstrating that it is just a pure ignorance.

Not cunning or mastermind kind of evil, just pure lack.

The point is not to underestimate their influence; stupidity can wield a surprising amount of power. At the same time, it’s crucial not to overestimate them. These aren’t mastermind schemes; it’s just that pure ignorance can drive them to do anything for power.

Oppression is not solely about the physical kind but also about suppressing our ideas and, ultimately, our rights to have sensible and brilliant leaders.

Systemic oppression is subtle but undeniably pervasive.

I pray that you are spared from having to deal with incompetent leaders, and I sincerely wish for you to have wise ones who value learning.



Isti Marta Sukma, M.A.

Interdisciplinary researcher based in Warsaw. I write political science, tech, security, psychoanalysis and philosophy.