Solving 15 Reasons Leaders Won’t Lead
“I’m so frustrated because my boss won’t make decisions.”
Bennis said, “Failing organizations are usually over-managed and under-led.”
Leaders with titles who refuse to lead frustrate their teams. It’s more common than you might think. I regularly hear things like, “My boss refuses to move forward.”
15 Reasons leaders won’t lead:
- Failure to develope talented teams. They feel alone.
- They’ve been punished for first time failures.
- Lack of training, mentoring, and coaching.
- They can’t describe winning. Moving forward requires clear targets.
- Minutia dominates their day – can’t prioritize.
- They don’t feel supported. Followers have the power to make leaders.
- Lack of feedback. Most employees desire more feedback. They need to know how they are doing.
- Refusing to let go and trust others.
- Those over them are interventionists who jump in too quickly – over managed.
- They’re playing office politics. Outshining others is frowned on.
- They need the approval of others.
- Perfectionism – refusing to pull the trigger until everything’s in place.
- Mediocrity rules. Your organization doesn’t expect excellence. They’ve been coddled.
- Milestones and deadlines are too far in the future. There’s no urgency.
- Negative, critical work environments.
They were placed in leadership before they were ready. Leadership crushed them.
Causes and Cures:
Causes illuminate cures. Determine why your people aren’t performing and work toward enabling them.
Big tip #1:
Effective leadership begins with believing you can lead. Help sluggish leaders believe they can lead by tapping into their strengths and passions.
Big tip #2:
Provide and celebrate small wins. Celebrating small wins builds confidence for big wins.
Everyone can exert positive influence; they can lead. But, not everyone can execute under the pressures of a title and official responsibility. Leaders with titles who aren’t leading may not be leaders.
What can be done to help reluctant leaders lead?
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I am dealing with some managers exactly how you describe. I can pin point at least a few things on your list that I would say are their problems
You and every other reader of this blog! 🙂
You have my best,
Just hit a nerve. Particularly in small businesses <100 people, office politics dominate. This means that nothing is decided until the President agrees – stifling progress. Very frustrating
I hear you Will.
Some how the “big cheese” has to step back. If we could only see how we stifle people with our over-involvement.
I wonder if learning how to be hands off while staying aware would help this situation?
Best to you,
what a wonderful smorgasbord of reasons. I’ve been guilty of several. What is intriguing is a few of these come under the guise of appearing to have the interests of the organisation at heart. I think the first one nails it though – without talent it is very hard to lead, you must recruit and develop people more capable than yourself, love doing it, and inspire as many people every day as you possibly can. None of the 15 reasons suggest inspiration. I better stop reading the list I’ll fall asleep.
Great seeing you and I trust your family is doing well.
For the most part the list is as you say a smorgasbord. However, I put #1 in that position because I felt it has huge potential to both hinder and help leaders.
Best to you,
Cheers Dan, It’s been a very long 12 months, but as you will be experiencing the all the joy in pain is getting to the other side. Never been better, and I trust it’s just the same for you.
That’s a very interesting differentiation at the end. Everyone can lead but not necessarily under the pressure of a title and responsibility. I believe that this is true. Most people show some level of informal leadership somewhere in their lives.
It’s easy to 2nd guess leaders because the arm chair quarterbacks don’t have to execute or face the responsibility of their decisions.
Thank you for sharing your insights.
I added the idea of “official” leader vs. “unofficial” because some say if you aren’t leading you aren’t a leader. There is truth to that, but organizations have “official” leaders, people with titles who aren’t leading.
The second guessers are devastating to some leaders. Hopefully, we all learn to focus on the people who work WITH us vs. those who work AGAINST. Trouble is negativity sure is magnetic.
Best to you,
Hi Dan –
One of my favorite and most useful notions is that “awareness is curative.”. Nothing like exposing oneself to the disinfecting power of sunlight!
Once you are aware of what you bring to the party, the next steps become pretty much obvious.
The challenge is that each of these steps (increasing self awareness, determining what to do next, taking that action) can require uncommon courage.
The stuff of leadership!
Love you expression, “awareness is curative.” Sometimes we feel we need to add step to create a cure when just seeing is all we need.
For example, when I see myself as a listener who interrupts people, the seeing is enough for anyone dedicated to listening better.
Love a well coined expression,
PS… Delighted that you are becoming a regular 🙂
A good word feels good! thanks
Great post, Dan, and obviously the topic resonates. In the spirit of “what can we do,” I’d just like to point out a couple of things. First, recognize that the boss always sees factors we don’t. Right now, for example, I have a supervisor very frustrated with me because I won’t make a needed investment in equipment. What he doesn’t know is that we are in the final stages of buying a company that already owns the equipment we need.
Second, this makes me think of something that the Army does better than businesses: Staff work. Every commander has a staff that does two things. The first is to continuously gather information and package it in the form most usable by the commander; the second is to ensure that command decisions are acted on. As a commander, I could walk into the command post, look at the battle boards for an instant visual update of current operations, and then my staff could brief me and get me up to speed in about 15 minutes. When I made a decision, the staff grabbed it, drafted orders for my review, and sent them to subordinate units.
So, when you think your leader is dropping the ball, first consider that he/she might know something you don’t. Second, do your part by making sure he/she has easy access to all the information needed to make a responsible decision. Too often I get an e-mail saying “We need to hire X” or “We need to buy Y.” If I have to research and justify, that request will wait until I have time. On the other hand, if a full business case is submitted with ROI included, I usually decide on the spot.
I’m so thankful you’ve added your comment. It brings fullness to the conversation.
The word “trust” comes to mind.
I suspect that the leaders/managers I hear complaints about have patterns of low performance and that creates the frustration.
On the other hand, I just love your point that when someone makes a suggestion to a leader it usually creates more work. KaChing!
You have my appreciation,
Dan, I agree that some are just consistently low performers. By definition, half of all leaders are below average, and a fourth of them are in the bottom 25%. I still wonder if even a bottom-feeder can’t get better if the team provides better support. If not, there aren’t a lot of options left if you find yourself stuck with a bad boss except to leave.
You are brilliant! 🙂 Love your observation that 1/4 are in the bottom 25%.
Speaking of support. I’m currently reading Joshua. I notice that Moses, God, and the people all tell Joshua to be strong and courageous.
let me add … I hope we bring everyone up a level or two. That means the bottom 25% are actually better than they used to be… hmmmm so then maybe they are in the bottom 35%
You’re right, anyone who cares should be able to up their game a level or two. And 35% is better than 25%.
I like the Joshua reference. Reminds me that Moses was advised to gather a support structure of trusted men to help him do his job, too.
I appreciate your experience and perspective. Thanks.
Of course you could bring all the bottom 255 up by saying they are no in the top 75%!
With reluctant leaders, sometimes it is as simple as helping them get started. If your managers can’t see the path from the Company’s vision to the day to day operations then often nothing gets done because no one knows how to get started. Working with those managers to get them started in the right direction is sometimes all it takes to help them achieve thier leadership potential.
Bonnie, I agree. We all want a visionary leader who will take us to the promised land, but very few people are that gifted. Often leaders need first to be shown what right looks like — the right path, the right way to lead. Most of us can emulate something we’ve had demonstrated to us That’s why leaders, especially new ones, benefit from a good mentor.
I liked the way you began and that is the major cause of frustration. However, leaders can’t refuse to lead if they have to survive. It is their working style that matters a lot for the satisfaction or frustration of people under them.
Progressive leaders are usually supportive and seek team’s support to achieve organization goals while the self-centred ones have selfish motives and will always downplay subordinates by showing their supremacy by throwing their weight around. Both the leaders do lead but their working styles differ.
The list of 15 reasons do not really make much sense.
I like the idea you point out that leadership success is tied to others. Working alone or in isolation is a formula for failure.
Thanks for jumping in,
Great post – I especially agree with #13. So many managers manage for mediocrity because it’s superficially easier, and they have no idea how to manage excellence. Managing excellence often involves working through confusion and chaos (see yesterdays post) along with the other dreaded “C” word, conflict, which many people would rather just avoid.
I don’t know if I should thank you for kicking us in the butt or not? 😉
I’ve seen people bumping up against excellence over and over and then backing away because it was too uncomfortable.
Pushing through resistance makes all the difference.
Thank you for sharing your insights.
But geez, Dan, if we reach the high bar, you might expect it all of the time!
🙂 … oh no!
Maybe we should just try one day of excellence at a time… is that aiming too low?
Some good questions in this post, culminating with your question to us: What can be done to help reluctant leaders lead?
If “reluctance” to lead is truly the issue, then I think the individual is not in the right place, organizationally or emotionally, to lead. Not to say they don’t have potential and can’t eventually lead successfully, but they have to work through the issues at the heart of the reluctance first. And #6 was the one in the list that most resonated with me (especially in the context of my comment): They don’t feel supported. Followers have the power to make leaders.
The topic of helping reluctant leaders lead is “interesting” and falls under the saying, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”
Of all the items on the list, I think #6 is most surprising. We usually think of leaders and making followers. I think feeling supported brings out the best in all of us.
Thank you for enriching me and the conversation,
Interesting post and comments. From a complete business outsider, I would think there can be ways to incrementally encourage someone’s leadership traits. Maybe it starts with a belief that there is a capacity for leading in all of us. If you find yourself in a situation when a “leader” has been named and you believe you might have better leadership qualities, what is your responsibility of leadership then? You must lead the followers. Catching the boss doing things right. Sending a note of thanks when there are sparks of quality leadership. If these efforts prove futile, then I agree with Greg…there must be a better place for you. MMF
hmm, MMF, does capacity to lead also imply capacity to learn?
I just love your approach to this post.
I love this all too common scenario, “If you find yourself in a situation when a “leader” has been named and you believe you might have better leadership qualities, what is your responsibility of leadership then?”
I also love the idea that it’s your job to help the “less” competent leaders succeed. Trying to help a “less” competent leader succeed is a great leadership challenge… along with a call to humility.
I sure benefited from your “business outsider” point of view. Thank you.
Let me highly recommend “The Leader Who Had No Title”, Robin Sharma. and Meagan is right ….reward the the behavior you value.
Thanks for giving a shout out to Robin. He’s one of the people I follow and admire.
“They can’t describe winning. Moving forward requires clear targets.” That one says it all. Knowing exactly what the leader is steering toward is key. If the leader can’t define it, no one gets there.
Everyone has their own internal drama about producing results. The fastest way to end that confusion amongst leaders and their teams is to get the results specific and on the table where everyone can see them clearly!
Describing a win sure changed my life. It’s tragic that we can spend our lives running around beating the air!
I hope your comment changes someone’s life.
Dependent on how long the leader has been ‘faux’ leading, there are several great suggestions here that could apply.
Great place for a coach/mentor dialogue of course.
Followers who may some day wish to be leaders, while treading carefully, could, with total positive regard, ask about/be concerned about the apparent reluctance. 3rd party observation, impartial observation, clean data and/or impact on customers all might be brought into such a discussion. Particularly with a steadfast focus on the service or the customer, there could be very dynamic and revealing communication.
As usually you give us a some language candy. I love “faux leading.”
Sometimes when I read something I think about something else. Thats what happened when I read your comment.
Up and coming leaders need to start taking risks early. Just start laying things out there. One of the greatest risks young leaders can take is talking about the “elephant in the room;” … the problems everyone knows exist but no one wants to bring up…
Man that was toooo practical.
You drive me nuts 😉
Someone complaining about a leader who won’t lead sounds a lot like someone who is unwilling to lead themself. We can all lead from any position in an organization… It just takes some craftiness if you don’t have the position to go with. Blaming the “leader” is just passing the responsibility off to someone else. “What can you do to help your boss lead?” might be the more positive approach.
Belief is key in everything, including in your ability to lead.
Support and challenge work well. The key thing for a new leader (and pretty much everyone leads something, even if it is personal leadership of themselves) is coaching and mentoring- 2 quite different disciplines.
How people view failure is also important- no failure only feedback is how we work with staff and as long as people are willing to see failure as a growth and development point there will be progress.
Also, if people understand the why behind what they perceive to be a difficult conversation they will often see that not meeting it head on has a greater and wider detrimental impact to other staff members
Thanks Dan 🙂
I’ve always believed that the speed of the boss is the speed of the crew.
A leader who can’t lead is just a bench warmer. I’m sick of text book leaders that believe they are a leader just because they studied it at University. Step up or move aside for someone who will take charge and lead.
Another problem is the inherent inconsistency in the way a lot of organizations delegate authority. Let’s say I’m a department head and I have substantial, but not complete control over my department. The people in the department don’t know the limits of what I can and cannot accomplish. Say they want an additional dedicated conference room. I as the leader decide their request is reasonable and take it to management where it is shot down.
The people in the department may see this as a failure of my leadership because I am not giving them the tools they need to do their job. So I am in a permanent state of ineffectiveness because of the limits on my authority.
Really enjoyed following this conversation. I must admit that I enjoy working in places and spaces run by or like the army. (Don’t like war itself though) Jo
Ben said….”Someone complaining about a leader who won’t lead sounds a lot like someone who is unwilling to lead themself. We can all lead from any position in an organization… It just takes some craftiness if you don’t have the position to go with. Blaming the “leader” is just passing the responsibility off to someone else. “What can you do to help your boss lead?” might be the more positive approach.”
Do you know of any good books about that question….what can you do to help your boss lead?” What do you mean by craftyness? Jo
Brisbane, see L “The Leader Who Had No Title”, Robin Sharma.
This one is worth reading.