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Unmasking Reluctant Leaders

Unmasking Reluctant Leaders

Some people really don’t want to lead. But they don’t necessarily know that they don’t want to lead. How do you identify them? Well, they’ll tell you somehow, if you’re paying attention. 

The most obvious sign is the constant bargaining. You’ll see them going through it every day. Should I do this? Can I justify not doing that? They wrestle with themselves constantly. Should they step up and do the leadership work or should they make themselves busy enough to rationalize why it’s OK to ignore it? 

There’s always loads of excuses for why they don’t do the things that you need them to do. And they will visibly recoil from conflict.

Another classic indicator is that they will speak effusively about their people… all their people! These leaders can be the most deceptive. They’ll tell you that all of their people are A players. They’ll tell you they have a high performing team when, in actual fact, they’re just ignoring their mediocre performers, and avoiding the leadership work that might improve their performance.

Weak leaders lower the standard to meet the performance… Strong leaders lift the performance to meet the standard.

They don’t like it when you to push them to do that leadership work, and they will tell you that everything’s going well. Sometimes this is entirely subconscious, because they actually believe their own bullsh!t.

Why don’t some people want to lead? For many, they value their technical identity and don’t want to let go of that expert power. For others, their high task-orientation overwhelms their people orientation. Some just simply don’t connect well with others. They’re shy and withdrawn, or they’re highly introverted. And almost universally, you’ll find that they’re conflict averse.

This is one element of leadership that takes constant attention.

If these leaders don’t want to lead, why do they accept leadership roles? Career progression in most organizations requires you to take on a leadership role. That’s the way the hierarchy is structured. 

But ambition doesn’t necessarily mean ambition to lead. It just means ambition for advancement, status, and money. And more often than not, a leadership role is the only way to get this.

Regardless of whether your leaders embrace the challenge, or reluctantly fill the role, it’s important to set the minimum acceptable standard. 

For every leader, and every business, that standard may be different. But there needs to be some form of performance standard, over and above the KPIs. I’m talking about real, multi-dimensional, performance assessment, which looks at both behaviors and performance. 

Performance standards for leaders should apply at all levels, from the frontline team leader, all the way up to the CEO.

The key point is that, whatever you do, you need to set the expectation that all leaders do the hard work of leadership in their teams… even the reluctant ones. 

Don’t just sweep it under the carpet, or pretend it’s not going on. That’s not good for either of you. If you’re not prepared to address it, perhaps that’s a sign that you’re a reluctant leader.

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