I talk quite a bit about strong leadership, a term that typifies the style of leadership that I advocate on the NBL podcast. It’s not arrogant, controlling, or aggressive… rather, it’s compassionate and empathetic. But, unlike many new-age leadership philosophies, it requires leaders to do the hard things that stretch themselves, and their people to be better.
We see a hell of a lot more of weak leadership than strong. Weak leadership is best characterized by what leaders are not prepared to do. Their weakness shows through, because they aren’t strong enough to align their actions and their beliefs. It doesn’t mean that they’re bad people. But, then again, it’s pretty easy for them to look like hypocrites.
Weak leaders are unwilling to push back on the boss. Even when directions come down from above that don’t make sense, or they know aren’t in the best interests of the company, they don’t push back. This stifles the exchange of opposing viewpoints that ultimately creates value. And this malaise is often reinforced by a weak and insecure leader above who just wants a team of yes men and women.
Weak leaders are unwilling to put the team’s interests ahead of their own. They thrive on self-interest: but it’s really hard to rally around the boss’s self-interest as a higher purpose.
Weak leaders are unwilling to set ambitious goals, because they don’t want to risk not delivering. They’re super conservative, and when reaching the most insignificant achievements, they talk up how great they are. This breeds mediocrity: it’s a cancer.
Weak leaders are unwilling to challenge, coach, and confront, which is the leader’s fundamental toolkit. This is all about stretching your people, so that they can feel what victory really tastes like. Making them uncomfortable is part and parcel of this process. But you have to put the appropriate rewards and consequences in place to get people to bring out their best. Weak leaders simply won’t do this.
Weak leaders are unwilling to challenge the status quo. They spend their time trying to justify why change isn’t necessary, rather than constantly seeking to improve. Instead of raising the bar to set a new standard, they drop the bar to meet the existing standard.
What’s the price of leadership weakness? Unrealized potential. Poor performance. Lack of market competitiveness.
This is a big deal. People working at the lower levels of the company find it difficult to recognize the cause and effect, which is entirely understandable. That’s why it requires a leader to step in and carry that burden on their people’s behalf.
When weak leaders avoid the work, the workforce fills the void that’s left. The inmates have the keys to the asylum, and positive change becomes nearly impossible.
We’re now in the post-Covid construct of more money for less work, and instead of people generally feeling stronger and more accountable, they seem to have taken a u-turn into dissatisfaction and entitlement.
It’s really hard to outpace the decline in labor productivity with an uplift in other factors, such as innovation and technology. In the longer term, this will come back to bite you in the arse.
Eventually it will lead to job cuts, restructures, and redundancies. In some cases, the company won’t survive. At the end of this decline though, when a business is forced to lay off staff, or even close, workers will always blame management.
And, in fact, they’d be right. Just not for the reason they think they are. Weak leaders allow performance to slip, and the outcomes are entirely predictable.