Leadership is not a skill we all want to embrace!

I have this debate with peers from time to time.  I believe we are all leaders in some shape or form. What I have realised is that there are people who are committed to being followers and do not want to embrace the leader within. There is a dissonance that they fail to address.


You know this type? They have agency and autonomy over their sphere of work or area/remit of influence but are unwilling to step forward unless you insist they take responsibility! You say ‘Oh but that sounds like a confidence issue’ – no it isn’t! Not when they are equally if not more proficient in that area than you are!  I’m talking about the person who always sees leadership as being vertical therefore always deferring to who they perceive to be in charge. And  yes there may be a confidence issues in that if it goes pear shaped they don’t have to take any responsibility because they deferred to you and you are in charge remember! Related to this is a fear of failure and yes I do accept that confidence is connected to this so we have to find ways to get others to take responsibility…..

Reluctance & Denial

Then there are the leaders who strut their stuff, take credit for the team successes but then shirks away from dealing with anything not glamorous, or shirk from the things that may cause conflict. They have the skills to encourage and enable, support and inspire but they are a bit cowardly? They don’t like to deal with anything that might make them unpopular – like disciplining, giving unfavourable feedback or even sacking someone. They are uncomfortable with being uncomfortable or making others uncomfortable. They fail to see the imbalance in their leadership characteristics even when it is pointed out to them. Their approach: No need to address anything…..We just need to all get along…..It is not happening or going to happen. It will be ok. Or….Ok I will get so and so to deal with it – commonly known as passing the buck!


There’s also the person who loves the title alluding to leadership be it ‘Boss’ ‘Chairperson’ ‘Co-ordinator’ ‘Director’  ‘Manager’ or ‘CEO’. But, their behaviour indicates that they are oblivious to THEIR responsibility to the team or their ‘followers’. So you may find in such instances the person will do things that impact on how they are perceived, the morale of the team, the team dynamics or behaviour towards them in particular – but they do not have a clue because only they matter to them! What they think or feel is paramount – implications for the team is not remotely high on their cognitive list. They do not feel a sense of responsibility to others or having a sense of how they may make others feel.

So given that no one is perfect – how do you propose to manage those dynamics should you be faced by them?

What we are...

The reluctant leader – Do some exploratory work with them during one to one time. Ask questions like: How do you see your role in the team?  How do you think others see you? what does the term leader or leadership mean to you? Do you see yourself as a leader?

Put them in situations where they have to account – start off in a position of safety, maybe in a one to one situation. Then if you think you have made progress, try the same technique in a group context . Not to put them on the spot in a intimidating way but for example giving positive feedback about the way they handled something and what the outcome was, encouraging them to do more ad acknowledging their leadership. Within team development conversations there is always room to tale about this taboo called failure. It’s something that stops us from moving forward (future blog post topic!).  Get your team to discuss this and look at reframing ‘failure’ in a more positive context as this may be one of the main reasons why people shy away from the leader within….

The leader in denial – Best not to tackle these issues in a one to one context. In a skillful way involve the team in trying to get your message across so it cannot be so easily dismissed. Again the best way to get someone to shift, even a little, is to get them to think and reflect. It may not happen over night but it will happen. Quite often people can be on the receiving end of  behaviours they exhibit but fail to recognise. When this happens it provides a ‘teachable moment’ and an opportunity for a moment of self reflection to take place.

The emotionally blinkered leader –  Can be dealt with in a similar way to the leader in denial. However, there are opportunities to challenge in a team context in a way that may be perceived as less threatening. Modelling the behaviour you want to see is a way that can surreptitiously influence the emotionally illiterate leader lacking in self awareness (and therefore awareness of others) . If you have opportunities to lead the team in some way – maybe through chairing a meeting, leading a training session, leading or reporting on a particular aspect within a meeting – these provide opportunities for modelling behaviour you want to see and legitimately use that experience as a point of discussion at some point.

All of these issues can be dealt with incrementally. It requires patience, skill and a conducive environment.

Let me know if you know any of these leader types and how you dealt with them. Each one teach one!