Negligent Leaders Must Learn: Lead Or Get Out Of The Way
Leadership Lesson: We should all become aware of how and to what extent we are the obstacle in the path of progress of our mission, group, or organization.
“Lead, or get out of the way,” was a recent rallying cry used at a gathering of political figures at the national level. I won’t go into who said it or under what circumstances because it would only lead to a different conversation about which politics are wrong and which are right — and that would only take away from what my leadership development message is here.
The statement itself is a powerful demand — when someone calls to their leader that if they’re not going to take action that they should step aside. (Yes, you don’t hear it that often, but how often might that be people’s hope regarding their leaders, managers, supervisors, etc.?)
And just to clarify, the word “action” in that call out can mean anything — so many things. It can mean actual, proactive steps to implement policy and decisions. And, on the flip side, it can also be carried out by simply ceasing certain behaviors or policies.
But some leaders just hover between the two, for whatever reason. They just don’t take action. They stay where they are. They keep things the same. They relish in the status quo, whether intentionally or not.
And things just tend to get worse from there.
What is it about some leaders that they don’t seem to want to take action? Are they really just happy with that status quo? Do fear, complacency, distraction, or tradition play into why they don’t proactively take steps to monitor and/or address their environment’s issues and concerns?
We know politics has a reputation to be full of ego and bullsh!t, depending on who we’re talking about. (I repeat: depending on who we’re talking about.) Nothing really changes in politics. So, I want my questions to be considered more generally to a wider audience — the leaders, or any of the rest of us, who may choose not to take action in an environment or mission in which we could have some impact if we stepped up.
Three areas stand out for consideration when it comes to a leader’s inaction.
Leader’s Reasons For Inaction
Why are they like that? What is it in their work history and experience that has led them to taking a minimal (if any) course of action?
Keep in mind: None of this is to say that taking no action is wrong, and that action ALWAYS needs to be implemented. The problem here is when not even consideration is given to other parties in the environment who believe there may exist reason enough to take action.
A leader doesn’t need to implement or make promises about the ideas in every plea they receive for action. But they should acknowledge them and take them into account.
Leader’s Reasons For Not Allowing Action
One step worse than a leader who takes no action is a leader who doesn’t allow anyone else to take any action either. These leaders won’t even let others do the grunt work of fact-finding or due diligence. They don’t see their people as a resource to get things done. If anything, they see them as a way to get their own things done, or they believe their things are working just fine as is.
Impact On The Business and Stakeholders
If a leader just sits on their hands, is complacent and reactive, merely taking what comes, what the hell happens to everyone else in that environment — their motivation, satisfaction, fulfillment? Does the environment as is suffice for each of the followers? (Remember: Everyone has varying levels and combinations of different needs, desires, motivations, and ambitions.)
Aside from the internal workers, followers, and, yes, customers, what happens to the external customers? If a leader is leaving information, action, and improvement on the table, what’s the opportunity cost to the end user and client? What are they missing out on that could have been achieved if the leader used his or her best resources to move toward action?
What I didn’t cover under the forms of the word “action” above is the third, most important but oftentimes underrated meaning of the word when it comes to workplace and organizational effectiveness. This third form is the understanding that action can even be merely starting a conversation.
This one is for me the most critical form of action because of what gets lost without conversation — a multitude of opportunities, strengths, and evolutionary capabilities.
Another issue with deciding to take action (or not) is that so many leaders and followers alike believe that being effective means an action has to come right away. That you have to demonstrate something is being done. That a result of any kind can’t come without some kind of steps being taken immediately. Many believe such proactive positions and explicit steps need to be taken right away to convey urgency, seriousness, and commitment to the mission at hand. That action itself is progress enough.
No. It doesn’t have to be that way.
So, to the leaders who don’t jump into unnecessary action: That’s great! But just as dangerous as that jumping to immediate action is my original point here, when leaders stay quiet, not even pretending to address the issues at hand. Their alternative to taking immediate action is staying at their polar end of the spectrum — “only my position works” — but there’s no conversation, no dialogue in between to bridge the gap in communication that comes with taking that route.
We all need to remember: Just because something isn’t an issue to a leader, doesn’t mean others don’t consider it an issue. A leader should address all concerns, not just their own.
And addressing all concerns doesn’t mean solving all concerns. Addressing can exist through acknowledgement, demonstrating that consideration can be given to what others view as priorities.
So, going back to that original rally cry — we know politics doesn’t typically work the way we’d prefer, but we should do better in gen-pop (read: non-political arenas).
We shouldn’t ignore the issues. We shouldn’t ignore others.
We can’t be negligent.