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Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

Have you ever experienced a boss that wouldn’t lead? There is nothing more frustrating as working with a leader who can’t, or won’t lead. John Maxwell is noted for saying, “everything rises and falls on leadership”. If a leader doesn’t lead, the only direction for the team or organization to go is down.

This week we start a series on “Leading when your boss won’t.” Let’s begin with exploring the impact of a leader that doesn’t lead. How does it affect the organization?

Decisions are delayed

I’m not saying that all decisions must be made by leaders, but all good leaders are decision makers. Some decisions require a leader to make them. Think about the decisions in your company that must be made by the leader. What impact does it have when those decisions are not made or delayed? It could mean the difference between a successful launch of a product in a volatile market and missing the opportunity. Where would we be if Jeff Bazos stalled the decision to sell books on this new thing called the Internet? Where would we have gotten our toilet paper during the pandemic? Thank you, Jeff.

Do you remember Blockbuster Video? In 2000, Reed Hastings, the founder of a fledgling company called Netflix, flew to Dallas to propose a partnership to Blockbuster CEO John Antioco and his team. The idea was that Netflix would run Blockbuster’s brand online and Antioco’s firm would promote Netflix in its stores. Hastings got laughed out of the room. We all know what happened next. Blockbuster went bankrupt in 2010 and Netflix is now a $28 billion dollar company, about ten times what Blockbuster was worth. Missed opportunity.

Conflicts are not resolved

One of the most important roles of a leader is conflict resolution. In the absence of clear leadership, conflicts last longer and inflict even more damage on a team. Leaders must be ready to step in and bring cohesiveness to the team and build a culture of psychological safety.

Unresolved conflict will quickly spread through an organization and manifest itself wherever vulnerable team members are. If you want to quickly identify kinks in your team’s armor, just let the conflict continue. Conflict does not have to be negative. We learn from our conflict by working through it do discover the source and identifying the perspective of those involved. Leader’s cannot afford to let conflict remain unresolved.

Morale is low

Napoleon said, “Leaders are dealers in hope.” When leaders are not present or not leading, people often lose hope and morale plummets. Why is that? Because moral can be defined as “faith in the leader.”

Like conflict, low morale can quickly spread throughout an organization. It can get to the point where people don’t even realize what the cause of the low morale is, just that it is. I remember working in an organization with a toxic culture and low morale. I would dread going in to work every day. The closer I got to work on my commute, the more I dreaded walking in the door. Once inside, you could see the physical manifestation of the low moral on the way people walked around, interacted with one another, and exited the building at a fast walk pace at the end of the day. Leaders are responsible for this.

Success is difficult

I believe many people are quick to cast blame on individual contributors for the lack of success of an organization. But remember, those contributors work for someone who is responsible for leading and developing them. Yes, we all make our own choices, but a leader is responsible for ensuring those they lead are developed and given the choices for success. Your organization will not function the same without strong leaders in every department or division. All organizations need leaders at every level to be successful.

Everything rises and falls on leadership.

Many people find themselves in the middle of an organization with a boss who can’t or won’t lead. You don’t have any official power to make changes, so you feel stuck. You want to make things happen, but the person you work for makes it difficult. Good news, there is hope.

If you would like more information on how we can help you or your organization improve contact Azimuth Consulting at

Join us next week as we discuss the first step in making a difference when you boss doesn’t lead.

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