Lazy Leadership

Is this the age of Lazy Leadership? Well, before you answer, perhaps I should explain a little more about what I mean by that term.

No-one ever said that leaders need to be popular. In fact we probably need to be wary of leaders who appear to be universally liked. Those who are, in my view, are either at the head of a very slick and dangerous brain-washing machine, or are simply not tackling the tough stuff that people don’t like to hear.  (See We get the Leaders we deserve).

Here in the UK we have experienced a number of major political episodes in the last couple of years, from a Scottish Referendum, to a General Election, and more recently, an EU Referendum, and both a Tory and Labour leadership battle.  And we are currently in the final lap of the US Presidential marathon (or Trumpathon).donald-trump-creative-commons-via-flickr_659823

Perhaps it is because so many of these events have been reduced to simplistic binary choices that the quality of political debate has deteriorated. Complex issues, that do not necessarily have straightforward solutions, have been reduced to simple soundbites, creating polarised debates, resulting in divided electorates and divided nations.

High quality leaders navigate complexity and ambiguity, and do not allow themselves to be drawn into the downward spiral that is satisfied merely by securing a simple majority to fulfil a political end. Instead they are prepared to tackle thorny issues that may not be popular, they recognise that alienating half of the electorate (or workforce) is not a good foundation to build from, and they understand the danger of chasing populist opinion.

Here in the UK,

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Are you a popular Leader? Then what are you doing wrong?

If you want to be popular, leadership is probably not for you. At least, not if you want to do it right.

Leading is all about challenging the way things are. If nothing needs changing, if everything is alright the way it is, then fine, enjoy it while it lasts. Of course, people will instinctively resist suggestions that things need to change. Any attempt to challenge the things that people hold dear, such as habits, routines and traditions will be met with strong feelings, opposition, and possibly even aggression. Yes, leading can be dangerous.

But, taking popular decisions to appease those feelings, keeping people sweet, and avoiding the tough messages is not leadership. Leading involves disturbing people, putting provocative ideas out there, and challenging people to face up to tough realities.

Of course, good leaders do not do these things for kicks. They risk upsetting people and being unpopular in order to get people to take responsibility for solving their own problems, taking tough decisions, and facing up to the adaptive work that is always required in any change process.
Leaders who get seduced by people’s appeals to do the fixing for them, to come up with
the answers for them, and to take all the tough decisions, are doing both themselves and the people a major disservice.  Themselves, because ultimately they will be blamed when things do not work out, and the people, because they will have been robbed of a chance to grow, learn and adapt.

Every day, people in all walks of life, have the opportunity to lead and they choose not to.  When you sit in a meeting room and watch and hear people dance around the real issue, you could be the one who calls attention to it. By doing so, you could lead the meeting in a more constructive and adaptive direction. But, you choose not to. It could prove unpopular. You might upset people. Meanwhile, the issue will stay unresolved,and remain the ‘elephant in the room’ for months. More than likely, others are going through the same thought process as you, and everyone loses.

The dangers of leading are well researched and documented in Leadership on the Line by Ronald Heifetz & Marty Linsky.

So, what does it take to be a ‘brave’ Leader – Continue reading