We’ve all been there, as witnesses to leaders intent on forcing followership, scared to give up the power they assume to have gotten by their positions. And more than likely, we’ve also all seen the results. Sometimes it’s a slow crumble in their base of support, and other times it’s a mass uprising, a revolt or a coup.
Let’s explore the psychological basis for scared leadership. As with much fear, at it’s core, scared leaders are insecure leaders. But that’s not nearly as negative as it may seem.
General George Patton didn’t start out as the iconic commander of the U.S. Army’s II Corps, as it crossed Northern Africa in battle with Nazi Germany. Joe Torre didn’t start out as the manager of the New York Yankees. And Abraham Lincoln certainly didn’t begin his political career from a wing of the White House.
Every leader must grow into their role, no matter how big or how low-level that role may be. Mistakes must be made, and lessons must be learned before leaders discover their own leadership style and effectiveness. It’s not an overnight success story, and leaders aren’t born.
Oh sure, some people have wonderful charisma. But we can all recall the popular guy in high school. You know, the one to whom all the girls flocked and all the jocks emulated. And sometimes they went on to bigger and better things than simply being homecoming king. But other times, they faded to obscurity, simply evidence that popularity and charisma are a far cry from true leadership.
Similar, showing hesitation isn’t the sign of a poor leader. Being insecure isn’t the hallmark of an up-and-coming dictator.
No, being insecure, unsure of how to best grasp hold of the isn’t necessarily a sign of poor leadership. It could be merely a sign of a new leader, doing all he can to: 1) stay afloat with all his new responsibilities, or 2) appear competent to others. A third option might simply be that he doesn’t yet understand the expectations on him, and with this lack of understanding, new leaders often place much higher expectations on themselves. This can be a quickly spiraling plunge into scared leadership.
The biggest mistake we can make as observers of scared leaders (whether as coaches, peers, supervisors, or subordinates) is to simply write the individual off as a leadership failure. Dive deeper. Explore (on your own, or better yet, with that person) the reasons for their power-hungry leadership grab. Be direct and ask them if there is someway you can help them out as they continue their transition. And offer encouragement and support to them…really authentic encouragement. But do call them on it….let them adjust their leadership style. You know, they may not even be aware they are coming across as insecure.
Insecure leadership doesn’t have to be a life sentence. As individuals grow, are coached, and nurtured as new leaders (regardless of level), if you assume positive intent and give them room to grow, the strongest among them will. And when they do, great things happen!