Weak leadership is easy. Our instincts will sometimes suggest actions that guide us towards the weak leadership path. Of course, many of us consciously know better, but we can sometimes still fall into the trap.
So what does weak leadership mean? Some people confuse weak leadership with “softness” or “gentleness” and caring or having consideration for others. These are easy mistakes to make.
Let’s take a look at weak leadership so you can avoid it for your team when times get tough. Sometimes, it’s natural to feel like giving in and turning down the path of weak leadership. As Thoughtful Leaders, we know we can do better.
Weak leadership seems like the easy path… at first. But in the longer term, you’ll find that the easy actions taken will lead to worse outcomes over the longer term.
Misconceptions About Weak Leadership
Firstly, I want to highlight some common misconceptions about weak leadership. I see and hear these quite often in the workplace.
However, I also hear them in the questions of people who contact me wondering whether they are “too weak” or “soft” for leadership.
Misconception #1: Caring About People is Weak Leadership
Some leaders agonise over this point. They are torn between caring about their people and getting results. To me, these aren’t mutually exclusive.
In my experience, teams perform better when you show that you care about them as people, and keep their best interests in mind. Team members become invested when a leader is invested in the people in the team.
Looking out for stress and mental health issues is also important. There is little point working your team into the ground for short-term performance gains, when you will have a burnt out team (or no team!) at the other end.
Misconception #2: Quiet People Are Weak Leaders
Some people aren’t loud. And for me, being a natural introvert, they are a breath of fresh air! I have spent long enough working with brash consultants and boisterous senior leaders. It’s tiring.
Quiet, introspective leaders can achieve excellent results, but they may go about things in a different way. Often the loudest people in the room receive the most “air time”, but this does not necessarily mean they have the most useful things to say.
Failing to be the “alpha” in the room doesn’t mean weakness. Nor does being the “alpha” presence alone mean strong leadership.
Listen to this Related Podcast Episode: Episode 28: Why Softly Spoken Leaders Make a Big Impact.
Misconception #3: Low Confidence Means Weak Leadership
As leaders, many of us feel low on confidence sometimes. We may have feelings of self-doubt or “imposter syndrome” which can be overwhelming.
If we aren’t aware, we may let our lack of confidence drive us down the path of weak leadership. However, extreme confidence is not a requirement for taking positive leadership action.
We will never feel completely confident. The key is being able to act even when we feel uncertain or doubtful, instead of waiting for perfect confidence, which never comes.
We may feel more comfortable and self-assured when we feel confident. But we can still take positive leadership action when feeling uncertain – it just takes intentional, conscious effort.
The Actions (or Inactions) of Weak Leadership
We’ve covered some of the common misconceptions. Now, let’s take a look at some of the actions associated with weak leadership, so that we can avoid taking them ourselves!
1. Avoiding the Difficult Conversations
Avoiding a difficult conversation is one of the most common actions of weak leadership. Having a difficult conversation is … well… difficult.
Difficult conversations are uncomfortable, may involve high stakes and often mean confronting a problem or potentially hurting somebody’s feelings. No leader should rush into a difficult conversation without preparation, but waiting too long to address an issue will usually have its own problems.
Team issues that require a difficult conversation need to be tackled in a timely manner. Failing to do so simply reinforces the bad situation as being an acceptable part of the team.
I’ve seen many situations where poor behaviour went unpunished, with leaders simply looking the other way. This sends the message that this is acceptable, and other team members become discouraged as they see other people “getting away with murder”.
You may feel uncomfortable or even scared to have a difficult conversation. But you will never feel completely prepared. The important thing is that you take action, rather than taking the weak leadership path of inaction.
Are You Avoiding the Real Problem?
Weak leadership often tempts us to take the path of least resistance. Solving the real issues in a team or workplace usually involves discomfort and potentially confrontation.
If you find yourself working around problems, rather than tackling them head on, then you may be treading down the path of the weak leader.
Sometimes, leaders will create workarounds that actually make the team less productive, rather than face up to an uncomfortable truth. This is common in teams where there is a “weak link” who is unable to perform their role properly.
For example, if one team member is unable to complete their work, other team members tend to take up the slack. This means they are less productive, having to shoulder the burden of the poor performer.
The real problem is the poor performer. The focus should be on finding ways to address this situation, instead of letting others conceal the problem by working harder.
2. Knee-Jerk Reactions
Sometimes we perceive quick action or reaction as being “decisive”. But being decisive isn’t about reacting without thinking, or making decisions really fast.
Making a poor decision quickly is not very helpful. Taking too long to make a perfect decision is not much better.
The other factor to consider here is pressure. Leaders are often under pressure from senior people above them, or other powerful stakeholders.
Weak leaders have a tendency to jump at any sign of problems from above and pass the pressure directly to their team members.
As a leader, I often find it is useful to act as a buffer, to keep some of the pressure off the team so they can do their best work.
Weak leadership means acting quickly, without taking appropriate time to think. A better approach is to take a step back, take stock of your options and work with your team to deliver the best outcome.
3. Failing to Take Ownership and Accountability
Weak leadership is all about avoiding blame and scrutiny. It’s always “someone else’s fault”.
While leadership is tough and you’ll never have the perfect set of conditions to do your job, blaming your situation on someone else is poor leadership.
Weak leaders are plagued by the victim mindset, where they can do nothing to change their situation.
Strong leaders have a mindset of abundance and agency. That is, they believe they can make change and achieve results, even when there are constraints.
Blaming team members for problems is also a common sign of weak leadership. While team members sometimes do act up or make mistakes, the blame game is often unhelpful. Blaming others helps us to feel as if we had nothing to do with the situation, but as leaders, this is rarely true.
What can help is to step back and consider how you may have contributed to the situation at hand, and then take the necessary steps to correct it. What happens in your team is ultimately your accountability, so you need to step up and own it.
Weak leadership plagues our workplaces, because it appears to be the easy path. Weak leaders fail to address uncomfortable problems, which feels OK at first.
It’s only when the problems remain that we eventually see that we have caused much larger problems by taking the path of least resistance in the first place.