Meanwhile, confidence in the leader is waning. Everyone is wondering “Do they want to lead?” “Can they?" “Are they both willing and able?”
If you report to one of these reluctant leaders, what can you do to improve the situation?
- Be an objective observer. Look for patterns. (e.g., we don’t stick to an agenda, we don’t have a process for which decisions will be made by the leader and which decisions should be reached through consensus building or collaboration).
- Don’t judge (the leaders knows they have a high need for approval, they want to be liked, they typically dislike conflict) so consider that a “closed door” and find an “open door”. Avoid, “Our leadership team meetings are largely a waste of time. We talk and talk but we don’t decide anything”. Instead ask a thoughtful question, “Do you think our leadership meetings could be more efficient or productive? If so, what would that look like?”
- Manage up and ask for permission to speak candidly (e.g. ask “Over the next week or two can we set aside an hour to discuss a pattern I am noticing?”)
- Take detailed notes, using their exact words and phrases. (Continue to explore what the leader really wishes they could make happen).
- Mirror that back to them (“So it sounds like you think we should have a detailed, timed agenda and stick to it, unless there is a critical issue that needs to usurp the agenda. Is that right? What else?”)
- Essentially, allow your boss to do a “brain dump” about all the things they wish they were doing or leading the team to accomplish.
- Challenge your own assumption that, “they are the boss, they should be doing all of this”. Instead notice what value they are bringing to the agency or firm (e.g., they are a great fund-raiser, they have big brain and they contribute to the firm’s strategic direction). Give them the benefit of the doubt.
- Lead from the middle – “Would it be OK if I took responsibility to draft an agenda for our biweekly meetings and run it by you 2 days prior to get your input? Then, once you’ve blessed it, how do you want me to hold you accountable if you aren’t willing to give me 30 minutes of your time (even though you accepted my calendar invite)? What specifically should I say to you to get you to focus on this earlier, so your meetings can be more productive? How hard should I push you?
- Evaluate your progress - Ask your boss if you can sit down again after 2 meetings to see what, if anything, has improved.