In this episode of Relationships at Work, communications and leadership nerd (and host) Russel Lolacher highlights the problem with passive leadership, what it looks like and how to change it in ourselves.
A survey from State University in New York found passive leadership led to employee role overload, role conflict and role ambiguity, which negatively impacted mental health.
Russel shares examples of passive leadership, why it could have bigger impacts to the culture than we might believe and steps to be more proactive in how we lead.
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Not too long ago, I was speaking with an executive on the topic of leaders and curiosity. I had been invited to present to this group of executive leaders on the impacts – intentional and unintentional of leadership and the importance of understanding what they could control, not control and needed to be aware of. It’s actually a pretty great presentation. Kinda proud of it.
One of the most important ingredients to great leadership is curiosity. So, in my presentation I suggested that those who want to be good leaders need to ask more questions of their staff - to get to know them, understand their challenges, steer them towards opportunities, avoid assumptions… all in a personalized way. You know, the good stuff.
Afterwards, we opened the room to questions. Always love where those conversations can go. One leader in the room raised their hand to engage with me on the value of asking more questions. It wasn’t something that came naturally to her. One of the excuses she used for not being so motivated in asking was… "Well, no one ever asks ME questions." Insert long pause here.
Well see, that right there is a problem. Let’s first forget the perceived self-centredness behind this….and focus more on the intention behind it. If we are a leader, we can’t be bystanders. This is what’s called Passive Leadership. Leadership Coach Ben Brearley on the Thoughful Leader blog defined it as: When leaders don’t take action.
Examples he gives:
Passive leadership is disengagement, it’s inactive. It’s not proactive or reactive. It’s avoidance. A State University of New York at Buffalo defined passive leaders as those who avoid or delay taking necessary actions when problems arise. This might be seen in managers who refrain from rewarding and punishing employees when they should. They did a study of 2500 workers in the U.S. where the results were published in the Stress and Health Journal. The results of that survey were shared in an article from Queens University: The researchers discovered that passive leadership was positively related to role overload, role conflict, and role ambiguity, and that each one of these stressors was positively and independently related to mental work fatigue. They also found that when employees were psychologically worn out from work, their mental health was more likely to be negatively affected, as was their overall work attitudes.
So basically, doing nothing and waiting for others to lead, isn’t good leadership. I would argue it’s not even leadership. And it has horrible impacts on the culture. If we're waiting for others to do the things that will improve our workplace culture, then we're not leading. Hell, we're barely following.
Look at almost any resource on leadership and it stresses the importance of modelling the behaviour we want our cultures to look, act and feel like. Being tentative, passive and showing lack of initiative.. that is the behaviour we are modelling and demonstrating to our employees.
That is the culture we're saying we want. Here’s a few things to demonstrate your proactive leadership:
So to the leader that relates to the statement… "Well, no one ever asks ME questions." Leaders lead. Make that first move so they see what it looks like to be a leader.