Reluctant Leadership

Working with people can be a lot of fun.  Either in groups, or one on one, being able to help people discover themselves and their style is very rewarding.  The reward comes from knowing that their personal, professional or leadership journey is progressing and moving forward.  In some small way, you were there providing advice, suggesting a course of action, or just offering the encouragement they needed to do what they know needed to be done long before you arrived.

Lately there has been a notable trend: Reluctant Leadership.

Granted, some behavioral styles and inner motivations are more “natural” leaders.  Other styles are more prone to support others or take the second or third chair.  But this pattern of reluctance lately has even included people who would normally be wired to lead, and lead well.  Where is this reluctance coming from?

Not wanting to lead appears to go deeper than just behavioral style and opportunity.  This reluctance is a murky swamp of reasons more profound that I originally realized.  When talking with some of these individuals, the list has included guilt, shame, fear, doubt and the list goes on and on.  You can hear their Narrators shouting when you interact with them, providing the reasons not to lead.  It is almost as if someone or something knew the need for leadership and preemptively attacked them so they would not, or could not lead.

Are some leaders bad?  Yes.  Have you tried to lead and were unsuccessful? Maybe. Should you stop trying?  NO!  Leading others is messy, hard, tiring, and amazing at the same time.  People need you.  They need you to step up and lead despite your fears, doubt or whatever that reason is that keeps you on the bench and out of the game.

The more I read epic stories (the kind that last for generations) most have a reluctant leader who transforms into the Hero, despite their self-limiting perspective and doubt.  We all identify with that reluctance and fear, and the corresponding hope that they will be successful in the end.  Maybe those authors over the ages have been trying to remind us of something: the best heroes are those who led despite reluctance.

All styles can lead.  All styles can lead well.  In some cases, we have over-glorified the strong dominant leadership style making others feel as if they cannot lead.  Some of the best leaders are those who encourage others, mend prior wounds, and help others become great.

Ironically, in most of the classic stories, the reluctant leaders are the “good guys” and those who we typically would associated with type A commanding leadership styles are the “bad guys.”  Maybe those authors were trying to tell us something.