What If Your Leader Won’t Act?

What if my leader won’t . . .

I get this question all the time.  My leader won’t make a decision; what do I do?  Why won’t the leadership in my company LEAD?  Things go up the chain, but nothing comes back down.  Why won’t they DO anything?  What do you do when you manager won’t . . . ?

These are hard questions.  There are all kinds of reasons why ‘leadership’ won’t act.  Your solution depends a lot on why.  Let’s take a few examples:

Your leader can’t/won’t make a decision.

Just because someone has a ‘leader-type’ title, doesn’t mean s/he is a leader.  Sometimes people are overwhelmed by the responsibility of making a decision.  Sometimes people get stuck making decisions because all the alternatives seem equally bad.  Or equally good.  Sometimes people are waiting for someone else and it isn’t obvious to the people waiting on them.

If this sounds like the situation with your ‘leader,’ then perhaps you can ‘lead’ from below.  Can you present the alternatives in a way that helps the leader choose?  Can you make a recommendation?  Can you help the leader talk it out?  Can you get some other folks to help the leader talk it out?  Can you just make the decision yourself?  (Remember, empowerment is not what others let you do, but rather what you step up to do?)

Don’t get stuck on the fact that the person outranks you and won’t do what you believe is appropriate to his/her role.  The important thing is to get things to the place that the organization can move forward, not WHO decides.

Your leader won’t step in and resolve a conflict.

Why don’t you figure out how to do this yourself?  You shouldn’t need an adult to get things resolved for you.  Figure out a process for resolving the dispute and get the other person to agree to the process.  Then apply it.  In other words, agree that you’ll ask others, or you’ll have a vote, or you’ll agree to disagree, or you’ll take turns.  Then do it.  Don’t let your manager’s conflict aversion cause things to stop.

Your leader won’t resolve a resource issue.

Can you figure out why your manager can’t/won’t resolve it?  Does s/he believe there is a resource issue?  Does s/he believe that the resource issue will really negatively impact the project/organization?  Does s/he believe that the answer will be no from his/her management?

Approach the problem by laying out alternatives.  “We can add these resources OR we can reduce the work OR we can slow things down.”  Sometimes helping the person see all the alternatives helps them pick one (which may not be your first choice, but may resolve/reduce the problem).  Think the problem through thoroughly.  Come up with at least three potential solutions–one of which is add resources.  What if there is no money for the resources you need.  Then what?  What would you do? HELP your manager figure this out.

Your leader won’t do ANYTHING.

First, make sure this is true.  Are you sure that this is reality or your perception–ask others who work for your leader or who have in the past.  Ask what has worked for other people.

If nothing works, then you have a choice.  You can either give up (I STRONGLY don’t recommend this) or you can  go find another leader.  If you allow your leader’s inaction to shut you down, then it will likely derail your career if it becomes a pattern.  If you decide to choose another leader, make sure that the new leader is what you’re looking for in a leader.  Just as there are patterns in the relationships we choose, there are patterns in the situations we get into at work.  There is no point in wasting years of your career in a no-win situation.

Fix it.


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Filed under Career Development, Communication, Executive Development, Leadership, Reframe

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