Leadership Vacuum Anyone?

There are typically two situations where there’s a need for leadership but a singular lack of it.

  1. In a crisis where people are paralyzed, and nobody is helping or directing them. (Seattle, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Minneapolis anyone?)
  2. In situations where a group of people are working together, and the appointed leaders are ineffective, incapable, or missing. (Seattle, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Minneapolis anyone?)

We’re seeing leadership vacuums appearing daily all over the country. They’re easily recognized by the following scenarios and characteristics:

  • People working by themselves, with little collaboration between individuals.
  • Groups of people working but with little coordination between groups.
  • People working mostly together, but ineffectively, inefficiently or without clear purpose.
  • Some leadership that’s weak, giving vague, wandering or generally poor direction.
  • Lack of respect for leaders by followers that grumble, have limited motivation and are pushing personal agendas behind the scenes.
  • Conflict between groups and their leaders as each seeks limited resources and a position of higher status and control.

In situations, where there’s no real leader, the natural response of groups is to actively seek a leader and to respond positively when someone starts to take the role. All one needs to do is pick up the reins, speak confidently and provide direction with consistency, while at the same time listening, encouraging, and motivating people towards a common objective.

A caution here is that followers will begin acquiring unreasonable expectations of the leader as they seek salvation and absolve themselves of all responsibility. When perfection doesn’t happen, they feel betrayed by the leader and show their anger in nonconstructive ways, from waning cooperation to ousting the leader and starting all over again. We’re seeing these scenarios play out daily, as well.

History has affirmed over and over that an insurrection or revolution always implodes within itself at some point, when the struggle for power becomes greater than the issue that started the movement in the first place.

Typically, when this happens, it’s because the leader was appointed and promoted beyond their level of expertise. The environment has shifted beyond their abilities and they find themselves in new territory. Whatever the cause, they’re not stepping up and providing the necessary leadership. At best, followers will be curious as to what will happen next. At worst, the potential for open insurrection exists.

There are times when providing the leader with encouragement and possible alternatives will gain enough trust that one is able to coach them and run things from behind the scenes. They may even be ready to step down and let the mentor take over. If the leader is clinging desperately to power, one may need to go elsewhere rather that make a direct challenge. If the leader has a potential follower who sees the problem, there may even be an opportunity to intervene with the leader’s support. The important recognition here is that the situation provides an opportunist the chance to mobilize followers and lead some resistance that will eventually lead to open revolt.

We’re also seeing situations, where leaders take their eyes off the ball as they duel with other leaders (or would-be leaders) for overall control. Effectively, several have seen the vacuum and are attempting to fill it themselves. Have you ever seen a boxing match, where the referee attempts to separate two fighters flailing at each other till they’re in a clinch? I’ve seen more than one official knocked out. They just become another enemy in the fight.

What we’re seeing play out daily, however, is a broad array of wanna-be’s, playing politics and taking sides. They’re playing the game from a distance, making subtle interventions, while appearing to be neutral, fighting for a chosen leader they recognize as ineffective (at least in their view), yet hoping they’ll win the day so they can keep playing the game, waiting for their opportunity.

However, the risk you take with this kind of leadership, or as I call it, mutiny below the deck, is that you’ll eventually share the same fate as the one you sought to undermine.

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