7 Characteristics of Cowardly Leadership

You remember the cowardly lion from The Wizard of Oz, don’t you? He was supposed to be the king of the jungle, but he had no courage.

I’ve known some leaders like the cowardly lion. I’ve written in a previous post about courageous leadership. It seems a counter post is warranted. And if I’m completely transparent — at times that coward has been me.

Let’s face it. Leading others is hard. There is often loneliness to leadership. Leadership takes courage.

You have no doubt encountered cowardly leaders. Perhaps would even admit you’ve been one too.

Here are 7 characteristics of cowardly leadership:

Say what people want to hear. The might say, for example, “I’ll think about it” rather than “No” – even no is already the decided answer. I get it. It’s easier. But the ease is only temporary and only comes back to haunt you later.

These leaders are also notorious for saying one thing to one person and another to someone else. They want everyone to like them.

Avoids conflict. In every relationship there will be conflict. In fact, healthy conflict is a necessary part of keeping relationships strong. When the leader avoids conflict the entire organization avoids it. Hidden or ignored problems are never addressed.

Never willing to make the hard decisions. Leaders don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. They don’t even have to be the one with the most experience. Leaders do have to be able to make the decisions no one else is willing to make.

Pretends everything is okay – even when they are not. When everything is amazing nothing really is. Cowardly leaders gloss over the real problems in the organization. They refuse to address them either because they fear don’t know how or their pride gets in the way.

Bails on the team when things become difficult. I’ll have to admit this has been me. I’ve written about it before, but when I was in business, and things were difficult, it was easier to disappear than face the issues. The learning experience was once I checked-out or when I was disappearing so was my team.

Courageous leaders are on the frontline during the most difficult days, leading everyone through the storm.

Refuses to back up team members. No one wants to serve someone who will not protect them or have their back. People need to know if they make mistakes there is a leader who still support them and can help them do better the next time.

Caves in to criticism. Make any decision and a leader will receive criticism. Even if it is unfounded cowardly leaders fall apart when people complain. They take it personal or refuse to see any value in it. These leaders see every criticism as a threat against their leadership rather then another way to learn and grow.

What would you add to my list?

Let’s be leaders of courage. In fact, I believe courage might need to be in our definition of leadership.

Do you find it scary to be a leader sometimes? What’s the scariest time you face as a leader?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Tracy Tisdale says:

    Sometimes leaders bully their followers. When someone questions, not just their authority or their beliefs, they attack. This is the very antithesis of what a leader is and it lets everyone report know they either fall in line or else. But then there is no exchange of ideas, no collaboration, and getting it done is more important than doing it right. I was in a recent meeting like this and people were actively looking for new jobs the next day.

  • Joe says:

    Let’s personal feelings or friendships cloud decisions

    I had to terminate a friend I liked (and still like), who was also very popular among his colleagues.

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