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7 Characteristics of Cowardly Lion 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. If I’m completely transparent — at times it’s been me.

Let’s face it. Leading others is hard. There is often loneliness to leadership. Leadership takes great 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. These leaders are 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. It is necessary for the strength of relationships and the organization. When the leader avoids conflict the entire organization avoids it. Hidden or ignored problems are never addressed.

Never willing to make the hard decisions. This is what leaders do. 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 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. Great 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 and 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 want to believe courage should 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 24 Comments

  • Keith says:

    I wonder if the cowardly leader is afraid of change, or of losing control. It seems to me that "control" is the one thing with which the enemy always (from Gen. 3 until present day) tempts us…especially leaders. Think about it. If he can get us, as leaders, to believe that WE (not God) is in control of our "ministry", then the enemy has won. The control issue may manifest itself in different ways, but the root issue seems to be control.
    That being said, I'd say that the list you came up with and many of those things added to the list are possibly symptoms of the FEAR OF LOSING CONTROL. (at least perceived control). Just a thought…

    • ronedmondson says:

      That's a good thought. I think you could be on to something!

    • randleman says:

      I think you might be on to something here. And I think it's something we all face, at least somewhat. I know I do. I want to be in control, or at least look like I'm in control. That's human nature (fallen, of course). The trick is in denying that nature and leading above that level of cowardliness into courageous leadership.

  • @Bryankr says:

    As a Youth worker I have and, still am, dealing with fathers and single mothers with several of the same characteristics. It leaves so many questions for my kids. It tends to leave me in a bit of a tough spot also, trying to help them find answers without seeming to attack their parent. I think Kenny has a good handle on it; afraid of change? Especially the single parents; they were in a relationship and had a partner, then *poof* they didn't , the change will sometimes leave them in a place , I guess, of "nirvana ".

  • Kenny Silva says:

    I think a cowardly leader is afraid of change. A cowardly leader is afraid to embrace new ideas that have the potential to benefit the team and its vision. They may fear relinquishing some of the glory to the team-member with the good idea. Or, they fear falling face flat in an area they don't yet fully understand. Either way, its cowardly.

  • @onepursuit says:

    That's a great list! The fear of confrontation will ultimately destroy a ministry's effectiveness… and I found it interesting that on some level, all of your points could be boiled down to that one. (Not wanting to say no… not wanting to make decisions… not wanting to take sides… bailing when the going gets rough… all definite non-confrontational characteristics.)

    I would add:
    – Making rules to handle the exceptions (rather than dealing with the exceptions individually)
    – Hiding behind a wall of "yes men" (rather than engaging in true dialog)
    – Refusing accountability
    – "Congregation Shopping" (refusing to stay where you can't get your way)

    Of course, all of mine are essentially "non-confrontational" traits as well.

    I wonder if part of the problem is that we've confused "Christian" with "Cowardly." We're so afraid of offending people, that we do them a disservice by not correcting early on. Do we falsely believe that "grace" means never saying "that's not right?"

  • Acting selfishly at the cost of team members
    Always finding faults (without providing remedy)
    Being opportunistic (without feeling guilty)

  • randleman says:

    Like mentioned above, "My way…" is one of them.

    Another cowardly leadership technique is failing to take charge. We had a guy in a previous youth ministry that was teaching some of our junior high boys thing that didn't line up with our teaching, in the area of relationshipsand sex. I did not want to confront this. I spent sleepless nights praying for God to miraculously appoint another to do it. But, in the end, it was up to me, and me alone, to address the situation and begin working toward a resolution. Hard? Yes. Necessary. Again, yes. But I know I grew from the experience. I hope he did as well.

    I think one of the problems with cowardly leadership is that if you don't take steps to reverse it quickly, it can become a serious downward spiral, becoming harder and harder to address. Cowardly leadershp can cause paralyzation by fear very quickly, in my experience.

    Anyway, thanks for the post! Looking forward to the courageous one!

    • Danny says:

      I agree here, randleman. I have often been too slow to confront and do it finally when it HAS to be done. Alot of heartache would be saved and credibility bought if I would have done it earlier. Not to mention, it too often becomes a leadership trait. A cowardly leader.

  • FreedbyJC says:

    Oh yeah!

    "My way is the only right way…" Only I have the gift.

    Runs the team … instead of letting it run. Cowardly? Definately… in refusing to trust teams talents or allow the members to outshine the leader.

    Most controlling leadership is caused by fear of individual inadequacy.