Do you have to meet a spineless leader to know one? Not necessarily. Recently, I unveiled a spineless leader upon learning how he handled a single set of circumstances – the orchestrating of an unfair and unjust hiring practice that covertly circumvented the promotion of the best candidate. This is all I needed to visualize the yellow stripe illuminating from the back of his neck to the base of his spine.
For sure, the details of this tragic case would make for juicy story-telling. But I’ll not go there because the story is a little too close to home. All I’m going to do is use this politically-motivated example to share five signs of a spineless leader. If you see any of these within the leadership of your organization, beware. I suggest you think seriously about moving on.
- Spineless leaders refuse to hire people better than themselves. They feel threatened that star performers will show them for who they really are. Their practices weaken and demotivate. Ultimately this weakens the organization’s product or service.
- They hide behind, and manipulate self-appointed committees to get what they want. This mitigates the ramifications of the decision they want to make, and allows them to escape the responsibility for that decision.
- The decisions they do make seldom put stakeholders first. These stakeholders can be customers (a business leader), constituents (a politician), or students (a school administrator).
- They dodge the truth and avoid the tough decisions by asking questions – superficially seeking the opinions of followers. Too many “What do you think?” questions are nothing more than avoidance.
- They answer questions by beginning their response with, “That’s a good question.” This gives spineless leaders time to choreograph a political response that either fails to answer the question or does so in vague terms.
Spineless leaders are accidental leaders, not intentional ones. And everyone knows it. The obvious question is “how do these cowards become the boss in the first place?” While one can attribute their rise to political shrewdness, the frightening answer is that someone bought into their “smoke and mirrors” and promoted them into a leadership position.
Spineless leaders hire spineless leaders and create a slithering chain of command that is difficult to break. Sadly, in the case “close to home,” that person remains at the top of the heap.
|John Bell is the retired CEO of coffee/confectioner Jacobs Suchard’s North American business, now part of Kraft Foods. After Kraft, he became a strategy and branding consultant for several of the globe’s most respected blue-chip consumer goods companies. Currently, he is a regular blogger at www.ceoafterlife.com and an online contributor to Fortune and Forbes.|