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What to do with employees who don’t want to lead?

What are the dangers of having a workforce that just don't want to lead? What can businesses do to overcome these challenges?

While speaking recently with a Director of an IT business the conversation gravitated towards leadership and management. He let slip that he had purposely avoided leadership roles over a career spanning 14 years. This was someone who was technically very proficient in their role but had no ambitions to ascend the ‘normal’ corporate ladder, inherit and build teams or be responsible for a department or branch – a concept that is probably alien to the more seasoned generations.

This is not, however, either an isolated incident or one that is indigenous to the IT world. Some of the reasons that were cited included wanting to maintain a work-life balance, lacking the necessary skill set, not desiring the responsibility that goes with the territory, for example, having to dismiss/discipline staff, and recognising the existence of disproportionate amounts of stress and worry for the remuneration on offer.

What dangers can this pose for businesses?

The danger for businesses is not recognising early enough that this is how some of their staff will feel and view their careers. Business leaders can often make the mistake of assuming that the rising stars of today who are technically good at what they do will eventually want to step into the shoes of retiring/departing equity partners, thus keeping the business alive and enabling a smooth transition to take place. Once the realisation that this may not be the case hits home, finding a solution can take up a considerable amount of time both during and outside of office hours and may involve hiring new staff who may or may not work out long-term as new leaders.

So what can you do about it? Here are some starting points that your business leaders and HR team should consider:

Build and continually review your leadership teams’ succession plans. When was the last time they were reviewed (if they exist, that is), what’s changed in the meantime? In short, are they fit for purpose?

How do you recognise tomorrow’s leaders? Do they share that vision/aspiration too, or are you making assumptions?

Invest in the leadership and management skills tomorrow’s leaders will need to acquire. They won’t obtain these skills by osmosis and just because someone is technically good is in no way indicative of how they will perform in a leadership role. In fact, the reverse is very often the case.

What other measures can be implemented to demonstrate a commitment to reducing the pressures and responsibilities of leadership while providing additional support such as coaching and mentoring to those that step up?

If Ralph Nader is correct when he said “the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not followers” then organisations need to question the investment they are making into their current and future leaders if the organisation is to survive in a growing competitive and unpredictable market.

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