Reluctant Leaders are the Best Leaders
What is a Reluctant Leader?
“You may obey a leader who has power and authority, but you will not strive to serve her or the cause of the organization unless you respect and care for her in addition to the ones with whom you serve.”
— Dan B. Allender, Leading with a Limp
A Reluctant Leader is not a style or methodology of leadership…it is how leaders are born. Since before the modern world, there have been two types of leaders: those that seek the role and those that accept the role.
The Leadership Seeker
Being a Leadership Seeker is not a bad thing. Seekers have aspirations for their careers, livelihood and personal life. They drive toward making an impact that is noticeable and accept praise for successes. The Seeker can be passionate, motivated by their internal goals and targets. They can influence others, gaining trust and buy-in to their game plan. Seekers know how to sell – their ideas, their methods, their vision and their goals.
“Authority: The skill of getting people to willingly do your will, because of your personal influence.”
— James C. Hunter, The Servant
The downside of Seekers? They put their needs and goals ahead of others. They do not learn from a defeat or failure. Their desire for recognition takes the spotlight off of their teams and focuses it solely on themselves. They are slow to praise but quick to point fingers. When describing their project or work, they use “I” and “They” rather than “We” or “Us”. They churn through followers either through attrition or conflict. Loyalty is not a factor with Seekers.
The Leadership Acceptor (aka The Reluctant Leader)
“The greatest leaders are reluctant ones who lead because they realize that no one else seems willing to step up.”
― Orrin Woodward
The Acceptor is someone who sees the need but no one willing to fill it. Acceptors analyze the situation before committing. They begin by asking themselves, “Can I do this?”. They visualize both failure and success. Acceptors hold the needs of the team and the affected to higher level than their own. Acceptors ask a lot of questions of others seeking feedback and ideas, rather than insert their goals and targets to achieve the greater good. Communication is a constant and becomes the culture of the Acceptors role and team. Problem solving is the Acceptors primary focus, measuring the outcome of the status quo versus changing direction. The greatest strength of an Acceptor is their creativity in building a solution, team and/or organization and forming a symbiotic relationship between the three.
The Reluctant Leader evolves from Acceptor to a leadership role over a short period of time. Acceptors often reject the vision of Seekers, choosing to identify the path with the collaboration of others. When something does not work, Acceptors determine root cause and pivot. Acceptors measure themselves by the number of obstacles they clear not the just the achievement of a goal.
The downside of an Acceptor? As a servant leader, they sometimes lose sight of the big picture and get lost in the details. Acceptors have a hard time of not being hands on and delegating. Because the concept of being a Reluctant Leader is the origin of their leadership role, any acceptor who finds no intrinsic reward in their position is doomed to always having reluctance to stepping up again.
What does a Reluctant Leader rely on versus a Leadership Seeker?
Place people in roles where they can succeed
Seek input on solving the issue
Act as advocates
Desire intrinsic fulfillment
Champion change to solve a problem
Passionate about serving others
See the team as a collection of people with unique strengths
Place people in roles that fill a need
Seek buy-in with little discussion
Act as prosecutors
Champion change to distinguish themselves
Want to be served
See the team as a metric – the more on the team, the more power the Seeker will possess.
When the Seeker is able to leverage their ability to influence others, sell an idea or promote change, they will thrive. Their followers are less likely to be loyal in the long run, but the Seeker will drive the team toward achieving the vision he or she set forth. Their ambition will bring visibility to their efforts, promoting the successes achieved yet ignoring the contributors, a major factor in the churn rate of their team.
The Reluctant Leader is perfect in situations that require problem solving, market shifts and rebuilding an organization. They begin with self-doubt, which can be the driver toward meeting their goals. Their ability to analyze and listen while visualizing what success and failure look like is at the core of how they will perform. Those that follow remain loyal to the Reluctant Leader, embracing the “We” and “Us” mindset when driving toward their goals.
The best leaders are molded over time. Leadership is a journey, with smooth sailing as well as choppy water. The Reluctant Leader will bring strength, unity, recognition and longevity which are pillars for success.
About the Author
Scott Schledwitz is a manager with one of the Big 3 Consulting firms. He has built a career advising clients on processes, strategy and technology. He currently lives in Orlando, Florida(probably because he is a big Disney fan!).