Leading or Presiding

Some time ago I was on the board of an organization that had a very affable, bright leader who was loved by his team. However, during a particularly challenging period, he was seen by the board as non-strategic and in over his head. As one board member remarked, “He doesn’t lead; he presides”.

Since that time, I’ve run into a number of people in leadership roles who preside rather than lead. At the heart of it, they are essentially frauds; though they might be good people. They tend to fall into two camps: either they lack the self confidence to make decisions (even non-critical decisions), or they have ascended to their position without really learning the skills required for the job.

I’ve seen this happen when young people are quickly thrown into positions of authority without the required skills. If this person has bluffed their way into their 40s or 50s, they continue to fake it because it is too painful for them to admit that they are in way over their head. Both causes are correctable to a point, but only if they ask for help, which requires great courage. (An exception is the man or woman who develops extreme self-confidence without the requisite skill. The only intervention for this disorder is a 2 x 4 upside the head!)

I am familiar with several “frauds” in leadership roles that I am personally fond of. They have been in numerous positions of authority but have had no real success. I know that they have been uncomfortable, perhaps even miserable, most of their careers. They often have highly tuned political skills; trying to jump onto successful wagons or slip unnoticed out of troublesome situations like a criminal at a crime scene.

Though I might feel some compassion for many of these people—who among us has not felt like a fraud for at least one moment in their career—it is in great part their own fault. Leadership comes with obligations, like making decisions and filling in your weak spots, or at very least, identifying them and working around them.


Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy®. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Todd is the author of, Never Kick a Cow Chip On A Hot Day: Real Lessons for Real CEOs and Those Who Want To Be(Morgan James Publishing, 2016). Connect with Todd on LinkedIn, Twitter, call 303-527-0417 or email todd@toddordal.com.

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