in the absence of leadership

In the Absence of Leadership | Is the Leader Steering Your Team Into a Ditch?

Lack of Leadership

What do you do when your leader doesn’t lead? Team performance suffers as a result. Should you try to step in and lead?  Or is that presumptuous, as he is the leader?  We’ll pose 3 approaches to handling things in the absence of leadership. You’ll know then, if you confront a lack of leadership, what your best approach to it is.

The Situation

You are on a newly formed team, assigned to come up with a recommendation for reducing costs within your organization by five percent in the next year.

All departments are represented on the six-member team. While team members are acquainted with each other, none of you normally works together. The company designated Warren as leader because he is a senior cost-accountant with 30 years experience at your firm.


After just a few meetings, you are concerned about Warren. While his knowledge is essential to the team’s mission, he shows Q2 reluctance to lead the group. He allows discussions to drift into time-wasting side issues. He doesn’t challenge the team to put aside their surface politeness and really wrestle with some of the difficult choices that will have to be made. Two members hardly say anything at all. For all intents and purposes, the team is leaderless.

When Leadership Fails

You are concerned that Warren’s ineffectual leadership is going to result in poor team performance. Company officials could be very disappointed by the team’s output. But you are not the  team leader.  In the absence of leadership, what can you do?

Dimensional Model of Behavior

Your Choices:

Click the best answer below. Our answer will then highlight with an explanation below.
A. You can “lead from the rear” — while not usurping Warren’s official role, you can practice leadership behavior that will keep the group focused and performing more effectively.

In the Absence of Leadership

Below we discuss 3 alternatives, and their pros and cons.  Dealing with a distant, Q2 leader can be quite challenging. For a fuller treatment of this topic, see our book, Leadership Through People Skills.

Lead by Example to Assist

As a Q4 leader, you should exercise your influencing skills–choice A. Warren is officially the leader. But in the absence of leadership, you can help him do a better job if you lead by example.

Encourage participation from everyone by asking reticent members their opinions. Make statements that try to keep discussion on topic and help with time management. Summarize discussion to show the group how far they have come — or not — toward solving problems and developing solutions. Suggest action plans that move toward progress on the team’s goals.

Work Hard. But, Not Being the Leader, You’re Not Responsible.

Everyone on a team should feel responsible for the success of the team. If the team’s output is disappointing and second rate, it will reflect badly on everyone involved. So, you need to do more than just give your own best effort.

Your Q4 collaborative and interpersonal skills can help Warren bring out the best in the other members. Choice B is not the best approach to a lack of leadership. See A.

Talk to the Leader and Offer to Take Over Team Leadership

Don’t attempt this (choice C); it’s presumptuous on your part and it would be embarrassing to Warren. He is the official team leader. However, you can offer direct and indirect support to help the team make a strong showing.

Answer A gives some ideas on influencing the team. If Warren shows his appreciation for your support, of course, you can offer to do more, such as helping with meeting agendas or goal setting.

B. Since you aren’t the leader, all you can do is work hard and give your own best effort. You’re not in a position to be responsible for the team’s poor leadership.

 No, please try again.

C. Discuss Warren’s role with him privately. Suggest that while he is a valuable asset, you will take responsibility for leading the team if he is uncomfortable doing it.

 No, please try again.

Your Next Leadership Steps

In the absence of leadership, you are now well prepared.  To learn how to handle additional challenging situations as a leader, see our leadership tips.

And if you work with a difficult person, our behavioral questionnaire will provide some ideas to effectively manage your situation.

If you feel like you have a pretty good knowledge of leadership and want to take your skills to the next level of consistently exhibiting Q4 leadership, we have multiple leadership development resources at your disposal.

Lastly, if you subscribe to our newsletter, you won’t experience a lack of leadership, as you’ll get tips and upcoming events every month!