Confronting a Non-Confrontational Leader

What do you do when your leader won’t confront reality? And by reality, I specifically mean underperforming team members.

Rams Butting Heads - Confronting Your Leader

Four Steps to Confronting a Non-Confrontational Leader (Click to Tweet)

I recently wrote about this from the leader’s perspective in a post entitled, Cut the Slack. In in I wrote:

Cutting people slack is code for “do nothing about it.” Cutting your team slack is a failure of leadership. Doing nothing is never an option.

One reader, Steve Pate, had a great question in the comments:

Alright then what do you do when you’re not the “leader” and you watch your boss do this all the time with other team members for the sake of “feelings”?

Behold the Non-Confrontational Leader.

The answer to Steve’s question is that you must confront your leader. Yes, you.

For leaders and non-leaders alike did that just cause you to throw up a little in your mouth? In most organizations, confronting your leader rarely turns out pretty. I’ve done it the right way and the wrong way and along the way, I’ve learned how to do it.

Four Steps to Confronting a Non-Confrontational Leader

Note: Pick a different wording if “confront your leader” is too intimidating or conjures up images of finger-pointing, stomping feet, or you explaining to your spouse why you are no longer employed.

  1. Frame the conversation as a learning opportunity. Your entire objective should be to learn how your leader approaches specific situations. Ask to understand (that is why you normally ask questions, right?). Consider these two opening questions:
Question One: “Why do you always let Joe get away with being late?” (For the full effect, it helps to read that out loud with a nasally, whiny voice while throwing a mini-tantrum)
Question Two: “As a leader, how do you promote team members being on time?”
  • Seek to understand.
  • Avoid accusations.
  • Ask the right questions.
  • Make your question a genuine one, not a passive-aggressive way to get to your point.
  1. Assume you don’t know the answer. Maybe you really do know the answer…that your boss is best friends with Joe and lets him get away with everything. Or maybe it’s because Joe has a sick child who has a doctor’s appointment every Tuesday at 7:00 A.M. that sometimes runs long. By remaining curious and seeking to understand, the truth you are looking for might be revealed. 
  2. Allow solutions to present themselves. In the case of Joe’s tardiness, as your leader explains things, you might state that you never knew that about his child, and that others have wondered about his tardiness. Your boss might then realize his folly and share the information with the team. Now everyone will understand. Your leader is no longer a non-confrontational weakling playing favorites. He is a caring leader, willing to adjust to team members’ circumstances.
  3. When this fails, move on…for now. Sometimes, this approach does not work. Your leader answers vaguely…or poorly. Sometimes, nothing positive will come out of this approach. So, there are next steps, but those are for another time. For now, thank him for his time and move on. Take some time to think about the conversation. What could you have done or said differently? Then start the process over.

You should try this approach at least two or three times before you move on to the next steps, which I will share at a later date. Make sure to subscribe to my RSS feed or get posts via email (and get my free book as a bonus) so you don’t miss it.

Have you ever had to confront a non-confrontational leader? What tips do you have for Steve?

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