How many times have you sat with friends over dinner and discussed a well-known political or organizational leader and someone blurts out, "He's a wimp!"
Everyone shrugs their shoulders--some agreeing--some disagreeing. Those that agree tend to believe the leader in question never gets results because he or she never has the capacity or the political savvy to really move something along. There's a sense that a leader is a type of procedural procrastinator--doing a lot, but not getting results.
Suffice to say, wimpy leaders always have excuses. They say, "The opposition was too great" or, "The resistance was too intransigent." The story is a familiar one--if only they had the right support they could have moved things along! But then what's the role of the leader if not to gain support?
When someone proclaims that a leader is a wimp, what they are really saying is that they have detected a number of traits that can be equated with wimpishness. To determine if you have some wimpy tendencies, ask yourself if you do any of the following:
1. Confront no one.
Confrontation can lead to conflict and a wimpy leader always avoids a fray. Wimpy leaders don't stick out their necks. They are conflict averse.
2. Keep looking over your shoulder.
To monitor everything, all the time, is a hallmark of wimpy leaders. Wimpy leaders spend most of their time scanning the horizon for counter coalitions and Trojan Horses, leaving them too exhausted to actually get things done.
3. Hide behind consensus.
Without firm convictions, wimpy leaders are happy to follow the pack and march to the beat of the loudest drum. Wimpy leaders hide behind polls and numbers to dodge the responsibility of making decisions.
4. Never push for closure.
"Let me think about that" is a common refrain wimpy leaders employ when new projects are proposed. Wimpy leaders would rather endlessly delay then arrive at a decision that could be politically risky. Wimpy leaders always put off what could be done today.
5. Lead by committee.
Wimpy leaders hold meetings for everything--not because they are trying to build momentum, but because they don't want to make nor can they make hard decisions. They prefer leaving well enough alone instead of moving forward. Meetings, committees, and brainstorming sessions are a perfect way to appear busy without moving forward.
6. Place equality above equity.
Wimpy leaders are always a cheerleader of equality because they don't want to celebrate high potentials or praise solid performers. Wimpy leaders would rather give credit to many then praise the few who were exceptional.
If you have identified yourself as a wimpy leader, what is the cure? First, stop thinking all the time what others are saying. Stop asking yourself all the time, "How am I doing?"
Stop worrying about being wrong.
Leadership is about the courage to do something in the context of knowing you may be wrong. You can spend all your time trying to gather more information, establish consensus, and avoiding confrontation, but that is just another exercise in Waiting for Godot.
The line between being a wimp and a leader is knowing when to act in spite of the lack of certainty.