Not everyone wants to be a leader

In any organisation there are more junior staff than senior. A sports team has one captain, a ship has just one captain – but they aren’t the only people on the field or on board.

There are many people in business who aren’t leaders. There are some who would like to be leaders and, of those, some have the ability to be leaders.

There are many other people – the majority – who don’t wish to be leaders and are quite happy doing day-to-day jobs.

Those who are happy doing day-to-day jobs want someone to lead them. A large part of their motivation is going to be provided by their leader, so the easiest way to lose these staff is to deliver weak or second-rate management.

Those who would like to be leaders should be given opportunities to lead, together with the help, support and guidance they’ll need to enable them to be successful. Asking someone to lead a team without supporting them is likely to lead to failure – and you risk losing the team leader as well as some of the team members!

The people who are the most difficult to manage, motivate and retain are those who would like to be leaders but who, for one reason or another, aren’t suited to being leaders. Sometimes (in truth quite often) it’s a question of individual maturity; sometimes it’s a question of priorities; and sometimes it’s simply a question of needs and wants.

It could well be that a particular individual thinks they want to be a leader but, actually, their passion and motivation lie elsewhere – perhaps in the deployment of their technical skills.

It could also be that the ‘power behind the throne’ at home believes a particular individual should be a leader. That’s not really what the individual wants, but to admit this would mean having a disagreement with their partner!

In order to motivate and retain such would-be leaders, the issue – not the individual – needs to be confronted during the review and appraisal process. People with leadership ambitions need help to understand what really matters to them. If necessary, you need to work with them, identifying areas for further development that will help them become leaders.

The worst you can do is to ignore such potential problems, in the vague hope that they will just go away.

You can’t just choose the good bits

During the festive season I have mixed emotions. On the plus side, there’s the excitement and pleasure of family get-togethers and the happy times they bring. The negative side is trying to avoid the Christmas shopping crowds, corny canned music and over-hyped Christmas deals. And please don’t get me started on the ‘friends and family’ bulletins that some people insist on sending, telling you how wonderful their year/vacation/kids are or have been!

Putting the Grinch aside and focusing on the cheerful is my way forward.

But it’s important to understand that good things are often accompanied by things that are not so good, or even downright bad. This is true in business as well.

Having a leadership position allows you to enjoy many benefits – and I’m not talking about financial reward. These include opportunities to make a difference and help the team who work with you. There can be opportunities to hire or promote deserving individuals. You often get to travel, meet customers and suppliers, and attend events and conferences.

Those benefits are counterbalanced by the less pleasant aspects and responsibilities of leadership. If you’re responsible for hiring people, you’re also responsible for making sure they are performing to the required standard and, if necessary, firing those who don’t make the grade.

You may have opportunities to meet and greet customers, but you’re also responsible for managing those relationships when customers are less happy with you!

My method for dealing with the Christmas negatives – ignoring them and focusing on the good stuff – won’t wash in business. When you’re in business, you need to be able to take the good with the bad, deal with the unpleasant as well as the pleasant, and accept responsibility as well as authority.

You can’t just choose the good bits.

Getting the best from difficult people


Most teams, most groups of people have one member who is a little different from the rest. It might be the way they dress, or their sense of humour, or perhaps they have a particular set of interests that lets us, the normal ones, apply the tag “Maverick”.

In a business environment they can be disruptive and disturb their colleagues but we will often tolerate their behaviour as they can be outstandingly productive and efficient.

There is a management challenge to make sure that in “cutting them enough slack” you are not treating the “ordinary” members of your team unfairly. If you have a maverick who is a poor time-keeper (that’s not at all unusual) you will find it difficult if not impossible to enforce time keeping rules on the rest of the team.

In one business we had a maverick in the technical team. You can picture him – ponytail, loud shirts and calf-length boots. He was brilliant at solving customer challenges, but awful at time and record keeping. We almost felt the need to hide him away when we had visitors in the building!

His behaviour when it came to timekeeping became worse and worse. In a nearby area of the open plan office were the customer services team, who manned the phones and had to be on time every day.

I needed to address the growing conflict; I started by trying to appeal to his better nature, pointing out how the customer services team felt they were being unfairly treated. That worked for a little while, but soon he was back to his old ways.

Talking to him I recognised his need to be different and to stand out from his peers. That was a part of his personality and was reflected in the way he dressed, and was in part responsible for the poor timekeeping. That made him the centre of attention.

We fed that need. We realised that he had so much product knowledge we could get him to share and educate the rest of the teams. We held a weekly “get to know your products” session that he ran, with the first attendees coming from the customer services team.

Over the next few weeks, the customer services team began to regard him with more and more respect.

There was far less hostility, much more interaction and a much nicer office to work in.

Over the next couple of months, another change took place. The dress code calmed down, the timekeeping got better and better.

Later still, the pony tail went – a sponsored charity sacrifice that raised a decent amount of money – but it wasn’t grown back.

The maverick came back to the herd. It can be done – you just have to find the right buttons to push.