Monica Wofford, CSP, is a professional speaker and CEO of Contagious Companies, a training and consulting firm that develops better leaders and trains managers how to become better leaders.

Can a team survive without a leader? Depends on how you handle it.

The adage of “while the big boss is away, the immediate boss goes away” may have some relevance here. Okay, so that’s not exactly the adage, but what do you do when a team has no leader, for whatever reason? Maybe the role is vacant, the leader is figuratively vacant, or there is an interim or acting person in place. No matter the reason for the leadership absence, the team and results and direction will suffer when there is no leader. So, what do you do? Here are three key factors and actions to consider and a valuable article worth reading to provide additional help.

Avoid Leaving Them Feeling Like a One Hit Wonder

If a team of employees feels they are being bounced around and given the “leader of the week” they’ll suffer in the same way that One Hit wonder training events actually erode, instead of build, skills. This is why I’ve included the article from Leadership Development Magazine as part of this week’s Monday Moment. (see the post to download your copy now or click the hyperlink in the previous sentence) Pay close attention to Page 10 and read that article. Teams who feel they are led by “one hit wonders” who are only leading for now or in an interim capacity will not feel nurtured, encouraged, or compelled to perform. If you are that temporary leader, settle in fast and build rapport even faster with the team members you now lead. Get to know them. Ask many questions and act like you’ve had the job for years and will continue to do, as well as begin working on how you will equip the new leader for a smooth transition.

Avoid Ignoring the Obvious

Perhaps there isn’t an interim leader and the leadership role is just open. If this is a team you work with, take them under your wing and help them by showing you care and leading anyway. Leadership isn’t about your title or pay for additional responsibilities, it’s a way of being and way of life. Lead anyway because it matters and they need you to. Openly address that while they are “leaderless” you’ll be helping out. Involve HR; take the initiative, and learn your boundaries for performance management, coaching, and discipline, but don’t ignore the obvious and act as if all is copasetic if it’s not.

Cut Them Some Slack

Whether a team has a leader who is absent when the big boss is away, or has a temporary leader, or has no leader at all, the impact this will have is a lack of direction. Those with strong leadership tendencies on the team will try to take over without even knowing or thinking about it. Cut them a break. Those without strong leadership skills or practice and experience will flounder in need of direction and guidance that may not be forthcoming. Adjust your expectations for how quickly they will get things done and how responsive they will be to your requests. Don’t write them off or ignore them, merely realign your expectations with their reality and recognize that the world needs leaders for a reason. There are some who like to follow. Depending on the make-up of the leader-less team, some may struggle more than others. In fact, keep an eye out in the coming weeks for the How Relaters Can Become Better Leaders eBook that will help with this particular type of employee when they are on a team with no leader.

Absent leadership is no laughing matter and can cause real chaos on a team and all the other teams that team’s performance impacts. Pay attention to who is jumping in to take over, how they are taking over, and their impact on what could potentially feel like a one hit wonder event. The team may struggle, but you don’t want them to revert back to the original skill level they had before the leader disappeared. Leadership truly is contagious and you want them to catch some of what you’ve got, no matter who is supposed to be in that role. Remember to read the article on page 10 and maybe even page 11 when hiring a new leader to replace the one you lost, in Leadership Development Magazine.

I’m Monica Wofford and that’s your Monday Moment. Have a great week, an even better Monday, and of course, stay contagious!


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