#048: The 5 Characteristics of Weak Leaders [Podcast]

I have worked for more weak leaders than strong. I’ll bet you may have, too. However, I believe you can learn just as much from a weak leader—maybe more.

Lincoln and McClellan at Antietam

I was reminded of this again when I read Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It is a page-turning account of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and his political genius.

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Though Lincoln was a strong leader, he wasn’t perfect. He occasionally selected men for public service who were unworthy of his trust. One such individual was General George B. McClellan, commander of the “Army of the Potomac” and, eventually, first general-in-chief of the Union Army.

General McClellan had significant character flaws. The good news for us is that they serve as warning signs to us. Ultimately, these flaws cost him dearly. He lost Lincoln’s confidence, he lost his job, and he later lost a run for the White House (against Lincoln).

McClellan’s weakness as a leader can be attributed to five fundamental flaws, and these are flaws that appear consistently in weak leaders.

  • Flaw #1: Weak leaders hesitate to take definitive action.
  • Flaw #2: Weak leaders complain about a lack of resources.
  • Flaw #3: Weak leaders refuse to take responsibility.
  • Flaw #4: Weak leaders abuse the privileges of leadership.
  • Flaw #5: Weak leaders engage in acts of insubordination.

President Lincoln had the patience of Job. He gave General McClellan numerous opportunities to correct his behavior and redeem himself. But in the end, McClellan either could not or would not do so. He left the President no choice but to relieve him of his duties.

In this episode, I also talk about how to deal with those flaws in yourself and in those who are leading you.

Listener Questions

  1. Alan Williams asked, “How do I know if I’m doing a good job as a leader?”
  2. Blessing Mpofu asked, “How do you lead people who are smarter and stronger than you in areas you are not?”
  3. Brandon W. Jones asked, “How do you deal with a leader who has a Jekyll and Hyde personality?”
  4. James Divine asked, “How can I influence other leaders who have a difficult time being courageous?”
  5. Jonathan Lazar asked, “How do I know if the problem is me as a leader who needs to grow or if the problem is an employee who needs to go?”
  6. Joseph Iliff asked, “Have you had any experience with leaders who are quick to blame and slow to accept responsibility?”
  7. Kent Lapp asked, “What do you do if you feel you are working for a weak leader and you are actually a better leader?”
  8. Robert Farrington asked, “Do you have any tips in giving feedback to new leaders—perhaps someone you work for or someone external to the company?”

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  3. My next podcast will be on the topic of “The 3 Ingredients of Job Satisfaction.” If you have a question on this subject, please leave me a voicemail message. This is a terrific way to cross-promote your blog or website, because I will link to it, just like I did with the callers in this episode.

Episode Resources

In this episode I mentioned several resources, including:

Show Transcript

You can download a complete, word-for-word transcript of this episode here, courtesy of Ginger Schell, a professional transcriptionist, who handles all my transcription needs.

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Question: Do you see any of these five flaws in your own leadership? Where are you struggling? Share your answer on , , or .

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