Are You a Cowardly Lion? The Nonaggression Pact Leaders Make with Their Staff

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We all know the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz. Have you ever me him? I’m not referring to the real Cowardly Lion; I’m talking about the cowardly lions who are in your leadership ranks.

I was recently in a bank (with ATMs and online services, this was a rare visit). While waiting in the lobby I witnessed the bank manager interacting with his employees. He seemed to carry himself with bravado while simultaneously walking on eggshells. It was like the Cowardly Lion who says, “put ‘em up; I’ll fight the both of you together” and then whimpers when Dorothy scolds him.

For ten minutes I watched as the manager evaded making simple decisions, like “When is my lunch break?”; he did not intervene when a customer screamed at the teller; and he pretended not to see two customer service reps loudly talking about their weekend plans while the lobby was full of customers. In addition, his staff told him what to do and there was little respect for any type of authority. It became evident that this manager had consented to a nonaggression pact with his staff.

A nonaggression pact takes place when the leader decides to avoid disputes, unpleasant discussions, or any other type of potential conflict. It is common in novice leaders and those who lack the confidence to manage a team. These individuals only want to deliver happy, non-controversial news. Any disputes or performance issues are left to be resolved on their own.

Nonaggression pacts should not be confused with lassiez faire leadership. Lassiez faire is a leadership style where the leader takes a more passive role, thereby allowing employees to make decisions. It gets a bad rap for giving employees free reign, while the truth is that lassiez faire can be effective when utilized appropriately.

If you have high performing, self-motivated, capable employees, lassiez faire is a valuable tool. It empowers others to analyze problems and devise solutions without micromanagement or unnecessary bureaucracy. You keep tabs on what is happening, but there is solace in knowing your team has it covered.

Lassiez faire mutates into a nonaggression pact when you shun acting like the leader. This happens not because you remove yourself from the situation so as to create a learning experience, but because you are trying to avoid the unpleasantries. It’s easy to keep your head in the sand, but cowering from the undesirable pronouncements and appeasing unhappy staff is not why your team needs a leader.

If you know how to handle a situation (like the Scarecrow with knowledge) and have the passion to be fully invested in the role (like the Tin Man with heart), then don’t wait for someone to hand you a medal of courage. Revoke your nonaggression pact and show your team why you are in the leadership seat. Be kind, be respectful, and be the leader.

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