Inaction is also Leadership

In the realm of leadership, actions often speak louder than words. However, the things you don’t do and actions you don’t take can resonate the most audibly. Leadership is as much about what you do as it is about what you allow to happen. Inaction can be a more potent driver of a toxic culture than action.

It’s not just about the rules you set; it’s about what you tolerate. And in the end, everything is a leadership problem. One leader displaying inaction is only allowed to do so by another leader accepting it.

The Power of Inaction

Inaction, or the decision not to act, is a choice that leaders make, consciously or unconsciously. When leaders ignore issues, avoid difficult conversations, or fail to address poor performance, they send a powerful message to their team. This message is one of tolerance for subpar standards, and it can quickly erode the culture of a team or organization. This inaction, however, is not just the responsibility of the individual leader but also of those who allow such inaction to persist.

Setting the Tone

Leaders set the tone for their organizations. They define the culture not just through their actions but also through their inactions. A leader tolerating poor performance signals to the team that mediocrity is acceptable. If a leader allows disrespectful behaviour to go unchecked, it communicates that respect is not a core value of the organization. But remember, the responsibility doesn’t stop at the leader who allows such behaviours. The leaders above them also play a role in either endorsing or challenging such actions.

The Impact of Tolerance

Tolerance in leadership can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, tolerance can foster an environment of acceptance and diversity. On the other hand, when leaders tolerate negative behaviours or attitudes, they inadvertently encourage these behaviours to continue. This can lead to a toxic culture that hampers productivity, morale, and, ultimately, the organization’s success. And this toxicity is a leadership problem that can be traced back to what leaders have allowed to persist.

Taking Action

As leaders, it’s crucial to understand that inaction can be just as impactful as action. It’s not enough to set rules and expectations; leaders must enforce them. This means addressing issues head-on, having difficult conversations, and not tolerating behaviours that go against the organization’s values. But it’s not just about individual leaders taking action. It’s about creating a culture where inaction in the face of issues is not tolerated at any leadership level.

Everything is a Leadership Problem

Leadership is a delicate balance of action and inaction. It’s about knowing when to step in and when to step back. It’s about setting clear expectations and not tolerating behaviours that undermine them.

As a leader, your inaction can speak just as loudly as your actions. So, choose wisely what you allow because what you tolerate, you ultimately endorse. And always remember, everything is a leadership problem. The actions and inactions of one leader are allowed or disallowed by the actions and inactions of other leaders.

Explore More

If you enjoyed this and want to dive deeper into the topic, here are some additional resources you might find interesting:

  • 📚 What You Do Is Who You Are by Ben Horowitz explores the profound idea that a person’s actions, more than their words, define their character and influence. In the context of leadership, it underscores the significance of a leader’s actions and inactions, mirroring the concept that what leaders tolerate in their organization ultimately shapes their leadership identity and the culture of their team.
  • 📚 The Dichotomy of Leadership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin emphasizes the delicate balance leaders must maintain between opposing forces such as leading and following, or being aggressive and being prudent. This aligns with the idea that leadership is a balance of action and inaction, with leaders needing to discern when to step in and when to step back, and understanding that their choices, including what they tolerate, significantly impact their team’s culture.
  • 📚 The Art of War by Sun Tzu is a timeless treatise that presents strategic wisdom for overcoming conflicts, emphasizing the importance of understanding one’s environment, picking battles wisely, and leading with flexibility. This aligns with our discussion on leadership, as it underscores the significance of a leader’s decisions, including what they choose to address or tolerate, in shaping the culture and success of their organization.