You cannot be wimpy out there on the dream-seeking trail. Dare to break through barriers, to find your own path. ~ Les Brown.
I have written about bully leaders previously, but I have not addressed until now, the other end of the spectrum – wimpy bosses. While not as obnoxious as a bully boss, the wimpy leader can be exasperating in different ways.
There are numerous characteristics that define a boss as being on the wimpy side, here are six habits that stand out to me:
1. Procrastination, slow decisions, analysis paralysis
I am reminded of the cartoon character “Wimpy” in the Popeye Cartoon, (I know I am dating myself – and as Groucho used to say, “If you are dating yourself, you aren’t likely to have many children”). Wimpy was famous for the line, “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” That characteristic of postponing things is one of the hallmarks of a wimpy boss. Regardless of the issue, there are some bosses who do not want to face making a decision, so they ask for more analysis or more time. Eventually people get the message that there isn’t going to be a firm answer.
2. Not standing up for people in discussions with higher management
Another trait of a wimpy boss is that the person will not stand up for people who work for him or her. If upper layers of management perceive an individual incorrectly, the wimpy boss is going to be a “yes man” and not challenge the misconception.
3. Waffling depending on which way the wind is blowing – “flip-flopping”
Wimpy bosses do not hold firm to decisions made on principle. They bend with the breeze coming from on high and waffle when asked to take a stand on issues involving integrity. They are like chameleons and change colors to blend in with the background.
4. No backbone, does not confront people who abuse
When a person is abusing other employees, the wimpy boss does not step in with strong action to stop the problem. Instead, problems are allowed to fester and well up because the boss has no strength or backbone.
5. Using Authority instead of Power
To make up for the perception of being weaker, these bosses who have not earned sufficient power make the mistake of trying to influence others by overexerting their authority. But excessive use of authority can cause employees to rebel in much the same way that children rebel against restrictive parents.
6. Encouraging ‘up-delegated’ tasks
Too nice is being a doormat and letting people walk all over you. To placate whiny employees and squeaky wheels – primarily because you were too weak to fight for and provide the resources in the first place – you do their work for them or place more of a burden on others. Eventually, everybody is doing nothing but complaining.
What can you do if you have a wimpy boss? That is a really good question, because you are not likely to change this person. The weak habits are a form of self preservation, laziness, or just plain being gutless. No amount of coaching is likely to reverse a lifetime of bad habits in this area. It can be very frustrating because it seems there is little you can do short of leaving the organization.
Here are some ideas that can help if applied with care.
1. Document your requests and needs well. Don’t let things slip.
If you are reporting to a wimpy boss, the best you can do is document your requests carefully and make sure you copy others, such as senior management or HR in on your requests.
2. Put a “date by” on all requests and check if late.
Make sure the need for decisions have a date fixed to them and that a large number of people are aware of the delivery date. If needed, send reminders a reasonable time before the due date.
3. Follow up on all discussions and promises.
Hold the boss to promises made.
4. Reinforce when the boss does show some backbone.
If you see some signs of strength emerging, reinforce the boss enthusiastically for taking action. It will serve to encourage stronger action in the future.
5. Gently suggest some leadership training if appropriate.
Lastly, training can help a wimpy boss learn how to handle difficult situations and also make more firm decisions. You may not be in a position to nudge the boss directly to get some training, but there could be indirect ways to let it be known that some additional seasoning would be beneficial. Each organization will have a different political hierarchy that includes not only the wimpy boss but also that person’s peers, manager, HR, and the Development Group. As an underling to a wimpy boss, you need to be careful how and when you point out opportunities for improvement.
Time to look in the mirror to ask yourself: “Where am I being a Wimpy Leader? Where do I need to be The Decider?”
I would love to hear your stories of Wimpy Leaders – please share in the comments below.
Dr Surya M Ganduri, PhD. PMP. is the Founder & President of eMBC, Inc., an international firm specializing in strategic and executive leadership development processes that Help People Succeed in an Evolving World. Dr Surya has over 28 years of business experience in management consulting, leadership development, executive coaching, process improvements, organizational development and youth leadership. For more information visit www.eMBCinc.com or contact eMBC, Inc., directly at (630) 445-1321.