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Helping Reluctant Leaders
Buy Into Leadership Training

This was original published on on January 23, 2017.

Training leaders can be difficult due to the fact that the training usually teaches soft skills that require person-to-person interaction and which vary wildly based on organizational needs and culture. This difficult endeavor is even more difficult when your leaders are reluctant to lead.

Business Insider notes that “being a manager is not a universal goal.” They cite a study indicating that “just over a third of workers said they aspire to leadership positions.”

In short, even if you hand-pick the best leaders possible and provide them with fantastic custom training solutions to prepare them for leadership, they might not get anything out of that type of training simply because they don’t want to be a leader.

Why is that? What factors keep great employees from wanting to be leaders? How can you work around those factors to gain those reluctant leaders’ buy-in? Sure, you could simply try to avoid promoting them to leadership positions, but if only one in three of your employees wants to be a workplace leader, it’s not feasible that you’ll always find a good potential leader who’s not reluctant. Sooner or later, you’ll have to get buy-in from a reluctant leader.

Three common leader reluctance factors and possible solutions include:

1. Potential leaders are worried about work-life integration

“Work-life integration” means that many employees don’t think of work in terms of 9 to 5 anymore. On some days, for example, they’d rather work from 9 to 12, attend their child’s kindergarten graduation in the middle of the day, and then put in their last five hours from 3 to 8 p.m. This mindset is particularly prominent in millennial employees, most of whom “desire greater work-life integration over anything else.” These employees want to care for their families, pursue hobbies and goals, and devote time to their physical and emotional wellness. Leadership positions often require more office hours and greater focus on the workplace, two things that can get in the way of a fulfilling work-life integration.

It may not be practical (or honest) to assure potential leaders that their new position won’t require more hours or greater focus, but consider offering flexibility along with increased responsibility. When leaders know that they can come into the office late after their yoga lesson or leave early to go to a family dinner, they will have more enthusiasm about taking on their new role.

2. Potential leaders are introverted

At AllenComm, we recently worked with a client who promotes the well-being of introverts. This client pointed out that while introverts aren’t outgoing in the way that extroverts are, introverts have qualities that make them great leaders. However, because leaders have classically been touted as the more outgoing types, introverts may be reluctant to be moved to a leadership position.

When a potential leader tells you they are reluctant to lead because they identify as an introvert, point out the great leadership qualities of introverts, such as “deep thinking, empathy, and the ability to listen.” Suggest that they have been promoted because of, not in spite of, their being an introvert.

3. Potential leaders don’t see themselves as the “leader type”

Yale Insights says that “most people don’t see themselves as leaders…. Leader is a big amorphous word, and it’s almost arrogant to attach it to yourself.” Employees who don’t see themselves as leaders might feel like they’re not good with people…or that they aren’t the most knowledgeable person in their department…or that they just don’t really know how to lead.

As with introverts, remind these potential leaders that “they were promoted because of their skills, insights, and abilities.” If possible, give specific examples where they demonstrated leadership qualities, or share praise that other employees have given them.

Final thoughts on training leaders

You’ll notice that for each of these factors, you have to have an honest conversation with reluctant leaders to know the root of their reluctance. It’s better not to assume—if you think a potential leader is reluctant, ask for his or her thoughts about being promoted to a leadership position! That way you won’t have to wonder. You’ll know if he or she is concerned about work-life integration, identifies as an introvert, doesn’t see himself or herself as a leader, or if there’s some other factor at play.

Whatever the reason for the reluctance, you’ll be able to work with your reluctant leaders to get them to buy in to their leadership positions and, by extension, their leadership onboarding training.

Have you ever been a part of transforming a reluctant leader? Tell us about it!

If you have a leadership training challenge, reach out to us and see how we can help!