Some employees may find the passive leadership style ideal, as the leader does not interfere with their performance of assigned duties. Others may associate a withdrawn supervisor rather negatively. However, let’s take an objective look at how a passive leadership style affects the team, and what problems and benefits such a leader brings.

What does it mean and what are the characteristics of a passive leadership style?

A leader is a person from whom employees expect a particular attitude and skill set. On the one hand, they want a fair amount of freedom of action and decision-making, but when it is necessary they want to feel taken care of and confident that they have someone who can provide advice or guidance in solving a given problem or making a particular decision. Such an authority figure, even if not needed for a given task, will always be there and on standby.

The role of a leader is therefore not easy and requires a lot of flexibility and the ability to adapt to a given situation, but also sensitivity and excellent interpersonal skills. Both influencing the team’s actions too forcefully and withdrawing too much into the shadows are not good solutions here.

A passive leadership style concerns situations when a leader doesn’t take on responsible tasks, doesn’t want to get involved in problems and doesn’t strive to solve them. A passive leader often doesn’t know how to act or believes it’s better to wait out the storm for the problems to fade away. Such a leader’s behavior often results from a lack of appropriate skills to manage a team, but sometimes it can also derive from constraints coming from the top and an unwillingness of workers to perform their duties.

One characteristic of passive leaders concerns their lack of reward or punishment of employees, so they don’t get any feedback on the work they’ve done. Therefore, workers don’t know which way to go and whether the direction they have chosen is correct. The lack of punishment is wrong as it makes employees unable to cope with rising difficulties because they don’t recognize their mistakes. This, in turn, deprives them of a chance to improve and change their actions. Not only the employees suffer from such leadership but also the entire team and organization.

Those who still have some motivation to act will try to make up for the shortcomings of their co-workers, which will ultimately lead to an unequal distribution of responsibilities, work overload and too much mental strain.

On an individual basis, a passive leadership style can lead to work overload, mental fatigue, and consequently apathy, burnout and loss of desire to work. Such well-being of employees in the workplace will breed unhealthy conflicts and stir the team towards disunity. Therefore, a leader should be the person who brings the whole team together and knows how to react when conflicts arise. The lack of a decisive individual who manages the team can lead to mistrust, less motivation and ultimately, uncooperative behavior.

Passive leadership is also detrimental to the organization as a whole. Failure to take decisive action in a constantly changing business environment will cause the organization to lose its competitive edge and position in the market. Such an organization will also not be attractive to employees. Thus, there may be a problem finding and retaining talent.

Why do leaders become passive leaders?

In some cases, being a passive leader depends on the leader’s character traits and is caused by unwillingness to work or strive to improve skills. Some supervisors happen to achieve a position that is stable and secure and they aren’t particularly concerned about how their actions affect employees and the company. Therefore, we may state that such leaders adopt an ignorant attitude and don’t care to change their behavior. They get comfortable with their level of professional achievement and they let it stay that way.

However, it is also sometimes the case that a leader is not a passive leader from the beginning, but becomes one as a result of specific events. Most often, it comes as the aftermath of work overload or lack of skills needed to do the job. It also happens that leaders have such an extensive list of tasks that they do not find time to talk to employees or provide them with information on the task at hand. They consider that such feedback is not that important and can wait with an extensive to-do list.

In some cases, it may also be due to a lack of the necessary interpersonal skills to facilitate communication with employees. Frequently, leaders don’t even realize how such a seemingly small element as employee communication can affect the work of the entire team and the entire company.

Leaders may also erroneously claim that their lack of involvement functions as a message to employees to whom they give more autonomy. However, neither extreme control of employees’ actions nor lack of involvement are a good solution. The key is to find the golden mean and skillfully engage when it is acutely needed.

Passive leadership style – the most common mistakes

A passive leadership style is not a good solution and can lead to many problems in an organization, each of which ultimately translates into a loss of motivation among employees, which in turn leads to poorer performance of the entire enterprise. What are the most common mistakes made by passive leaders and how do they translate into organizational performance?

  1. No feedback
  2. One of the most serious mistakes that is quite often made by passive leaders is the lack of feedback after team members do the work. Imagine you are finishing a big project that you spent a whole week on, and you had to commit all your resources to complete it. Getting there was not at all easy and took you a long time, costing no less stress. However, in the end, you succeeded, you brought the matter to a conclusion. The day has come when you proudly hand over your work to the leader’s desk. What do you hope for? And what happens when you get no response?

    An employee who tries, engages and performs to the best of his or her ability is not at all counting on elaborate appreciation, but simply on a real assessment of the task performed. The lack of such feedback will lead to a loss of motivation and commitment among employees.

  3. No response to poor performance in the organization
  4. Long-term passive leadership can cause conflicts in the organization and a decline in employee engagement. Ultimately, this can end up in a drop in productivity of the entire organization and its poorer business performance. Leaders who adopt the passive leadership style do not take the initiative to act and are unwilling to take any steps to improve the situation. They sit passively in the hope that the problem will solve itself. Of course, this does not happen, and prolonged waiting can only make the situation worse.

  5. Inability to make decisions
  6. Leadership undeniably involves making decisions. Often these are difficult decisions that require courage and may not always initially meet with everyones. Mainly for these reasons, a leader who takes on a passive leadership style will avoid such situations. However, failure to make decisions means living in limbo, which is not a good thing in the case of a company.

Is passive leadership always bad?

Every leadership style has its pros and cons. A skillful leader can draw what’s best each of style and create a unique tailored one, which should fit for the current company situation.What’s there in the passive leadership style that can be useful?

  1. Passive leaders avoid taking stand in disputes and are thus perceived as fair and objective. This is an attitude that is certainly worth noticing. No decision may be the best one, occasionally.
  2. Passive leaders are patient and do not make hasty decisions, which in some cases can be beneficial. Take an impulsive person who comes to be a leader.
  3. Passive leaders give a lot of freedom of action to employees and allow them to make their own decisions.

Of course, not always and not in every situation these approaches succeed. Still, it will certainly work well among experienced employees, where the task and goal to achieve are simple and clear, and the team is motivated to act so much that the leader’s involvement at this stage is not necessary.

Why does the leadership role have such a significant impact on team motivation?

A leader is an key figure on the buisness chessboard, having the biggest impact on the team. To a large extent, it depends on whether the organization achieves success. Therefore, with great opportunity to achieve more and constantly improve the organization’s operations, there comes a huge responsibility. The role of the leader is not only to have a vision for development and skillfully lead the team, but also to motivate employees and communicate with them.

In addition to these primary elements, it is also worth remembering that the atmosphere in the team is also extremely significant, and has a huge impact on the well-being of employees. It is enough if even one element is missing, and the chance of achieving a common goal drops dramatically.

If not passive leadership, what style should I choose?

A good leader is a flexible leader who can adapt his actions to the current needs of the organization and knows how to appropriately influence the motivation of employees. Certainly, he must perceive the problems that arise in the team and have interpersonal skills developed enough to deal with them. It is not at all a question of fitting into a particular leadership style, but of tailoring the proceedings and being flexible. In some situations, the team should be allowed to make mistakes, as this is the only way to grow. However, the role of the leader is precisely to spot them and give employees guidance that will push them in the right direction.

How can Firmbee help you become a better leader?

Firmbee is a project and team management tool. As a leader, you can use the features available in the system to improve communication with your employees and show your commitment, while giving them space to work. How can you achieve this?

  • Plan a given project using a Kanban board. Define tasks, assign employees to them, and give statuses, priorities and deadlines. This way, each team member will know his or her responsibilities, and you will be able to control whether he or she exceeds the set completion time.
  • Stay in constant communication with your employees by adding comments to tasks, sending messages using tools integrated with Firmbee (Zoom, Slack, Skype), or using the check-ins feature – it allows you to create automatic and recurring questions for team members. The answers you collect will allow you to monitor whether a particular employee is having trouble performing any of the tasks, has any insights, etc.

Try Firmbee for free and explore all its possibilities!

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Author: Nicole Mankin

HR manager with an excellent ability to build a positive atmosphere and create a valuable environment for employees. She loves to see the potential of talented people and mobilize them to develop.