Cowardly Leadership

Leadership is one of my favourite subjects; I have reviewed several research papers and books published by some well-known authors in recent past. Almost all authors and majority of the literature revolves around similar dimensions such as, leader’s traits, characteristics and leadership style.

One of the fanciest statements I have seen was in Harvard Business School Press Pocket Mentor book with title of Leading People which says “Set a Direction, Inspire Followers, Craft Your Vision and Drive Change” (Mentor 2006). The book further describes that “effective leaders are not born with the gift of knowing how to lead, rather leaders gain experience, they absorb knowledge, they see and listen to the world around them (Mentor 2006).”

The above statement supports my argument and I am sure my readers will also agree that organization’s culture will impact the leadership skills. If the culture supports the leader, the leader will be able to lead and if not, despite having all the required characteristics failure will be inevitable. But question is, why we usually do not see leadership failures very often, even though the organization is pathologically politicized.

I found an answer; they survive by demonstrating a leadership trait called “cowardly leadership”! a unique style which is adopted by leaders in pathologically politicized organizations. This behavior allows them to foster their survival and sometimes progress in their careers. Some of the characteristics and sign of such leaders where highlighted by Forbs in their web article dated 04th August 2013 (Forbs 2013) which highlighted 12 behaviors of cowardly leaders such as:

  1. These leaders are mostly involved in backstabbing
  2. They avoid work and select the work which helps their own cause
  3. They evade heard choices and take simple and straight forward decisions with minimal risk
  4. Won’t listen and avoid discussion due to fear of being challenged
  5. Afraid to discipline ‘their own special’ people and use the disciplinary powers selectively
  6. They don’t follow through and continue bluffing and buying time
  7. Don’t think for themselves and their reputation, but think for their job or position and survival
  8. Hide behind power and use it for their benefit, blame others to save themselves
  9. Won’t grow or change and will not allow others to give advice to become better
  10. Not authentic or genuine, their words are lies and sugarcoated as per situation
  11. Don’t connect with people and avoid relationship, they keep distance as much as possible
  12. Can’t adjust to failure due to fear of losses, keep blaming situation and outcomes on others

In the presence of such organizational culture, investment of millions of $ in leadership trainings is wasted every year by majority of the organizations without realizing that their real focus should be on changing the culture which foster ‘cowardly leadership’. The byproduct of this leadership style is distrust, demotivation and lack of productivity which can potentially and ultimately leads to high employee turnover and losses for the organizations in the long run.



Forbs. 12 Signs of Cowardly Leadership. August 04, 2013. (accessed September 23, 2014).

Mentor, Harvard Business School – Pocket. Leading People. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2006.

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