When You Should NOT Be The Leader

by Don Smith

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The boss walked into the meeting room, and the atmosphere suddenly turned chilly. No one wanted to be here because everyone knew this guy had no business being the leader.

We've all been there, and we've all also heard the mantra over and over that we need to step up and lead. In general, that's pretty good advice, the world badly needs great leaders. There are times, though, when you are not helping yourself or anyone else by taking on the leadership role. Here are 5 signs that you should NOT be the leader.



Ever heard the phrase the blind leading the blind? If you do not have any experience with the project at hand, you are likely to severely underestimate the effort required, and you are unlikely to be effective. Let a more experienced individual lead if at all possible. A good leader knows when to follow.

Ever watch any martial arts movies? There is always a master and a student. You must first be a student before you will be effective as a master.

If you are very experienced with coordinating people and assigned to lead a group, then that may be an exception. The key is to make sure you identify the real leaders who know what they are doing and take their advice. Stick to what you are good at, don't assume that just because you are in charge you should be the one leading. I might coordinate an expedition, but I would not lead it into a dangerous area that I have never been to before if I had any choice for example. I would look for a local guide who knew the area well to lead in order to keep me and the group safe. If someone else is better qualified to lead and is willing to do so, let them lead.


“Why do I bother working with others when it is faster and easier if I just do it myself?”

Does this sound familiar? If you truly believe this, then you may not be the right person to lead the group. It may actually be true that you can do the job better than anyone else. The problem is that it is not the leader's job to do everyone's job for them!

If that were the case, why would you need a team anyway? A true leader is more like a coach. They set the vision, show the way, and then work with their team to make it happen.

If you can't figure out a way to get things done through other people, don't lead.


This goes back to number two on this list. A leader MUST be able to work with and through other people. If you don't like dealing with people in general, you're not likely to be very effective as a leader. As Zig Ziglar once said, “People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.” To be an effective leader, you need to care about more than just yourself, you need to care about the team.

“People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.” -Zig Ziglar

If you don't like dealing with other people, figure out how to or don't lead.


If you are afraid of sounding dumb by asking questions, then leading may not be right for you. Great leaders gather information from many sources, especially other people in the team. The best leaders I have ever met don't hand down orders from on high very often, they ask tons of questions to make sure they understand the situation before making decisions. Most of them even use leading questions when they already know the answers to allow people to discover things on their own when simply telling them to do something would not be nearly as effective as letting them discover the answer on their own. Great leaders aren't afraid to make decisions and don't always go with the popular vote, but they make big decisions carefully only after considering their options and gathering input from those around them. As the title of one of John Maxwell's books says, Good leaders ask great questions. Be prepared to ask questions and listen to your people, or don't lead.


If you are one of those people who always needs someone else to tell them what to do, you should absolutely NOT be the leader. Leaders lead, that's the very definition of leadership! They don't sit back and wait for someone else to tell them what to do. They actively look for ideas from their team, their customers, books, anywhere they can and then influence those around them to make those ideas reality.

It's perfectly fine to be someone who wants clear direction from others, a large percentage of the population is that way. Most people are called followers though, they follow those who can provide clear direction. If you need clear direction from others, you should not be the leader in that scenario.


Don't get me wrong, there are areas in your life where you SHOULD lead. Not only SHOULD you lead, but you MUST lead. If you are the head of your family, for example, you MUST lead, hopefully as a co-leader with your spouse. You must lead in your own life as well. You are the only one who can determine where you want to go and what you want to do with your life. You must choose whether or not you will invest in yourself so that you can lead well in those areas through sites like this one. There is no one else that will or can do that for you.

The mark of a true leader is knowing when to be a leader, and when to be a follower. What areas of your life should you be leading in? What areas of life should you put your ego aside and be the follower?

About the Author 

Don Smith

Happily married with five kids, Smith owns a technology company, is the founder of this site, has served on the board of directors for multiple companies, and loves playing soccer, hiking, and mentoring.

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