Are you a "voyeur leader"? Four tell-tale signs and four fail-safe solutions

The voyeur leader is one of the worst of the breed. Keen to take the perks (and the pay) that goes with the job, but adds nothing to the team.

One of the worst leaders you can be is the voyeur leader. 

There are four main sub-species of voyeur leader:

  • The boss who stands on the sidelines and watches whilst his team expends blood, sweat and tears for the common cause, but doesn't roll his sleeves up and get involved;
  • The 'passenger' leader who coasts, giving minimum effort - just enough to get by and fly beneath the radar; 
  • The dude who enjoys the title, the perks, the pay – all the benefits that accompany the title of 'leader' – but is unwilling to do the tough work that goes along with the job;
  • The manager who has a lot to bring to the table but who chooses to opt out, stay schtum, do nothing, because she's too worried about politics, or sticking her neck out. (BTW: If you have perfectionist tendencies, this one is for you to be particularly wary of.)

Voyeur leaders:

  • Have an opinion but keep it to themselves for fear of being vulnerable and real.
  • Watch as their company or team culture goes down in flames, but says: "There's nothing I can do" or "It's not up to me."
  • Speaks up only when it's drawn out of them like blood from a stone (but is the first to disdainfully comment in the corridor after the meeting: "That's a dumb idea, it won't work, did you see when x did y?!...").

What’s a clear sign one of your colleagues is a voyeur leader? 

When you don't feel like they've got your back. You sense that when push comes to shove, when it really counts, when you turn to your colleague in that crucial moment...they are nowhere to be seen.

Is it easy to slide into the trap of being a voyeur leader?

You bet. Does it take a healthy dose of courage to front up, show up and participate? Yup. But here's the thing. If you're keen to step into that leadership ring then, to put it bluntly, step into the friggin’ ring. Unfortunately, too many organisations have voyeur leaders and as a result, there are elephants in rooms. Lumps under carpets. Teams not realising their potential.  

Teddy Roosevelt once said: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

So, here are 3 ways you can rock up, show up and avoid being that guy:

1. Don't just watch: Participate! Sure, don't  be the peep who constantly thinks out loud (been guilty of that), or steals the airwaves ad infinitum in meetings (see here and here about the benefits of developing self awareness and listening skills).

But if you feel even remotely moved on a topic, speak up. If you're an introverted leader, get extra prepared before the meeting. If you're not sure how to challenge, start with a question instead or channel the tentative: "I'm just wondering/curious about the xyz". This is a safe way to enter a conversation. 

2. Understand you don't need to have the title "chief executive" to be a highly effective leader: Some of the most inspirational "leaders" I've ever met weren't CEOs. They were people who merely had passion and were willing to act on that passion. People who were willing to be brave, take a risk, to stand for something they believed in. They faced squarely the voyeur leader inside them and gave that inner demon the bird.

3. If you are going to merely watch, if it’s just too scary to get in this leadership game, then do so consciously: Know that by opting out of active participation in the leadership ring, you also give up the right to complain or have an opinion. Know also that by being a voyeur leader, you miss the bus for greatness on some level; your 'not risking' also means 'not gaining'.

4. Ditch your paradigm that "one person can't change the world" (or for arguments sake, your organisation). Tell that little false truth to Pakistani activist Malala Youfsafsi. 

My plea to you for 2016 is this: Don't be a bystander. Get your feet wet in this leadership lark. Dip your toes in. 

Don't be a voyeur leader.

Suzi McAlpine is a leadership development specialist and author of The Leader's Digest blog.