Awful Leadership


Yes the title is deliberate, I’d like to challenge you to be an AWFUL leader to inspire others to fulfil their inner greatness. Let me explain before I go any further, the old meaning of the word awful was used when someone was “full of awe”, so my challenge to you is to fill others with awe from the example that you leave in your wake.

In the newer meaning of awful, we have all come across examples of leaders who have indeed been a terrible role model of what great leadership is about, in fact, it’s probably fair to say that we will have learnt a lot about leadership and what not to do when leading others from their examples. I do buy into the concept that if you can’t be an inspirational leader, you may as well be a terrible example so that at least people will learn from you one way or another!


Barbara Kellerman has written about the concept of Followership and the importance of being an effective follower, this is a term that has begun to gain some traction in the corporate world but the quick count on Google (Followership 423,000 V 624,000,000 for Leadership), still suggests that there is a lot of work to be done to create real momentum and awareness of it’s importance and role in creating a fully engaged workforce. Below are the 4 main descriptors of the Followership model and some examples of how you can identify these behaviours in your organisation.

What needs to be remembered when looking at this model is that we can easily jump from one descriptor to another depending upon the task we are doing at the time. The only other thing to note here, is that it’s easy to see these behaviours in others and dismiss the notion that we may from time to time exhibit some of these patterns of behaviour ourselves!


  • Need the leaders direction
  • Believe the organisation doesn’t want their ideas
  • Only take action when directed to do so
  • Does not share their ideas for improvements
  • 9-5 and no more
  • Will follow the crowd
  • Adds no further value
  • Keeps their head down



  • Say yes to everything
  • Takes on more than they can cope with
  • Says what they think the boss wants to hear
  • Lack creative & innovative ideas
  • Avoids conflict and making difficult decisions
  • Compromises themselves which impacts their family life
  • Trust and commit to their boss
  • Believe they will be punished for speaking up



  • Often referred to as “Mood Hoovers”
  • Will pick fault at any new ideas and plans
  • Over time become negative, critical and cynical
  • They are unaware of the impact they have on others
  • At some point they have been switched off due to poor feedback or a missed promotion
  • Take no personal responsibility and blame everything else
  • Resist change at all costs
  • Believe everyone else needs to change



  • Like to play politics
  • Will go with the loudest crowd
  • Have self interest at the heart
  • Create uncertainty in the leaders minds
  • Can be two faced
  • Sometimes lack their own courage
  • Want to survive change at all costs
  • Constantly monitors the changing winds


The above 4 descriptors and the examples are where most of us spend a lot of our time, so it’s no wonder that we may not be tapping into our full potential individually and more importantly collectively as an organisation.

Being an Awful Leader is all about your ability to act and behave in a way that others are inspired to follow your example and want to learn from you, so, finally I have shared some examples of what Effective Followership looks like below.


Effective Followership

  • Is determined & goes the extra mile with energy, enthusiasm & initiative
  • Points out problems AND offers solutions
  • Highly self-motivated
  • High levels of Emotional Intelligence
  • Good communicators & proactive networkers. Glass half-full
  • Trustworthy, reliable & deliver on promises
  • Courageous, ambitious, honest, self-aware & confident
  • Get great feedback from peers and team.
  • Committed to something outside of themselves e.g. delivering excellence, customer service, making a difference in their communities

It’s important to remember that being an Effective Follower is an aspirational goal, it’s to be held out there for others to attain, to become an Awful Leader you will need to be consistent in how you show up in front of your team and the wider organisation. If you are a senior leader, everyone is constantly monitoring everything you do and say and they are judging you all of the time. Often in large global organisations, the quarterly video conference or town-hall is the only contact an individual has with you, so you need to make an extra effort to leave a positive fingerprint.


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