How to Lead When Your Leader Is Not Leading Well

The scenario is common. A leader in an organization becomes frustrated by inept leadership at a higher level. Perhaps the frustrated leader is the number two person, reporting to the leader of the organization. The situation is indeed common and it is indeed frustrating.

In a previous article, I wrote about the “leadership lid.” The principle states that is difficult, if not impossible, for an organization to rise any higher than the abilities of the leader of that organization. Those in second and third level positions feel the frustration as they see wasted potential throughout the organization. Their positions do not give them the authority to make those decisions they believe the leader should be making.

So what’s a number two (or lower) leader to do? Allow me to offer a few suggestions.

  • Support your leader.
    That is easier said than done, especially when your leader is inept, inactive, intolerable, or indifferent. But many number two leaders have the greatest opportunity to grow when they can demonstrate their willingness to be a servant-follower, even when their leader is not leading well. Also, be willing to pray for your leader. You might see an attitude change in him and you.
  • Consider that you may be wrong.
    It is tough to lead, especially when you are the person ultimately responsible for the organization. You have not walked in your leader’s shoes, so you may not comprehend the complexity and pressures of his or her job. Your leader may not be doing as badly as you think.
  • Lead as best you can in your area.
    Try to be the best possible leader in your area of responsibility, even if your leader is an obstacle to some of your efforts. You cannot be responsible for the entire organization, but you are responsible for your area of authority. Spend more energy leading your area effectively than being frustrated at the problems you see in your leader.
  • If the relationship allows, ask non-threatening questions.
    Perhaps you can get insights into why your leader does or does not do some of the things that bother you. Of course, you have to be confident your relationship is sufficiently healthy to have such a conversation. I once had a leader throw a stapler at me when I attempted to ask such “non-threatening” questions. I learned quickly that my approach was neither wise nor non-threatening.
  • Seek to affirm your leader whenever it is possible and genuine.
    It will help your relationship. Perhaps it will motivate your leader to do more of the healthy actions and less of the unhealthy actions.
  • Leave.
    There are times that the number two person will attempt a coup d’état to oust the leader. Perhaps there is a sense of justification in such a move. Frankly, I’ve never known such a move in an organization to turn out well. Even if the number two person is successful in the ouster, the organization is typically left weaker and divided. And most of the time, the new leadership does not last long either. If the situation is intolerable for you as you work with your leader, it is likely best if you leave and find another opportunity. You will demonstrate courage and integrity that will do you well in your next place of leadership.

Leading is difficult in general. It is particularly difficult if your own leader is not leading well. But it can be a time where you grow in your own skills and character. The end result is that you will be a better leader and a better person.


  1. Pastor Dr Festus O.Omotara says

    I am always glad to see that my philosophy is being upheld by a large number of people who are located globally. In fact i was having the same problem when I first entered into the ministry. Leaders who are expected to do things effectively are found lacking however I do control myself. On the other hand many are the leaders who hate to be corrected and would not want to learn simply they are in the top position. I have also learnt in the previous years that some leaders who needed your comments would say it by mouth but would be offended when you discharge your duties of calling their attention to their deficiencies in privacy. Leave us alone and wait for your own time is their song because we would soon go.However,even with their deficiencies we can learn so many things from them as we grow to become the next leaders. Thanks for bringing this opinion to the public.It will go a long way in teaching us how to lead now and in the future

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