Six Attributes of a “Frog in a Kettle” Leader

Absentee leadership rarely comes up in today’s leadership or business literature, but research shows that it is the most common form of incompetent leadership. ~Scott Gregory

Scott Gregory describes a scenario I’ve witnessed on more than one occasion. A leader who always provides feedback that consists of “You’re doing a great job.” However, you know it’s not true and you’re not meeting their expectations. What is really needed is more support and better (i.e., real) feedback.

Hence, the title of the article authored by Gregory is The Most Common Type of Incompetent Leader. Gregory explains that because these “absentee leaders don’t actively make trouble, their negative impact on organizations can be difficult to detect…When it is detected, it often is considered a low-priority problem.” After all, it’s not embezzlement or harassment or something unethical, it’s not anything that would typically fall under the purview of a whistleblower policy, so it’s categorized as differing leadership styles. Gregory refers to these absentee leaders as “silent organization killers.”

It reminds me of a frog in a kettle. I’ve never tried to prove or disprove this scientific fact. But as I’ve read, if you put a frog in a kettle of water and gradually heat the kettle, the frog won’t sense the change and will eventually boil to death without trying to escape the hot water. However, if you were to put a frog in a kettle of boiling water it would immediately jump out to safety.

The damage of an absentee leader is much like that of a frog in a kettle. The damage that is being done happens slowly. Until, it’s too late and recovery is next to impossible.

How to recognize an absentee/”Frog in a Kettle” leader?

  • They enjoy the privileges and perks of leadership
  • They avoid meaningful involvement with their team
  • They don’t do anything (good or bad) to attract attention
  • They don’t provide constructive criticism
  • They don’t recognize employee achievements
  • They don’t provide clear direction

While leaders and managers who are on the top of the employee complaint list need to be addressed, so too do the absentee leaders. Letting them slide because they tend to fly under the radar is like putting a frog in a kettle and gradually turning up the heat. Eventually, the water is going to boil and you won’t be able to recover from the consequences.

If you are a leader, it’s prudent to reflect frequently about your own leadership. What’s the last specific meaningful involvement you had with your team? When was the last time you provided constructive criticism? When was the last time you recognized employee achievements? Has your effort not to micromanage actually morphed into a lack of clear direction? Are you enjoying the privileges and perks of leadership just a tad too much (that special parking spot, your healthy expense account, the club membership, etc.)?

Absentee leaders – the most common type of incompetent leader – like a frog in a kettle.

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