Is your ‘Boss’…the Leader…Missing in Action?

Written by Claire E. Knowles on . Posted in Courage, Leadership, Missing in Action


When the Boss…Your Leader…is Missing in Action…don’t think for a moment that the followers haven’t noticed!

When your Leader is Missing in Action…what are the words that you wish you could say?

Perhaps…“I have very little patience for leaders who are disinclined to lead.” Those words are perfect… (from Missing in Action, by Peter David and Gene Roddenberry). Or, how about taking a cue from quotes from Thomas Paine, George Patton, and Ted Turner: “Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way.”

As a business leadership consultant, and having had a career in HR/Labor Relations and Leadership, I know what happens when a Leader is MIA.
When Leaders are Missing-in Action, what do followers’ antennae pick up on?
* Indecision / Waffling,
* Tolerating bad behaviors/Erosion of standards,
* Waiting too long to take required actions,
* Inability to address the elephant in the room,
* Too much comfortability with the status quo,
* Inability to proactively move forward…because it is
easier to tread water than make waves,
* Unwilling to take risks—even prudent risks / not breaking down barriers,
* Lacking the courage and/or not having the capacity to lead,
* Unwilling to learn/use processes or proven frameworks that help to address situations, from simple problem-solving to the tough, complex ones.

Sometimes Leaders covet their leadership title yet acquiesce where it counts the most….unable to stay in the heat once things get tough. In the book, For Your Improvement (Lombardo/Eichinger), the authors provide this paraphrased guidance: Leaders have to be able to lead effectively. Effective leaders understand that “the heat is hottest in the nosecone of the rocket.” They lead, regardless of the heat. They are okay, even energized by being at the nosecone of the rocket.

Effective leaders (ones that are NOT MIA) also proactively go elephant-hunting. They know that negative elephants hinder organizations, teams and work groups from being the best they can be, and if not courageously found and addressed they begin to stink. Sometimes they fester; sometimes they multiply and beget more negative elephants. So effective leaders quickly uncover and effectively address their negative elephants.

If you are a Leader, do you know what those hidden elephants are that are lurking in your organization or work-team….the very things that are keeping you and your team/organization from being the best you can be (together)? Leaders, Bosses, can you name them? Oh, you don’t have any? Better look again!

What about these? Unprofessional behaviors, Unable to tell the truth, Us and Them, Undermining/Violating the Chain of Command, Not sticking with the program, Pretending not to know, Blind trust, Management by ineffective Committees, Espoused Values out-of-synch with Values in Use, Non-purposeful alliances, Recurring wicked problems, Ego-centricism, Rigidity, Unable to face reality, Winging-it, and Lack of truthful feedback mechanisms, Being unethical.
When a leader is blind to what is happening, or is in denial to developing organizational needs, or chooses to coast by challenges, or acquiesces on responsibilities, the result is that troublesome elephants quickly take up residence. When a Leader/Leadership Team cannot fully embrace the required leadership role/s, it is a prescription for trouble. When Leaders go Missing-in-action, the organization knows it. Don’t think for a moment that your followers don’t see this!

There’s a unique origin to the metaphor that connects leaders, leadership and elephants. The well-known expression, elephant in the room, is an English idiom for an obvious truth that is being ignored, avoided or is going unaddressed, usually for a considerable amount of time. The expression also applies to a problem situation, or risk that no one wants to discuss. Thus, in the business world, we call these elephants that we don’t, won’t or can’t talk about undiscussables. The more undiscussables (negative elephants) lurking in the organization, the more culturally unhealthy it is, and the more ineffective (by all measurements) the organization, business, or team becomes.

Logically, you would think that an elephant in a room would be impossible to overlook, avoid, or ignore! They are so big, right? So extending this elephant in the room metaphor means that people in the room, particularly leaders, who have a sense that it is there but ignore it, or avoid it, or cloak it, or pretend the elephant is not there, have actually made a choice. They are choosing to concern themselves with other things, perhaps smaller and/or irrelevant issues rather than dealing with the looming big one—the one that’s lurking right in front of them—the one they don’t/won’t/can’t acknowledge is there. Not finding your elephants? MIA? [Again, don’t think for a second that your followers haven’t noticed! Have you asked them? You may not have the time (right now) to address/resolve an elephant concern…but that doesn’t mean you can’t find the time (right now) to identify/name it…and get it on your calendar to fully address it…very soon!]

The Amazon best-selling book, Can You See Them Now? (Elephants in our Midst) is a ‘must read’ for Leaders. It is as much about keen leadership (and how to be effective as a boss) as it is about the organizational elephants that take up residence in organizations, work groups and work teams—whether it be in the boardroom, the back-room, or the factory floor. The very existence of elephants means trouble. Some Leaders, their organizations and work-teams are trampled by their own elephants. Is your organization or work group being the best that it can be? Do you sense how much more effective your organization or work-team could be if the people in it could just have better harmony, civility or cohesiveness? To all be on the same page? To be able to fully address the real issues? Sometimes the elephants in the room can reach the point that people dread going to work—yet no one knows how to call the Big Elephant Game. It can get ugly. It doesn’t have to be that way. Leaders can learn to lead through the negative-elephant-ridden jungle…effectively.

Deeper threads of authentic leadership are woven through this Elephant book, providing powerful insights for leaders. There are many different ways to lift up and address those elephants that plague our respective organizations, and Leadership Tools that are powerful—yet easy to apply. Insightful, straight-forward guidance for every leader, manager, boss and supervisor. You can discover the hidden elephants that are lurking in your organization or work-team and then vanquish them. There’s a roadmap available that never fails.
MIA does not have to be any leader’s modus operandi.

About the author: Claire Knowles is a 2-time Amazon best-selling author, in-demand Speaker and Business Leadership Consultant, helping Leaders and their Teams become the most effective they can be at accomplishing their goals (together). She is a partner in R.N.Knowles Associates. 716-622-7753 or

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