If you’re employed by a corporation, a not-for-profit, or a government agency, in whatever role whether executive or not, you’ll know that the leadership style of the person you report to can be crucial to your happiness at work, your productivity and your sense of achievement, perhaps even your sense of self-worth.
So I would not wish on you a fair weather leader.
What’s a fair weather leader?
I first became aware of the term “fair weather leader” when as a senior executive I was sharing with a friend some frustration I was feeling in dealing with my chief executive at the time, who was sometimes great to work with and at other times seriously less than great.
“Sounds like you have a fair weather leader,” says my friend.
Asked to clarify, he explains that a fair weather leader, is one who is with you all the way when things are going well, but when things go awry fails to support you, and might even undermine you.
As soon as he said it, I realized that fitted the situation perfectly. And then I reflected on various people I had reported to over the years and saw that several of them had definitely earned the fair weather tag, although at the same time I had been privileged to have had leaders of real moral courage and high self-esteem, who would stand with their team just as keenly when the going was rough as when it was smooth.
A way to work with a fair weather leader
Back to the issue in that conversation I was having with my friend.
“So what can I do?” I asked. “Is there an effective way to handle this situation and not be buried by it?”
“Yes,” he said, and proceeded to give me one of the best pieces of advice I ever received.
With fair weather leaders, he said, you have to understand that they only want to be leaders for the kudos and benefits. They don’t accept that the leader has to be there for the tough times and setbacks too.
The key to working with these types, he went on, is that when you are reporting you use “we” for success and “I” for difficulties. In other words, you include the leader in the success stories and for the setbacks and failures, like the ancient Romans you fall on your sword.
Example of success report. “We’ve had a great third quarter. Profits up 15%, almost zero staff turnover and various other indicators all on the bright side.”
Example of problem report. “I have a problem. Sales are down 15% this quarter and things are not looking much better for the next quarter.”
Resist the temptation to bring him/her into it at this point by using “we”. You may just mean “All the rest of us, not you the leader”, but you can be confident a fair weather leader will hear that as implicating him/her in the creation of the problem.
Tune in for the next week on Thursday!
In the second post of this two-part contribution I’ll explain that in a little more detail and also address the question “What if you’ve been a fair weather leader yourself?”.