A Failure to Act: The Leader’s 5 Most Damaging Inactions

March 2, 2015

dangerous inactions by leaders

For every action there is a reaction. But for the leader’s 5 worst inactions, there is often a chain reaction — of undesirable consequences:

  1. Failure to make a decision — Indecision can paralyze an organization. It can create doubt, uncertainty, lack of focus, and even resentment. Multiple options can linger, sapping an organization’s energy and killing a sense of completion. Timelines stretch while costs skyrocket. As we vacillate, competition can eat our lunch, or worse, as HR expert Ron Thomas points out. The leader must always be wary that choosing not to decide is a choice, with consequences.
  2. Failure to stop spin — A close cousin to indecision, this form of inaction happens when the leader is out of touch and continually misses signals of stalled progress. Such signals include repeated meetings on the same topic, milestone dates missed, long periods of silence where nothing is heard from the team, or one-off overtures from individual team members pleading their case on something the team should be working on together. Spin is caused by the leader giving unclear direction, not establishing clear roles/behavioral expectations for each team member (and/or allowing too many cooks in the kitchen), not ensuring success is clearly defined, not ensuring alignment up the chain to strategies and planned actions, or not appreciating the difficulty of a project and “delegating and forgetting.”
  3. Failure to resolve conflict in a timely fashion — Debate is a healthy and necessary component of everyday business. Sometimes debate can grow uncomfortable, which is okay as long as respect is maintained and truth and transparency come out. It is when the leader allows the debate to devolve to conflict, and the conflict lingers, that trouble arises. Ill will can quickly build, reality can be distorted as both sides spiral into an “us vs. them” mentality, inefficiency and stress surges, and bonds may be irreparably weakened. The leader must cut off disrespectful behavior, deflate, not elevate, overly emotional behavior, and keep focus on building a team-based approach. Asking the troops to “work it out” is a cop out; sometimes rolling up the sleeves, getting to the root of the conflict, and mediating a resolution is required. Conflict often arises from the passion opposing sides feel for the matter at hand; leaders must be on high alert to channel unproductive passion into high energy solutions.
  4. Failure to reward and recognize — A missed opportunity to recognize is a missed opportunity to energize. There are plenty of seemingly good excuses for why the rewards and recognition never take place. However, the bottom line is that failure to reward and recognize creates doubts in employees’ minds. They wonder: Am I working on the right things? Does my leader notice my efforts and accomplishments, or even care? Are my efforts not up to his/her standards? It can manifest itself as a plain ol’ fashioned lack of feeling appreciated, and all of this leads to a lack of feeling motivated.
  5. Failure to inform — It’s difficult enough to gain competitive intelligence, why would we withhold our own? And it happens far too often — how many times have you been on a team, found out something too late, and thought, “It would have been nice to know that a month ago….”? As leaders, when we withhold information or don’t make the time investment to openly share critical information, we handicap our organizations.

Think of this post as a call to action to avoid damaging inaction.

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A leader must make the decisions that can propel an organization to greatness. Practice your leadership skills with these AMA resources and seminars.

About The Author

Scott Mautz is author of Make It Matter: How Managers Can Motivate by Creating Meaning (March 4th, 2015), an award winning keynote speaker, and a 20+ year veteran of Procter & Gamble, having run several thriving, multi-billion dollar divisions along the way. Connect with Scott at,, @scott_mautz.


  1. avatar

    This article is spot on Scott!!! Thanks for sharing.
    Mary Pickering

  2. avatar

    […] Leaders are criticized for the decisions they make. Scott Mautz explains why inaction may be the most dangerous, and damaging, decision a leader can make.  […]

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