Just Say No to Armchair Leadership

by Alli Polin on April 9, 2013

Break the Frame and Just Say No to Armchair Leadership

Baseball  season in the USA is just starting but armchair leaders don’t discriminate by season or sport, they are present year-round.  Imagine: The big game of the week is on TV, and millions of people are sitting in their armchairs glued to the television.  This is when the shouting begins.  Smart, professional people shout at their TV screens and all of them know better what to do than all the coaches and players combined.  They are armchair leaders.

You don’t have to be a big sports fan to pull out your armchair leadership skills by the way.  I’m living proof.  Watching Grey’s Anatomy I roll my eyes and mumble at the screen just watching the stupidity of some of the characters.   I’ve even been critical of my husband’s driving (shocker!) when he turns left and I know that it’s much shorter to turn right to get to our destination despite the fact that he is the one that actually checked the traffic report before we left home.

Of course I’d know better and make better choices if I was the one in the game, or in the driver’s seat, or a doctor at Seattle Grace, right?  Actually, probably not.

Leadership in the game and TV critiques are two different things

It’s easy to see a wrong call after it’s made.  It’s much harder (ok, impossible) to make the right call 100% of the time.

There is no pause or rewind button available to us in real life

Leaders make real-time decisions every day.  When a call has to be made, it’s go time.   In the moment it’s hard to know when we’re headed towards the right field foul line.

This isn’t fantasy baseball, you’ve got to work with what you’ve got

It’s one thing to create your dream team and another to accept the strengths and shortcomings of your existing team.  Telling everyone in an exasperated voice how you would have solved the problem after the fact isn’t helpful, it’s egotistical and annoying.

Do you know armchair leaders at the office?  Are you one?  Leading from behind the desk, or on a conference call, always ready with advice on what to do next? 

Get out of the armchair and in the game!

Start here to be a real leader and stop being an armchair leader:

  • Practice hip-to-hip mentoring and coaching > After the fact analysis is important, real-time engagement is even better.
  • Sit on the floor with the team > Leadership is about people and only happens through relationships.  Be visible, be available, and remember to open your door and invite connection.
  • Stop telling and start asking > It’s great that you know what someone needs to do next but telling has far less impact on long-term success than helping others discover their own answers by asking powerful questions.
  • Brainstorm on solutions > Instead of being the exclusive author of the playbook, co-create it together with your team.
  • Allow others to fail, get up and try again > Protecting the team from failure won’t teach them resilience, deepen their learning or inspire new approaches to old problems.   Sometimes a bad call is the most important moment on a path to success.
  • Own outcomes > Finger pointing is just plain childish.  If you made the call, own the outcome.  Leaders accept their role in the successes and struggles of their team.
  • Recognize strengths > When you’re in the game, you see the process, not just the end result of a play.  Recognize and celebrate wins and personal contribution along the way.

What are some other things that leaders do to inspire the team instead of simply noticing the bad plays along the way?  PS Go Phillies!

(Photo credit)

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Karen Jolly April 12, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Excellent Alli! It’s too easy to sit on the sideline making comments…but nothing is real if you’re not in the game. And no one appreciates the armchair comments because they feel “un-engaged.” It’s hard to respect that kind of leadership.


Alli Polin April 13, 2013 at 8:32 pm

Karen – You’re right on! The team knows when the leader is just directing from above and they definitely disengage from the leader, the org and the work… and start looking for their next opportunity! Many thanks for your comment!


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