4 Ways to Lead by NOT Showing Up

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Originally posted March 6, 2012

Leadership is mostly about “showing up”; it’s often about leveraging your presence in a room in order to influence, to cast vision, to bring alignment and to build teams.

But effective leaders I know are just as strategic about leveraging their absence in order to move their organizations forward.

Here are four situations where your most effective leadership might be leveraged by your absence.

1.   Being absent from the “limelight”
Many leaders simply can’t resist the lure of a microphone. If there’s an audience to be addressed most leaders will jump at the chance. And many times that is the right move.

But effective leaders know that this can often be the opportunity to profile an up-and-coming leader in the organization. These leaders never miss a chance to profile and develop talent.

2.   Being absent from a decision-making meeting
You need to tread carefully here, but not being present every single time a decision has to be made can communicate something very powerful to your team. It shows you trust them to make the right call without you.

Organizations that demonstrate speed and agility excel at this.

3.   Being absent from the “30,000 foot” view
Effective leaders have a knack for knowing when to step down from the big-picture vantage point, and instead spending time on the ground floor of the organization.

Ever watched the tv show, “Undercover Boss”?

4.   Being absent from the office altogether
Leaders must set the pace regarding long-term thinking, strategizing and planning. And sometimes the best (and only) way to do this is to pull away from the daily responsibilities of leadership, slow down, and get away.

When should a leader leverage their absence? It tends to be more of a “gut” instinct. Effective leaders have a gnawing awareness that they need to pull back from one of these arenas.

If you’ve been sensing a need to lead from your absence, pay attention to that instinct, and act on it.

Because sometimes a leader will be most effective when they aren’t around at all.

Are there other situations you have found that require your absence?

the author

Scott Cochrane


  1. Thanks David. These are principles I’ve gleaned from so many leaders I’ve been privileged to hang around. They always seem to know when to ‘show up’ and when to ‘back away’. It’s a lesson I continue to try to develop in my own leadership.

    Le remerciement de ce que vous commentez mon blog!

  2. Taking a sabbatical is the ultimate in being absent and giving other leaders in your ministry a chance to lead for a while. I was away 3 months and it was long enough that the COO was able to truly function as acting-CEO. My sabbatical was not just about me and my development, but about her and her development too!

    Every ministry board should ensure the senior leader gets a sabbatical, for the benefit of everyone!

    I always say that if a leader has shared as much information as possible, has hired good people, and has explained how decisions are made (the factors considered), then the leader should be free to be absent and know that the work of the ministry will continue.

  3. John, I was so impressed by how thoughtfully your sabbatical was put together, for your own development as well as that of your COO. This was a model for other leaders and organizations to follow.

    Thanks for weighing in on this.

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