The opposite of leading

Yesterday I asked readers for their ideas of the opposite of leadership. Christmas is probably not the best time to ask for feedback, but a reader suggested the following

Reacting or doing something without awareness, like why one is really doing it and what its effects could be.

Looking at one aspect of something and thinking it’s the entire picture.

Allowing others to confuse or intimidate me into adopting their values or giving up mine.

Doing something because it’s supposed to be the good or right thing to do.

Not expressing oneself, not expecting others to understand what you’ve got to say.

I agree with all of these points: lack of awareness—aka denial and suppression—short-sightedness, giving up one’s values, and not expressing yourself.

My ideas of the opposite of leadership

What I’ve seen lately as the opposite of leadership are

  • Indulging yourself
  • Sabotage

Indulging yourself

Despite the mainstream view of leadership that involves convincing others to do things, my view of leadership involves helping people realize what they already value but wouldn’t achieve on their own, then helping them realize it. The idea of convincing others makes me cringe.
From this perspective, leadership means putting your teammates’ interests first, which means listening, understanding, and caring about others. The opposite of that is putting yourself first. The term ‘indulging’ implies to me knowing that you’re putting your interests first and choosing to do so anyway.
I don’t like the idea of following someone who indulges in themselves. On the contrary, I have to protect myself from people like that.


Leadership fundamentally involves teamwork. Sabotage seems the opposite of teamwork. Few things can undermine a team more than one teammate sabotaging another.

Why knowing them is important

The reason I consider knowing these opposites of leadership important is that we are tempted to do them so much and they feel so right sometimes.
From not being able to lead oneself to lose weight to not getting the job done on time because they did something less productive, we indulge in counterproductive activities that undermine our leadership and we feel we deserve it. Or feeling we should be ahead of someone else and sabotaging them instead of moving forward yourself.
By contrast, helping others through understanding their interests—through empathy and compassion—leads them to treat you like a leader, which is what leadership means.

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