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Three Symptoms of an Unreliable Leader

If we are unreliable, the people we are called to lead may like us or love us, but they won’t trust us.

He was late again. The team sat in the conference room waiting. 10 minutes. 20 minutes. 30 minutes went by. When our boss finally arrived, he quickly apologized for being late and blamed his previous meeting for running long. The problem was not that he was late. The problem was he was consistently late. Our boss was a good man overall. We liked him. But he demonstrated to us that we could not rely on him and therefore we did not trust him.

The three symptoms of an unreliable leader are:

1. Consistently Late

Being late happens to everyone. But a leader who is consistently late may have a problem with setting priorities or managing their time. They view their time as more important than another person’s.

When a leader can’t set priorities, manage their time, or does not value other peoples’ time, others perceive them as selfish and therefore unreliable.

2. Rarely Follows Through

It’s a fact of life - some people are more forgetful than others. But a leader who promises to call you back, check into it, or talk to headquarters and then doesn’t follow through causes damage to the team. The team will stop bringing them problems because they can’t rely on them to do what they say they will do.

When a leader makes a commitment, it is a promise. When someone consistently breaks their promises, it would be naïve to trust a person who is so unreliable.

3. Regularly Make Excuses

We call excuses “blame shifters.” Excuses are a disease that rots away at a team. A leader who regularly shifts the blame may be the most life-threatening disease a team will face. If a leader won’t take responsibility and say “It’s my fault,” “I screwed up,” or “Please forgive me,” they will never lead an accountable team. Distrust will start at the top. But it will eat its way through the whole team. Everyone will follow the leader’s example and protect themselves.

Being reliable does not mean we never screw up. It means we take responsibility when we do. A leader who shifts the blame is unreliable.

People on teams, whether at work or at home, want to believe they can count on their leaders. They want a leader who cares about them enough to be on time to meetings or ball games. They want a leader who has the Integrity to check into the company’s policy or talk to the coach. They want a leader who will own their mistakes by taking the blame for the project overrun or saying “I was wrong” to their child.

The symptoms of a cold – runny nose and cough - are visible to the outside world. They are also contagious. The symptoms of an unreliable leader are just as visible and contagious. They cause more damage to our work teams and our home teams than we realize. If we are unreliable, the people we are called to lead may like us or love us, but they won’t trust us.

Dig Deep Questions:

● Which of the three symptoms do you struggle to overcome?

● Who is the first person you need to apologize to for being unreliable?


It is important to us for you to have an opportunity to exercise Duty, not only individually, but together as a team. This is why we have created practice cards with scenarios. We invite you to discuss as a team what it means to exercise Duty via our Coaching Cards.

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