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4 Dysfunctional Leadership Styles - Part 2: The Avoidant Leadership Style

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Page 1: 4 Dysfunctional Leadership Styles - Part 2: The Avoidant Leadership Style

AVOIDANT LEADERS Part 2 of 4 Dysfunction al Le adersh ip Style s Series :


Page 2: 4 Dysfunctional Leadership Styles - Part 2: The Avoidant Leadership Style


4 Dysfunctions of Leaders

This article is the second in a series of articles on dysfunctional leaders. Each of the articles provides insight into the 4 Dysfunctional Styles:

Narcissistic Avoidant Patriarchal (Autocratic) Matriarchal (Nurturing)

Each of the dysfunctional leadership styles:

has natural talents and abilities that when directed can be used in the service of the organization;

has specific behaviors that they use to achieve their own agenda that get in the way of the organizations goals;

have to be managed and coached in order to shift from functional to dysfunctional behaviors;

can be developed over time to add value to the organization.

We customize our leadership development and coaching services to meet the needs of your leaders and organizations.


[email protected]

[email protected]


The Avoidant Leadership Style Part 2 of our 4 Dysfunctional Leadership Styles Series

In our first article on the dysfunctional leadership styles, we discussed the

Narcissistic Leadership Style and how they depend on others affirming their value in

order for them to feel okay about themselves. Avoidant Leaders are just the opposite.

They want to achieve their business objectives without drawing a lot of attention to

themselves. These independent people want to be left alone to do their own thing

and are afraid that if they engage too much with people, they will get bogged down

unnecessarily. Also known as the Adaptive Leadership Style, Avoidant Leaders

want to have the freedom to achieve their goals and potential in the way they see fit

and expect others to do the same.

Underlying this leadership behavioral pattern is a person who keeps themselves

emotionally isolated for fear of being hurt,

rejected or devalued. They have difficulty

knowing what they are entitled to ask of

others and a fear of being exposed for their

inadequacies. Despite their roles in

organizations, they have difficulty

defining, deciding and asserting

themselves. They often suffer from the

Impostor Syndrome, never quite feeling

like they deserve their position despite

how hard they have worked for it and

deserve it. Secretly and silently, they fear

being found out.

Avoidant Leaders maintain their self-protective position by through using rational

defences. They look at things objectively, having the ability to detach and absolve

themselves from any responsibility for what is going on. They will also change their

position in order to avoid interpersonal engagement. Unable to tolerate the negative

emotions of others, they avoid conflict and issues rather than feeling empowered to

resolve them.

Avoidant Leaders are focused on productivity and the needs of the business. They

are self-directed, highly functional and independent. They know what they want to

achieve and do extremely well when working on their own. They can be in a senior

role in an organization or are a successful entrepreneur. As entrepreneurs, they

thrive during the first stages of the business when there is a need for a “hands-off”

leadership style. They have great skills at designing a product, business

development, sales, etc. Avoidant Leaders delegate responsibility and authority to

their subordinates, making people feel they are capable of doing much more than

they are able to. This is a strong motivator for the right kind of employee who wants

© 2016 Caliber Leadership Systems

Page 3: 4 Dysfunctional Leadership Styles - Part 2: The Avoidant Leadership Style

the opportunity to prove themselves.

They give people the autonomy they

need to succeed without the guidance

and feedback to ensure they do.

However, Avoidant Leaders have

difficulty when it comes to expecting

things from others and engaging in

productive performance dialogue with

direct reports.

While there are many Avoidant

Leadership Behaviors, the

following are examples of the

more frequent ones and the type

of organizational issues they


AVOIDANT BEHAVIOR The Avoidant Leader tends to abdicate

authority to others and avoids making

decisions. They don’t get involved with

their employees unless they have to and

will work behind a closed door. They

may present an attitude that says “I am so

busy, don’t bother me” or meet employee

requests with annoyance in their voice.

In addition, Avoidant Leaders will

frequently change his or her mind.

Because they don’t want to have to get

involved with others, they can appear to

“flip-flop” on plans and decisions. They

seem to be in agreement with whomever

they are speaking with, creating conflict

for their subordinates.


INSTABILITY While the Avoidant Leader’s approach

works well when with highly motivated

and experienced employees, it doesn’t

during stages of growth where a directive

leadership style is called for or where

employees need direction and correction

to do their best work. These leaders

create issues on teams because they leave

a power vacuum to be filled. Conflict and

power struggles can occur between team

members that the Avoidant Leader is

oblivious to. With no one really leading,

employees stay insecure and unsure of

how to be successful in their roles and on

their teams.

NO TOP DOWN DECSION MAKING The Avoidant Leader finds it difficult to

be decisive. They give their subordinates

the power to make their own decisions

about the work and the freedom to do

work in their own way. By doing this,

they abdicate responsibility for the final

outcome. Rather than engaging with

employees as a work unit, they set it up

in a way that everyone is responsible for

themselves. They don’t like people

interfering with they way they want to

do things and although they will answer

technical questions, they avoid making

decisions about how to do something or

giving feedback about a proposed


RESULT: LACK OF TEAM COHESION This leader will take everyone’s ideas into

account to avoid conflict. In team

meetings, they don’t use rules of order

and let infighting and dysfunctional

behavior amongst team members exist.

They may seem to others that they are

incapable of leading, managing or

correcting the performance of their

subordinates or team. When conflict

CALIBER LEADERSHIP SYSTEMS — Dysfunctions of Leaders—Avoidant Behavior JANUARY 2016 Page 2

© 2016 Caliber Leadership Systems

Page 4: 4 Dysfunctional Leadership Styles - Part 2: The Avoidant Leadership Style

exists, the Avoidant Leader withdraws,

leaving his team to work it out on their

own. They expect that employees engage

with each other and develop conflict

skills that they don’t develop themselves.

The type of dysfunctional power

dynamics that occur between employees

on the Avoidant Leader’s team will get in

the way of setting and achieving goals.

Often, the most dysfunctional employee’s

behavior creates a barrier to the growth

and cohesiveness of the team. Team

meetings become a waste of valuable

time and costs the business large amounts

of money in lost productivity.

DON’T GIVE EXPECTATIONS These leaders have difficulty asserting

their authority and telling people what

they have to do and how to do it. The

Avoidant Leader assumes employees

know what they should be doing and

don’t feel it’s their job to define

expectations or motivate them when

employees lose momentum. Excessively

permissive, they allow employees to do

things their own way instead of staying

involved to ensure they are doing their

job correctly.

RESULT: UNDERPERFORMANCE Because the standards and expectations

given by the Avoidant Leader are

unclear, contradictory or too low,

employees don’t always know what is

really expected of them. For a time, the

Avoidant Leader will make excuses for

employees who fail to deliver what they

expect and may complain to others rather

than go to the employee themselves and

correct their performance. This leads to

further problems on the team and under

performing employees who may not even

know they are doing anything wrong.


Avoidant Leaders don’t like to use their

position power or personal authority to

get things done. They act more like a

colleague than a leader, saying “Yes”

when them mean “No”. They will

observe an employee doing something

differently than what they expected and

not correct them. Internally, they

rationalize why the employee’s way is

probably right so they don’t have to

assert themselves or get involved. They

avoid the unpleasant feelings they feel

when they point out to someone they are

wrong or create disappointment by

saying “no”.

RESULT: SUBSTANDARD RESULTS When there is no clear definition of

performance expectation and little

performance correction, employees will

work hard to do what they think is

expected of them. Too often, with this

type of leadership, employees waste time

on initiatives that fail to meet the goals of

the Advoidant Leader.

RESPECT FOR AUTHORITY Because the Avoidant Leader doesn’t deal

with employee behavior, they allow

employees to overstep the boundaries of

their positions. An ambitious employee

may aggressively confront them privately

or publicly without being called on their

behavior. Avoidant Leaders act as though

everyone has a right to behave the way

they want and say what they want to say.

They don’t recognize when they are

being disrespected as their first response

is to avoid and adapt to whatever is

happening. The Avoidant Leader doesn’t

realize the role they play in the

dysfunctional behavior of their

employees or team.



The Avoidant Leader tries not to engage

in interpersonal dynamics. They keep a

low profile, stay out of trouble, and leave

people alone as much as possible.

Subordinates and coworkers may respect

the Avoidant Leader for the work they

CALIBER LEADERSHIP SYSTEMS — Dysfunctions of Leaders—Avoidant Behavior JANUARY 2016 Page 3

© 2016 Caliber Leadership Systems

Want to understand more about the impact of personality styles in leadership development & effectiveness?

Contact us today to learn more about the Striving Styles Personality System or visit www.StrivingStyles.com

Page 5: 4 Dysfunctional Leadership Styles - Part 2: The Avoidant Leadership Style

do, but lose respect for them as a leader

and person. They don’t trust that the

Avoidant Leader will be direct and

honest with them, creating an

environment of mistrust. At worst,

employees take advantage of the lack of

firm leadership and decide on their own

what work they want to do and when.

This leads to a lack of individual and

collective responsibility for the team’s

success, resulting in some degree of

disorder, disobedience and chaos as

people “do their own thing.”

FAILURE TO MOTIVATE The gap created by the Avoidant Leader

becomes more significant as a business

grows. When companies are smaller,

employees will step into the gap and do

what needs to get done, even if the leader

should be doing it. However, the need of

employees for a leader who motivates,

values and engages with them will

remain unmet. As the business grows,

this leadership gap becomes greater and

employees become less tolerant of the

Avoidant Leader’s disengagement.


Because they don’t invest in developing,

coaching or mentoring their employees,

Avoidant Leaders can end up with a team

of disengaged employees that can’t meet

the needs of the business as it grows. The

dysfunctional behavior the Avoidant

Leader demonstrates becomes the norm

for the culture with employees avoiding

conflict, failing to communicate or

engage with others, fostering silos and

power struggles.

In order for Avoidant Leaders to develop,

they have to be willing to face their fear

of exercising their authority and it’s

potential negative consequences.

Developing assertiveness, building

tolerance to their emotions and those of

others are critical to their long-term

success as leaders.

There are three key barriers that

need to be addressed in order to

develop Avoidant Leaders:


Avoidant Leaders believe they are

empowering their employees rather than

abdicating responsibility. They are self-

protective rather than insightful. Their

ability to rationalize why they should not

say or do anything that might create

conflict overrides what they know is the

right thing to do.


their behavior is dysfunctional, they

don’t change it – because they fear a

negative outcome. They may listen to

what an employee needs, say they will

change, and continue to do things the

same way.


PROBLEM: Avoidant Leaders believe

performance problems are the fault of the

employee. They complain about the

behavior of their direct reports without

changing their own. They tend to

believe that people should know what to

do without having to tell them.

CALIBER LEADERSHIP SYSTEMS — Dysfunctions of Leaders—Avoidant Behavior JANUARY 2016 Page 4

© 2016 Caliber Leadership Systems

Page 6: 4 Dysfunctional Leadership Styles - Part 2: The Avoidant Leadership Style

Avoidant behavior is a form of

self-protection. Long-standing

self-protective patterns of

behavior can be changed and

new, productive responses and

patterns can be put in their place.

Based on our experience working with

Avoidant Leaders, they can develop their

leadership skills and emotional

intelligence by doing the following:


The process of having a leadership coach

helps the Avoidant Leader develop

tolerance to personal discussions. The

Coach needs to understand their

personality structure, their defences and

be able to challenge their idea of what

people need without making them feel



Understanding the drivers of their

avoidant behavior, their detached stance

and their fear of their own authority is

critical to their development. They also

need to understand the impact of their

behavior on others and how it gets in the

way of them achieving their leadership



Avoidant Leaders must learn to stay

involved with direct reports and co-

workers and manage the anxiety this

produces. Getting help with a

communication strategy and coaching on

how to have performance discussions can

help them engage their people.


Avoidant Leaders benefit from learning

assertiveness skills and practicing them in

a safe environment. They need to be

given assertiveness goals to achieve at

work to build on their learnings. Tools

for writing how to approach employees,

such as a Feedback Planner or Issues

Resolution Planner allows them to train

their brain to think of what they will say

in advance and stay in control of the




Avoidant Leaders need to take

responsibility for the performance of

their direct reports. They need build the

required skills needed to ensure the

success of their direct reports and take a

realistic look at how they perform and

what they need to do to develop.


DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM Avoidant Leaders must build awareness

of how they are contributing to their

team’s and employees’ dysfunction. They

need to learn how to identify and resolve

issues, deal with conflict and make

decisions for others. A team training

program gives them the opportunity to

learn and practice new skills while

building tolerance to engaging with


- Join our webinar -

The Cost of Avoidant Leaders to

your Organization

Thursday Jan 28th at 1:30pm

For information on how we can help you deal with Avoidant or other dysfunctional leadership behavior in your organization, contact us for a complimentary consultation.

[email protected]

[email protected]

CALIBER LEADERSHIP SYSTEMS — Dysfunctions of Leaders—Avoidant Behavior JANUARY 2016 Page 5

Caliber Coaching for Dealing with Leadership Dysfunctions

Not all coaches are created equal. At Caliber, our coaches have extensive training in emotional and social intelligence, psychological dysfunction, group dynamics, brain and behavioral change.

Visit www.caliberleadershipcoaching.com or contact us at +1.416.406.3939 for more information.