Solutions for Leading the Unwilling

leading the unwilling teammatesAs a leader, you may sometimes feel like you are leading the unwilling and look for solutions that do not include nagging.

It can be exhausting to feel that you are dragging your people behind you as if they were dead weight.  Their lack of enthusiasm or seeming unwillingness to make a sincere effort to move in the direction you’ve identified as important may be a danger sign you need to address.

It is no fun to catch yourself nagging your people to do what you need them to in order for team expectations to be met.  Leadership should be a process of encouraging and supporting your people and supporting their growth and efforts.

Leadership behaviors should not include nagging and dragging.

Regardless of your position, you can lead from where you are – but you lead best when you are helping others to become or accomplish what is important to them, not when you are searchiing for solutions to disengaged workers.

The reality is that leadership is not defined by position – it is defined by your ability to influence, and there are three main reasons that people might be resisting your attempts at leadership.

Instead of continuing to nag them, instead of exhausting yourself with attempts to drag them along with you and the more invested and enthusiastic teammates, realize that sometimes there is a disconnect between you and those you seek to lead.

The three most common reasons why you may feel like you are leading the unwilling are that people often resist leadership…  

1. if you’ve not yet proven yourself competent.

The truth is you don’t always enjoy the benefit of the doubt from others.  They won’t always assume that you are qualified or that you truly know what is best.  It is very important, then, to provide your team with stories or evidence of your past success, or at least a work ethic that has started to produce some impressive results.  That, together with a thorough plan that you share and repeatedly reference, will win over the less enthusiastic individuals that you want to influence.  Once they believe in you, they will become more willing to accept your ideas,  encouragements, and advice.  

2. if they don’t feel you are concerned about their needs.

People want to feel understood by those they are following.  It enables people to open up and become invested in your ideas.  WIIFM is still the most popular station in the world – so as a leader you must identify the benefits to everyone on board if you want them to join in and row with the team.  People row for themselves first, and want to know that you are aware of and appreciate their needs and desires.  This includes finding out about their personality profile and making use of their strengths.  A great leader doesn’t just get people on the boat – he finds the right seat and places them is a role best suited to their talents.  

3. if they think you’re going where they don’t want to go.

Values and vision always determine direction. If any of your people don’t want to go the direction you have chosen, you will need to either find a new organization adjust your chosen destination, or convince the individual that the destination you have identified will serve his/her purposes as well.  But if there is a conflict in values or vision, there will be many other conflicts elsewhere that serve as symptoms of your differences.


The solution to the three common reasons people may be resisting your leadership is to invest time in building relationships and clarifying the vision and destination for all that are on board.

Once your people are convinced that you are competent, that you understand and value them, and that you are going where they want to go, your job as leader will be halfway done. 

The ideal situation for a leader is to work as an encourager who shields them from external distractions and offer the resources and support to perform at their best.

If you need to build team trust and relationships, you might consider the tremendous return on investment that a day of interactive team building challenges would provide.   Instead of spending your energy and time with adversarial dragging and nagging, find a way to meet the three needs above and your people will no longer be unwilling – they will be inspired!


If you liked this article, you will want to request free access to Sean’s Teamwork Toolbox – over 50 useful handouts and activities for smart team leaders!