How to Work With A Leader Who is Disengaged

A disengaged employee may be unproductive and ineffective, but a disengaged leader can do real damage. Those who work with disengaged leaders often feel disappointed and frustrated, even if they’re otherwise satisfied with their jobs.

So how can you do your best when you’re working for a disengaged leader?

First, it’s important to try and understand the origin of the disengagement in the leader’s situation and perspective. That means putting yourself in their shoes for a time. Many disengaged leaders fall into one of a few categories, and the best response for each is a bit different:

They’re responding to an external issue. If it’s a recent development, especially if it was also sudden, it may be related to something situational, like an illness or family crisis. Ongoing disengagement is a different issue and may be related to an issue like substance abuse or long-term stress. Ask others about their perceptions, being clear that you’re coming from a place of concern, not a desire to gossip or denigrate. Many leaders are unwilling to talk about a personal issue with a subordinate, but you can still demonstrate a spirit of caring. If you’re in a position to do so, make sure that everyone on your team—including your leader—has access to information on mental health resources.

They simply don’t know how to engage. Your leader may just be an introvert or someone for whom engagement doesn’t come naturally. The best way to engage an awkward leader is by taking the initiative. You may be able to open the door a bit, and by modeling engagement you set a good example for the leader and for your coworkers.

They’re focused on the strategic side of leadership. Your leader may be drawn to the strategic elements of their position—things like decision-making and crafting policy—rather than directly managing people, and they avoid the part of their job that they consider too draining. Engage this type of leader with small interactions instead of long exchanges to show them that being with people doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

They’re self-centered. Ego-driven leaders rarely look beyond their own needs and interests. If it’s not about them, they’re not interested. They’re among the most frustrating leaders to work with for a number of reasons, but it may be possible to exert a positive influence on them if their indifference and sense of entitlement aren’t already too ingrained. You may need to feed their ego to get anything accomplished, but you can help compensate for their shortcomings and set a good example for others by making sure you’re quick to give credit and encourage others.

A disengaged leader is a serious problem. And like any serious problem, it requires careful assessment and an action plan.

Lead from within: If you’re working with a leader who is disengaged, try to engage them. Speak from the heart and show them what true engagement feels and sounds like.


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The Leadership Gap
What Gets Between You and Your Greatness

After decades of coaching powerful executives around the world, Lolly Daskal has observed that leaders rise to their positions relying on a specific set of values and traits. But in time, every executive reaches a point when their performance suffers and failure persists. Very few understand why or how to prevent it.

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Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR,, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness has become a national bestseller.

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