Can you work under a Leader you don’t believe in?

It was announced last week that Boris Johnson is the new British Prime Minister. In the run up to the result and following confirmation of Boris’ win, a number of high ranking Conservative politicians handed in their resignation, refusing to serve under a Johnson leadership.


Education Minister Anne Milton tweeted her resignation just half an hour before the leadership result was due to be revealed, citing the UK “must leave the EU in a responsible manner”.


Chancellor Philip Hammond and International Development Secretary Rory Stewart were among others to quit before Boris Johnson entered Downing Street, both stating that they disagreed with Boris’ approach to Brexit and could not be part of it.


Regardless of your political leanings or your opinion on Brexit, these circumstances pose a serious question that many people in the workplace will face at some point in their career…


Is it possible to work under a leader that you don’t believe in?


The old age saying is that people don’t leave companies, they leave managers.


There are many reasons why an employee may struggle to work under their leader. They may have lost confidence in their ability to lead, they could be an irrational leader, lack of trust or a difference of opinions or beliefs. It is also increasingly common that leaders and managers don’t actually possess the right skills to lead and have just found themselves in a position of power either through a restructure or stepped in at a time of need.


All of these circumstances can make work life difficult and uncomfortable and since we spend most of our adult lives at work, there is a strong argument to say that it really isn’t worth tolerating something that is making you unhappy.


However, leaving a job can also be a big deal and if you are working for a company you’ve always dreamed of, should you be forced out by the leader?

Here are some things to consider if you find yourself in this situation:

  1. Determine the problem – is it a matter of not liking your boss or not having confidence in their ability? These are two very different situations which would require different approaches. It is important that you are honest with yourself because if it’s a case of simply not liking them, the chances are you’ll encounter another boss like this again.

  2. Is there someone you can talk to? HR departments within any business are there to help you. You can speak confidentially to Human Resources and seek advice from there. Alternatively, you could speak to a colleague, sometimes just talking about things can help you feel better and no drastic action will need to be taken. If you work in a small business and report directly into a Director then things could be a bit more tricky. Depending on your relationship with your Director you may be able to approach them and have a calm conversation about your concerns.

  3. Your mental health – as mentioned previously, we spend a lot of time at work and if aspects of this are really getting you down then it is worth seriously considering your options. The structure of a business will usually impact how much a leader or manager will impact on your everyday life at work. If it is your direct manager that you’ve lost trust or belief in, it is likely you will come into regular contact with them every day and this will have more of an impact on your work. If there are multiple levels of seniority within a business and your problem is with someone senior, this could also be tricky as it may feel like you have little or no control over their actions and that even if you voice your opinion to another senior member of staff, the leader in question may seem untouchable. These circumstances will naturally have an impact on your approach to work and your mental health.

  4. Your ability to progress within the company – Again, this will be dependent on the size of a business. If you’re working within a large organisation there may be an option for you to apply for a change of role or secondment within another team? This would put some distance between yourself and the manager and should alleviate the problem. If however, it is senior manager whom you’ve lost trust or confidence in, it is likely there will be a toxic culture within the business and no matter what team you’re in, they will also be affected. In these cases, it is worth considering getting a new job.


Ultimately, each case will be different and there is also no underestimating how quickly and easily you will get be able to get a new job. What is important though is your happiness and if there is a negative culture within a business caused by a leader or management team then beginning to look else where is certainly a viable option.


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