Are you leading by invitation or from a place of desperation?

Paul Slezak
Leading People

“I’ve had an epiphany!”, Eleanor said. “A real light bulb moment”. 

She had just appeared on my Zoom screen, and she was beaming – almost as if she, herself, was the metaphorical light bulb. 

I started working with Eleanor at the beginning of the year and this was our fourth coaching session. She’s based in Tampa, Florida, and even though our sessions are at 7am my time, I always enjoy our conversations, and from her opening comment, I knew this session would be as enlightening for me as I hoped it would be for her. 

When I asked her what had brought about this moment of epiphany, she said, “I’ve realised that I have to stop leading from a place of desperation and start leading by invitation”. 

We both let the silence hang there for a while. No doubt she was happy for her big news sink in, but to be honest, I was just trying to get my head around exactly what she meant. 

Eleanor broke the silence. 

“So, let’s use today’s session to work out exactly how I’m going to do it”, she said. 


I needed some more context, and Eleanor began to explain that over the last few months she had been operating from a place of fear, anxiety, and a sense of urgency. She had started micromanaging some of her team members whom she admitted didn’t require micromanagement at all and felt that in general she lacked strategic thinking. 

“Classic signs of leading from desperation”. 

Her words. Not mine. 

But her ‘self-diagnosis’ was pretty spot on. 

Leaders who lead from desperation are often motivated by the fear of failure, loss of control, or the pressure to deliver results quickly. 

Research from organisational development specialists states that such leaders may also rely on their position of authority to make decisions without asking for input from others, and they will typically micromanage their team to ensure everything is done their way. As a result, they may also create a culture of fear and stress, where their team members feel pressured to perform and may not feel comfortable sharing their concerns or ideas. 

Leading from desperation is not a sustainable or effective leadership style. 

Eleanor went on to share some of her other ‘symptoms’. 

She had been having far too many sleepless nights and more recently had been suffering from decision making fatigue – with tell-tale signs such as brain fog, the urge to procrastinate, and generally feeling drained as the day progresses. 

Desperate leaders are also constantly shifting the goal posts. 

Eleanor admitted to catching herself doing this but quickly squashed the habit. After all, employees don’t trust leaders who are continually moving targets, re-setting KPIs, or changing their expectations. 

During our session we discussed some of the other traits of those who lead from a place of desperation including holding far too many meetings thereby preventing any real work from actually getting done; finding ‘joy’ in confrontation usually because they feel like they are losing control; and micromanagement where a leader becomes too obsessed with what’s right in front of them as opposed to looking further ahead. 

It was clear that in order for me to help Eleanor shift her leadership style from one of (perceived) desperation to one of invitation, we would need to unpack what’s involved in the latter approach. 

Leading by invitation emphasises collaboration, empowerment, and inclusivity. 

Instead of using a top-down approach where a leader imposes their ideas and decisions on the team, leading by invitation involves inviting team members to participate in the decision-making process and contribute their perspectives. 

Leading by invitation creates an environment where team members feel valued, respected, and trusted. 

Those who master the art of leading by invitation encourage open communication, are profound listeners, and provide constructive feedback, thereby fostering a culture of transparency and accountability. They will typically provide guidance and support but more importantly they will give their team members space to experiment, make mistakes, and learn from them. 

Leading by invitation can be a catalyst for change. 

Having said that, during our session, I made sure I explained to Eleanor that while leading by invitation is a way to be more inclusive by stepping away from controlling habits, that it’s important to appreciate the subtle differences between leading by invitation and ‘leading by request’. Leading by invitation is associated with positive intention, and creating a sense of belonging, while ‘leading by request’ is typically more associated with coercion. 

After my session with Eleanor, I wanted to find some examples of leaders who had successfully shifted their style from desperation to invitation. For me, the two most notable case studies are Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft who shifted the company’s culture from one of competition to one of collaboration, empowering his team to experiment, fail, and learn. He also focused on building relationships with customers, partners, and employees, creating a more inclusive and customer-centric culture; and Alan Mulally, former CEO of the Ford Motor Company who created a culture of transparency and encouraged his team to take risks which helped the company recover from the GFC. 

Leading from a place of desperation is not a sustainable or effective leadership style. While it may produce short term results, it can very quickly lead to burnout, turnover, and a lack of trust within the team. Instead, those leading by invitation create a culture of collaboration and shared responsibility, where everyone’s voice is heard, everyone’s contributions are valued, and where team members are empowered to make decisions and contribute to the organisation’s success. 

Desperate leaders strive, while those leading by invitation thrive. 

As I discussed with Eleanor, it is certainly possible to shift one’s leadership style from desperation to one more of invitation. However, it requires self-awareness, a willingness to learn, grow and change, and a commitment to develop new skills and behaviours. 

Remember Hellomonday provides coaching and support to every leader, prioritising development initiatives that result in long-term sustained learning and change, reinforcing habits through curated learning and impactful coaching, often helping leaders shift their style from leading from a place of desperation to leading by invitation.