Fad Leadership

4 min readNov 3, 2021

A team might not know what kind of a leader they need, but they sure as heck can tell you the kind they don’t — and a fad leader is at the top of that list.

We’ve all experienced fad leadership. The leader who reads a book, goes to a conference, listens to a podcast or any other type of content, and suddenly becomes enlightened of what to do and how to do it. Well, enlightened until the next book, podcast, conference or consultant.

Fad leaders chase shadows. They chase shadows because they aren’t grounded in a vision and supporting strategy. They are easily blown in different directions and sometimes at the same time. They are easily influenced by what competitors are doing or what the latest managerial craze is. Fad leaders are a consultant’s dream because without any personal grounding, they are susceptible to believing anything anyone else says.

Fad leaders cause immense thrashing for their teams. The direction is always changing with little context and substance as to why. Fad leaders cause confusion for their teams to the extent that their teams will stop believing and taking action in a new direction because they know, soon enough, it will change again. Fad leaders are ignorant of the damage they are causing because of the thrashing they create. They tend to blame their team for not being able to keep up, for not getting it or for not being able to make the latest thing work.

Fad leaders make their teams take the fall for their lack of leadership. Fad leaders take no responsibility or accountability for their own or their team’s lack of success. Instead, they go seek a new shadow to chase. They hire a new consultant to give them a different methodology by which to lead the team. Something or someone gives them a new way to think, but they are still void of vision and strategy.

Because fad leaders lack a vision and strategy, they aren’t aware they are a fad leader. The fads and chasing of shadows feel like progress to them. The next thing always feels like the right thing even though they have nothing to back it up. Their lack of awareness is what actually makes them the most dangerous. No one can do anything about improving in an area if we aren’t first able to acknowledge it is a problem.

Fad leaders actually aren’t leaders. They aren’t managers either because managers at least know what they are managing, or at least they should. Whereas fad leaders are adrift. Fad leaders often find themselves in a position to lead because they are skilled at a particular craft that allowed them to have personal success. They are the salesperson who sold the most and became the VP of Sales. They are the developer who cranked out the best and most code to become the VP of Engineering. They are the architect who had a great eye for design that started their own firm. Being great at craft doesn’t require the same vision and strategic skill that being a leader does. Many people can be great at a craft that contributes to a vision and strategy that someone else creates, but when they have to become the visionary and set the strategy, they are ill-equipped to do so.

Fad leaders are afraid of commitment. They are afraid to commit to anything because they aren’t grounded in a vision or strategy. They will try and do anything. But not in a good experimental way, in a meandering, lost-in-the-forest kind of way. Their lack of commitment to a particular course or activity doesn’t even give something that could have the potential of working by sheer luck the chance to.

Fad leaders defend their actions by referring to companies that have done well what they are currently attempting. The examples are also very high-profile and successful companies like Google, Amazon, Apple and alike. Fad leaders will quote the likes of Schmidt, Bezos and Jobs to substantiate they know what they are doing because they are following in the footsteps of successful leaders. This is all nonsense. Fad leaders will fanboy and fangirl over high-profile leaders, expecting that their teams and others will somehow be convinced they are now ready and capable of being a visionary and strategic leader. All the while their team and others know the opposite is true.

Fad leaders will always exist because it is easy. It is much more difficult to learn how to be a leader of intention, vision and strategy. Fad leadership requires no real work on the leader or by the leader. If you are a fad leader, be honest with yourself and begin seeking the guidance to break out of it. Breaking away from fad leadership demonstrates the ability to be the leader you want to be and that your team needs you to be.

-Ryan Frederick, Principal at AWH. We are helping companies fuel growth through technology.




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