What is a rogue Leader?

I suppose this definition could be as wide as any potential offense that exists, but in general it is when a person of influence begins to cause others to follow them away from the originally agreed ideal. Or when a leader begins to steer the application of the goods or services being sold, in a manner not endorsed by the company ideals. It is a departure from the intent of the original focus or the intent of the originator. Sometimes the behavior of a rogue leader is blatant and visible, sometimes it is subtle and subversive. Sometimes their ‘rogue-ness’ is defined more by what they are not doing, than by what they are doing. However you define it or identify it, rogue leadership is usually not constructive.

As misguided as rogue leadership can be, the concept of blame has to be carefully considered, because if the company’s original idea or methodology is vague or unclear, then the ‘rogue’ leader may not be entirely to blame. As leaders we should ask ourselves; “Is he going rogue because of his own intentions or is he simply unclear about the direction we want to go, and just doing the best with what he has?”

Where is the harm?

Rogue leadership is destructive because it portrays an imbalance of power, it dilutes or even derails the corporate vision and it breaks alignment.

Firstly, when a rogue leader goes unchecked, the indirect message being sent to the organization is that kind of behavior is acceptable generally, and specifically his kind of behavior is not worthy of correction. It is tacit approval. So if you don’t endorse what that leader is doing, then say so and do something about it. Not doing something about it gives him more power to continue. Also, the longer it is permitted to continue, the more the rest of the organization adopts that as standard practice.

Secondly, allowing a rogue leader to progress without correction results in a diluted corporate vision. Think about it, if a leader is permitted to lead his division down a road that is not part of the intention for the division, if it doesn’t support the overall vision of the organization, then he is allowed to dilute the vision. We now have multiple agenda’s being pursued, yet under one name. Depending on how much power he has, he could completely derail the vision and intent of the organization and not addressing that action is an unspoken from of endorsement. By not doing anything about it, you are quietly agreeing with his vision. So ask yourself…do you agree with what is happening? If not, are your actions displaying that?

Thirdly, rogue leadership breaks alignment. Allowing unwanted direction to be pursued (unchecked) effectively breaks the alignment that has been so instrumental in the corporate creativity that has gotten you this far. Alignment is critical, because it is unity. It is team work. It is the idea that we are all pulling in the same direction. That cannot be accomplished with one leader running off in one direction, while the rest of the team is pulling in another. Rogue leadership breaks alignment and undoes the power of combined effort toward a goal.

Act swiftly and decisively.

Correcting rogue leadership could go in many different directions, but these are the central elements that will likely be in all versions:

Act swiftly

Don’t procrastinate. The longer you leave the issue ‘as is’ the more the organization thinks the changed direction is OK. If it is not, do something about it.

Be decisive

Either the rogue leader’s direction and behavior is helpful or hurtful to the organization but it cannot be neutral. Decide what it is by comparing it to the vision.

Be clear

If the leader’s actions are considered rogue by feel and not by definition, then you are are powerless. Only when you can point to where action is acceptable and not acceptable by comparison to vision or stated ideals, can you correct that action. Without clear definitions for direction and methods for achieving that direction, you have no map. Without a map you will never know if you are on course or off course and worse yet – neither will your people. Your ability to correct will depend directly on the clarity of your vision and ideals.


The classic response from a confronted rogue leader is usually something like: “Well, I didn’t know that is what you wanted.” Not only does your vision have to be clear and understandable, but it has to be adopted by everyone. Modern leadership guru’s like John Maxwell and Stephen Covey say you should cast vision repeatedly. Not annually, not even monthly but weekly. That kind of repetition forces you to have to be clear and prevents anyone in the organization from saying…I didn’t know!

Two questions then:

  • Do you have a Rogue Leader?
  • Does the incorrectness of their actions have more to do with their personal agenda or your clarity?