Leadership that Silences Natural Leaders: The “Volunteer Penalty,” according to Inc.

Jeff Haden hits the nail right on the head in his article, “5 Leadership Lessons You Won’t Learn in B-School,” in Inc. Magazine.

#3 Reads: The “volunteer penalty” kills the flow of great ideas.

Your best employees tend to come up with the best ideas. It’s natural to assign responsibility for carrying out an idea to the person who came up with the idea. Plus, if that person is a great employee, it’s natural to want them to take responsibility, because they’re more likely to get it done.

Of course, your best employees are already working extremely hard, so assigning them responsibility every time they have a suggestion naturally stops their flow of ideas.

As one outstanding employee finally explained to me, “I finally realized I needed to stop suggesting things to you, because every time I did you just added another responsibility to my plate.”

Sometimes the employee will welcome the responsibility for carrying out their idea. Other times they won’t.

How do you know which way a particular employee will respond?


This is great advice, especially the “Ask” part. That’s the A in Leadership, in my acronym. And his advice, to ask for volunteers instead of defining responsibility based on great ideas, is a great way to remember that there’s a difference between empowerment and emburdening (to coin a new, deeply clunky term for bad leadership delegation!)

Here are his other excellent tips that experience- not education-  teaches us about good leadership:

1. Data comes and goes, but feelings last forever.

2. Great ideas are never found in presentations.

4. Sharing only the positive always results in a negative.

5. Data is accurate, but people are right.

Read more of his great article.

One comment

  1. […] THE VOLUNTEER PENALTY AT ALL COSTS! Too many organizations “punish” people who have great ideas by saying, […]


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