High Friction - Low Friction Leadership

low friction
low friction

A revealing way to assess leadership is in terms of the amount of friction it generates: there are high-friction leaders and low-friction leaders. These terms say nothing about the actual effectiveness of a leader, or what sort of results he or she is able to deliver. Referring to leadership in terms of friction is simply a measure of the unnecessary wear and tear inflicted by a leader on a company, a culture, and particularly on those being led. High-friction leadership, encouraged by the drive for short-term results, wears down people, cultures, and organizations so that the negative long-term effects outweigh any short-term economic gain. Short-term gain is the argument typically used to justify the presence of high-friction leaders in an organization. Over time, the decision to tolerate high-friction leaders always backfires, and vast amounts of time and valuable resources are expended in an attempt to mitigate the damage to the organization. High-friction leadership in an organization is characterized by low morale, widespread physical and psychological exhaustion, and high attrition rates. Those most likely to flee are highly-motivated individuals in key positions, whose contributions often drive an organization.

Low-friction leadership is invariably informed by big picture, long-term thinking. A “results horizon” stretched out over years rather than weeks or months informs decisions in a manner that factors in the best interests of individuals involved in the organization, as well as the organization itself. Morale is higher, workers feel energized and motivated, and attrition is low.


There is a single personal characteristic that low-friction leaders always demonstrate, and that is notably absent in high-friction leaders. The characteristic is trust, on every possible level. This particular expression of trust is uniformly radiated: the leader trusts herself, and trusts the people who work for her. On a fundamental level, self-trust is necessary in order to radiate trust toward others. In the absence of trust, high-friction leaders display a number of characteristics, among them the need to be right, the need to take credit for all accomplishments, and difficulty listening and accepting the contributions of others. The common theme in these characteristics is lack of trust. Rather than placing the people they lead at the center of their universes, high-friction leaders place themselves there. The result is that high-friction leaders artificially divorce the growth of their organizations from the growth of the individuals who comprise the organization.

Low-friction leaders, because they’re willing to trust, to listen, to take in alternate points of view, are easier on the people in their organizations for this simple reason: they’re easier on themselves. Because they’re able to trust, accept, and forgive themselves, they model these qualities to their organizations. These personal qualities combine in a powerful way to form the larger quality that most defines low-friction leadership: resilience. Resilient leaders are able to inject that same resilience into their organizations. If you’re interested in being a low-friction leader, the place to start is by looking at your willingness to trust, accept and forgive. Think these qualities are divorced from the everyday world of high-level business? Think again.