When A Leader Goes ‘Rogue’

Lets face it, in order for any of us to grow or duplicate our services, products or offerings we will have to work with, train and empower people.

While the organization is small and relational interaction is close and transparent, accountability seems more organic and the likelihood of a rogue leader is low. But expansion and multiplication demands more leaders with more power and when a leader goes rogue; displaying unwanted behavior or heading in the wrong direction – it is time to step in.

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 way 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 original idea or method 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.


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.


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 form 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?


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 joint 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 and respond accordingly.
▪    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.
▪   Repeat. 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:

  1. Do you have a rogue leader in your organization?
  2. Is their behavior a reflection of their agenda or your clarity?

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Allan Kelsey
is  Managing Director of Leading Leaders in Keller, TX
He helps clients create Dramatically Improved Performance and Life Satisfaction

Email | LinkedIn | Web

Image Source: avoidamigraine.com, s270.photobucket.com

10 responses to “When A Leader Goes ‘Rogue’

  1. It sounds like we are trying to manage leaders — an almost impossible task and deadly to the cause of innovation. If you want an organization to walk lock-step to the sound of a timeless drummer, then by all means make sure no one goes “rogue.”

    On the other hand, if you want a growing, vibrant, innovative organization, make sure those rogues are fed and tended. Properly nutured, these will be the people who come up with the breakthrough ideas for new approaches to customers, employees, products, and services.

    Let’s be careful with the Rogues!


    • Buckley, We may be arguing over semantics here, but my take on fringe thinkers that push the envelope and stretch the status-quo, is to embrace them heartily. I value them as change agents and welcome their ‘table-pounding’ passion. But to me a rogue leader is one who intentionally re-allign followers around their own agenda and outside of the corporate intention and toward a self serving outcome.

      Allan Kelsey http://www.leadingleaders.net I Achiever, Strategic, Focus, Input, Intellection Twitter Facebook Linked In YouTube I (817) 217-8189 mobile


  2. Thank you for the rather interesting article.

    I believe that lack of clarity in communicating not only the company’s vision but also what is and what is not required by leaders leads to the situation you described.

    Leaders are not to be blamed unless they have gone rogue knowing that they are harming the organization.


    • Rayan, Clarity precedes impact. Without clarity it is very challenging to get alignment. This uncertainty is the fertilizer for rogue leaders because they can escape conviction. No firm and clear goals or ideals, means no ability to measure deviant or compliant action.

      Without clarity in desired outcome and even process, in certain instances, measurement becomes impossible.

      Allan Kelsey http://www.leadingleaders.net I Achiever, Strategic, Focus, Input, Intellection Twitter Facebook Linked In YouTube I (817) 217-8189 mobile


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  4. Allan,

    All change arises from the mobilization of action behind an idea that runs counter to the current legitimacy. This is how the current purpose, strategy, ‘vision’ and so on came about in the first place.

    You refer to this current authodoxy as “the originally agreed ideal”. And that is just what it is – an ideal (and generalized) statement of what is (was?) thought to be required at the time it was developed. But this has to be particularized by people in the moment-to-moment interactions that comprise everyday organizational life.

    Through their everyday conversations and interactions, people make sense of what is going on and decide how they are going to act – in the ‘real world’ conditions in which they find themselves. They will tend to coalesce around particular vtews of the world, with the aim of initiating, supporting or frustrating particular objectives and ways of working. And it is through the organization-wide interplay of this myriad of ‘local’ (i.e. one-to-one and small group) conversations that outcomes emerge.

    The activity that you describe as “rogue ledership” is therefore going on all of the time – practised both by those in formal leadership positions and others who are not. It is a natural dynamic of organizations, And it is through this process that all progress (as well as stagnation and decline, of course) happens.

    The real challenge for those in formal leadership positions – throughout the organization – is to actively engage with this ongoing sensemaking and action-taking process in a deliberate and infomed way, The aim in doing so is to build active coalitions of support for organizationally beneficial ways of working. In some instances this will involve mobilizing the actions of their own staff behind agreed policies, processes and practices. In others, it might mean seeking to shift the status quo in some way.

    Even then, these leaders can act with intention but wiyh no certainty of outcome.

    Cheers, Chris


    • Chris, I enjoyed reading your comments. Clearly this is a space that you move around in quite a bit.

      I respectfully do not agree with your assessment of rogue leadership. Now, we may simply be squabbling over semantics, but here’s my explanation. I believe any influencer within an organization was at some point hired for their talent and ability and under the pretense that they would pull toward the corporate objectives. Which they no doubt agreed to – otherwise I don’t think they would have been hired in the first place. Clear or not at the time of hiring, they were probably hired around these kinds of ideas. If that leader, later intentionally redirects his efforts and followers around an alternate agenda – he’s gone rogue.

      Out of a group of 100 people in a mid-sized company probably 50 or more could tell you what is wrong with the company and what is correctly needed to fix it, but statistically less than 5 have the relational influence, patience and leadership skill to enact those corrections over time. Dealing with a rogue leader, in my opinion, has less to do with embracing change or better ways to make a widget – and more to do with intentional shifts of influence and focus toward personal objectives.

      Allan Kelsey http://www.leadingleaders.net I Achiever, Strategic, Focus, Input, Intellection Twitter Facebook Linked In YouTube I (817) 217-8189 mobile


  5. Allan,

    Although I have never used the term, I would not disagree with your notion of a “rogue leader” as someone who, to paraphrase your comments, intentionally shifts influence and focus towards personal objectives.

    The purpose of my first comment was to suggest that all leadership – rogue or otherwise – is about influencing others to act in particular ways. And that this is unavoidably a political process. As you say, the normal assumption when people are hired is that they will “pull toward the corporate objective”. This is why I said that the ‘legitimate’ role of those in formal leadership positions, throughout the organization, is to seek to “build active coalitions of support for organizationally beneficial ways of working”. What this means in practice, of course, is much more complex than is implied by the conventional – clearly focused, singularly aligned and benignly collaborative – view of organizational dynamics.

    What one person (or group) believes to be organizationally beneficial is likely to differ – often significantly – from what other people might think. This is an inevitable result of their take on the specific organizational challenges they are facing; the particular local circumstances in which they are acting; the relationships of which they are part; their personal idiosyncrasies and socially formed ‘frame of reference’ on the world; and so on. And these differing perspectives will both shape and be shaped by the ongoing conversations and interactions that constitute everyday organizational life.

    Outcomes emerge from this messy, self-organizing process of conversational interaction, which is punctuated by the formal, ‘set-piece’ meetings, forums and processes. The latter add the formal ‘veneer’ and endorsement to what are largely informally constructed propositions, around which a sufficiently powerful coalition of support has been built. It is in this way, I would suggest, that formal missions, visions, strategies, structures, processes, systems, procedures and so on come into being. When formally adopted, these both enable and constrain ongoing interactions – to some extent in the ways intended but also in unforeseen and often surprising ways. Even Jack Welch argued that, “… like the kitchens in the best run restaurants, all business is messy and chaotic.”

    This process is enacted by people from within the Executive to those on the front line – albeit (as you imply) with differing power relations, quality of insight and leadership skill at play. And, in any interaction, three ‘constituencies of interest’ are involved: the individual themselves, significant others that are involved and the organization ‘as a whole’. Skilful, “savvy” and ethical political action requires paying attention to all three constituencies (including one’s own self-interest) during the give-and-take of everyday interactions. Problems occur when a serious imbalance arises – such as a shift towards a wholly self-serving, manipulative or ‘Machiavellian’ stance, or to one in which people collude with others in practices that place their own self-interests above those of the organization. This is what I would see as, in your terms, “going rogue”. And this can occur, of course, anywhere in the organization; although the wider impact of such action will differ significantly from case to case.

    My main point, I guess, is that these dynamics are universal. I would argue that they explain both the continuity of organizational activity and, at the same time, how change originates. And it is the capacity for shifts to occur in the ‘established’ patterns of understanding and action – i.e. for novelty to emerge and change to take place – that sets up the very conditions in which what you are calling “rogue leadership” can arise. In sum, you can’t have one without the risk of the other.

    Regards, Chris.


  6. Pingback: Irony Rules! Establishment Pushes Change. Leaders Push Status Quo. « Buckley's Blog·

  7. I have seen great leadership come out of an organization in which it’s the Employees who “go rogue”. Now there’s a leadership challenge! It calls for leaders to look at their collective visions and values to determine if that person can be developed or if they are out the door. Strong, effective leadership determines if he/she is a disruption or a refreshing “out of the box” thinker –then acts accordingly.


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