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  • Writer's picturePaul Howe

Leadership: Camping at the Top

"Camping at the Top" refers to leaders who have reached their personal goal or the leadership position they desire and either coast or become complacent to the point of laziness.

The leadership position may be secured by a ticket punch, appointment, sought after for egotistical reasons or legitimately earned. Issues which may negatively impact the organization may be burn out or worse, a "coasting" attitude when dynamic and energetic is leadership is needed to maintain the organization or team in top performance.

Over the years I have seen all types of leadership ruin or set back great teams and organizations.

True leaders know that energy, motivation and leadership by example are needed to help steer their command, whether it be a team, section or agency.

Good leaders know when to move on.

Bad leaders stay past their “expiration” date and poison their organization.

Team Leaders or Direct Supervisors

During my time in Special Operations, once you became a Team Leader, the clock began ticking. You had two years before they moved you out and someone else in. The reasoning was simple. The Ops (Operations) tempo was so great that burnout was inevitable. Either the relentless training or combat missions would take its toll on the individual and in many respects, their family time.

If a Team Leader truly did their job which includes planning/executing training, supervising, counseling, yearly individual evaluations, awards and simply tried to stay ahead of all the job requirements, it would wear anyone down.

After the two-years as a Team Leader, you would get the choice of stable assignment for another two years so you could decompress and have a dedicated schedule to help reclaim some family life. After those two years, you could go back to a leadership position.

I talked to one tactical team leader who has held the job for over 14 years. I could tell by the technical and tactical skills of his men that he was burned out. The status quo had set in and no one was held accountable for training or individual skills. Sub team leaders were running the team, many times being unguided missiles. It was obvious to everyone but the long-time team leader.

Camping Out

Camping out refers to relaxing and just enjoying the ride without contributing. I have seen way too many leaders “camp out” in their position and not contribute to the organization. These campers do not lead, but rather let folks under them bust their butts for little or no recognition or future progression. I have watched many a great sub-leader who should have been a Chief, walk away and retire and take their experience with them.

This is sad. This is also a waste of experience and talent. These sub-unit leaders tire of fighting a system and leadership that is lazy and complacent. Their attempts to fix problems and improve the organization are stifled or shot down due to laziness or egos. Some leaders feel threatened with subunit leaders who bring up fresh ideas. They crush these positive thoughts in their infancy.

I have watched many an ineffective leader only work hard to get out of work and get out of the trenches. They seek cushy jobs that allow them study and test well. They skyrocket up the leadership chain. They understand little of the dynamic leadership required to actually lead and simply manage using rules and regulations, failing to use individual common sense in decision making which is required in a fluid environment. Many will use the system as an excuse to be lazy and not make informed, common sense decisions in their sphere of influence.

Toxic Leaders

The only cure for “Toxic Leaders” is to cull them early in life. If you don’t document their actions, counsel them and mentor them, they will grow. Toxic Leaders quickly or slowly poison their organizations with poor decisions and many times with their dysfunctional personality.

In their infancy, once toxic individuals refuse to change, after being given a chance, they need to be gotten rid of. Further, it needs to be documented so they don’t migrate to another organization and lie their way in and to the top. Without documentation of their poor performance, there is no way of confirming their lies.

These toxic type leaders spend more time covering their tracks and making excuses rather than contributing to the organization. These leaders are generally, lazy, lackluster and legends in their own mind. They usually surround themselves with other leaders of the same type to protect each other’s self-interests.


If you find yourself burned out as a leader, move aside or move on. Don’t hinder the growth and health of an organization with your lackluster performance. If you are unsure of you being burned out, ask your subordinates and your family. If you raised both correctly, they will let you know the truth.

If you get to a position and realize it is not for you, move on.

If your family has long term problems and you cannot put the organization first, move on.

If you’re an egomaniac, fix yourself through counseling, but the reality is, you will not due to your affliction. Egomaniacs will stagnate organizational thought, morale and motivation.

If you’re a leader and see this in subordinates, you should act. If you do not, it will not get fixed and the problem will get promoted. The organization will suffer and all the individuals in the impact zone will as well.


If you find yourself “

” in a leadership position, reevaluate your life. Do not let your personal lack of motivation impact the entire organization and everyone in it. Fix yourself or move on for the benefit of others who are trying.

Finally, when you get into a leadership position, start grooming your replacement. Teach them what you wish you knew when you were selected, promoted or appointed.

About the Author: Paul R. Howe is a 20-year veteran and former Special Operations soldier and instructor. He owns Combat Shooting and Tactics (CSAT), where he consults with, trains and evaluates law enforcement and government agencies in technical and tactical techniques throughout the special operations spectrum. See for details.

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