Are YOU Cast Adrift?

Are YOU Cast Adrift?

I invest a lot of time talking about what I consider the core elements of every successful company






Forget the brands, the strategies, the technology, or the innovation – if we don’t get the core elements right all else is destined for failure.


At the center of every great company lies leadership – and no, not the formal variety that speaks to titles or reporting structures – or even the number of “direct reports.”


Leaders, I’ve found, are often not tied to any of the above – they are people of influence whose ability to inspire others is often the difference maker for a successful company – or its downfall.


Someone taught me years ago that my challenge in building a team – or an organization – was not in assembling willing followers. It was in building a coalition of leaders capable also of following.


I should have memorialized that lesson in stone – put it on my mantle – and committed to remembering it for a lifetime.


Some of the VERY best leaders I encountered in my career journey had no impressive title attached to their name but when I reflect on their impact I appreciate their skills.


No structure to aid them – no title to fall back on.


Authentic leadership– not titled leadership. Big difference.


And as regards the latter – those who accept the formal assignment to direct others. It took me a long time to fully comprehend that there are three dimensions that remain timeless – and yes, MISSION CRITICAL – for every great leader.


Forget the constant stream of competencies or skill descriptors that can confuse.




Every formal leader must be able to:

  • Source and recruit great talent
  • Develop and retain that talent
  • Build the individual talent into a whole that exceeds the sum of its parts.


We can – often do – build a LOT of characteristics/competencies/skills/values that make each of the above come to life…but it is a lot simpler if we acknowledge that – without the THREE – most of the rest is just window dressing.


A lot of “would be leaders” don’t hit the mark as regards each.


In a recent interview I was asked a question that gave me pause for thought – “How do I know if I am aligned with a poor leader where I work? And maybe, more important, what can I do about it anyway?”


Pretty darn good question.


There are a lot of warning signs to be sure – here are six of the most common I’ve seen from the various pretenders who often leave their “followers” adrift.


Warning Sign #1 – I care about a lot of things – but you aren’t necessarily one of them.  The old adage, “People don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care” is more than a playful aphorism. We align with people who actually have our best interests at heart – not the company’s profit margin. Forty years in industry – have never YET met a transformative leader who didn’t care deeply about his or her people.


Warning Sign #2 – The constant mindless focus on ONLY the what. Any leader who defaults to results in every discussion is like the bowling instructor who looks at your score and says, “Bowl harder.” No input on the HOW is troubling. No input on the WHY is devastating. I spent decades in various management assignments. When I finally figured out that reviewing the report card was far less important than the things we did to get to the grade I actually began to get a little better as a leader.


Warning Sign #3 – The drowning victim who pulls you down with them. Want to spot the next fatality in your company? Find the supposed leader who can’t determine what is most important – that day, that week, that month, that year. So they make everything important. And then they spread the affliction to their direct reports. The Storm of data, meetings, information, messages, etc. affects all of us – but great leaders filter and prioritize – constantly. 


Warning Sign #4 – I don’t have time to listen to you – but you better make time to listen to me.  The most common incorrect assumption that surrounds great leaders is that they are the most articulate or the best informed. Nonsense – the best communicators are passionate listeners – and eager to learn from those around them. Compassion breeds curiosity – curiosity demands asking questions – asking questions can/often does lead to advanced listening skills.


Warning Sign #5 – Trust me – no matter what I do.  Authentic leaders have your back. The pretenders are simply on your back. Watch the feet – look for the actions, and not just the words. Every “would be” leader knows the script – knows what to say.  We see that every day in the world around us. Transformative leaders live the script.  The truly great ones always speak the truth. Truth is the grandfather of trust.


Warning Sign #6 – Our success is dependent on me. Our failure, on the other hand – is because of you.  Success has a million fathers. Failure is an orphan. Want to spot a legitimate leader? Find one with the courage to admit culpability – and quick to assume accountability. Want to find the opposite?  Well, wait for the next conference call when the long finger of blame points elsewhere.


Here is a reality I finally grasped in my long career journey – a simple tenet I touch on in  The Compass Solution.


Those who CANNOT lead at best hope to manage.

Those who CANNOT manage at best hope to control.

Those who CANNOT control at best hope to coerce.


The polling group Gallup suggests we get it right less than 20% of the time when it comes to placing legitimate management talent.


I believe that figure is on the high side – very high.


But I remind myself that even in situations where the “lighthouse” is questionable there are still leaders out there who can, and often do, help point the way for others.


Which takes me back to the point made earlier – and the fact that leadership cannot simply be designated by company mandate. It is earned by those who epitomize larger qualities.


So, if you feel you’re facing raging seas – a desperate situation made more desperate by a leader who can’t lead – make the decision to act.


When there is no leader – You must become one.










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