4 Ways Leadership Drift Can Catch You Unaware

Are you feeling enthusiastic about your work?  When you reflect on your day, do you feel a deep sense of satisfaction? Do you like the person you are when you are at work? If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” it’s possible you might be suffering from “Leadership Drift” without realizing it. You might have heard about team drift, but what about you as a leader? Is it possible you’ve drifted without realizing it?

Why Leadership Drift Occurs

A huge external shift

Sometimes we are thrown off track because of a sudden change in our world such as an earthquake, hurricane or an illness.

Anthony had just started his own business when his wife was diagnosed with cancer.  Realizing he needed to be able to devote more attention to take care of his wife and children during this period, he put his new business on hold and returned to his previous corporate job.  Years later, long after his wife had regained full health, he was still with the same company.

Sedated slowly

The longer Barbara worked for her company, the more aware she became of practices that made her uncomfortable.  First she discovered they collected information on customers without their knowledge, but she rationalized it.  Then she discovered a few more things about the way the treated customers, and again rationalized it. She also noticed that in some ways employees were treated in ways she considered disrespectful. But she decided this was just a job and looked for personal fulfillment outside work. Her awareness of company practices and her acceptance of them occurred so gradually, she did not notice how much they had influenced her attitude about relationships and life in general.

Seduced by momentum

Sometimes we start out with clarity and then stop paying attention. We stop being intentional about our choices and allow momentum to take over.

John was a techie in high school and in college majored in engineering. He loved his first job in the IT department of a large company, where he developed a reputation as a “go to” person because he could solve almost any problem. After many years of moving up the corporate ladder, he confided to me, “You’d think that now, after all these promotions and recognition, as a senior leader, I’d feel pretty satisfied.  The truth is, I was having a lot more fun before I became a manager.”

Going with the flow

Sometimes we find we’re off course because we never had a clear course in the first place.  We just wake up one day feeling like things aren’t right and have no idea why.

5 questions to help you refocus and stop leadership drifting.

The first step is to take stock. It takes courage to examine where you are in relation to your dreams because it means you will need to do something about it.

However, before you decide to take action, it’s important to reclaim your purpose. If you’re not clear about what you really want, you are likely to set goals that will not be truly satisfying once accomplished.

These questions can help you reconnect with what’s most important to you. Ask yourself:

  1. “What do I want to do?” — not “What should I do?”
  2. “What do I truly desire?” — not “”What do I want to move away from?”
  3.  “What do I care deeply about? What am I willing to stand in front a bus to defend?
  4. “What do I want to be known for? How do I want to feel about myself? What do I want from my relationships?”
  5. Why do I want that?” — Dig down below your initial answers to discover what is fundamentally important to you.

Setting goals and taking action to get back on track is important. But first get clear about what matters most and where you want to go, or the tail will be wagging the dog.


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Image credit: freeartist / 123RF Stock Photo

This article was originally written on Seapoint Center. Check it out!

Jesse Lyn Stoner is author of several business books including the international bestseller Full Steam Ahead! Unleash the Power of Vision, which has been translated into 21 languages. She is currently the executive director of the Berrett-Koehler Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to helping the next generation of leaders. As a consultant, Jesse has worked with leaders in hundreds of organizations using collaborative processes to engage the entire workforce in creating their desired future. Her clients range from Fortune 500's to non-profits worldwide, including Honda, Marriott, Edelman Public Relations, Skanska, SAP and YPO to name a few. Jesse has been published is many magazines, including the Harvard Business Review, and weekly leadership blog is widely read. Follow her on Twitter @JesseLynStoner and find her on Facebook.

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