4 Ways Leadership Drift Can Catch You Unaware

Jun 10, 2015 1 Min Read

Are you enthusiastic about your work? When you reflect on your day at work, do you feel a deep sense of satisfaction? Is the person you are at work the same as the person you are outside of work?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, it’s possible you might be caught in leadership drift. You might have heard about team drift, where teams lose their focus without realising it. The same thing can happen to individuals.

You might be adrift without realising it.

Why leadership drift occurs

A huge external shift

You might have been thrown off track initially because of something huge like a hurricane or a serious illness, and by the time the dust settled, you forgot about your dream.

Anthony had just started his own business when his wife was diagnosed with cancer. Realising 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 stalled in his career.

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 rationalised it. Then she discovered a few more things about the way they treated customers, and again rationalised it. She also noticed that in some ways employees were treated in ways she considered disrespectful.

She decided to ignore what was making her uncomfortable because this was “just a job”, and to look for personal fulfillment outside work. Her awareness of the company practices and her acceptance of them occurred so gradually that she did not notice how damaging it had become to her attitude about relationships and life in general.

Seduced by momentum

Sometimes you can start out with clarity and then stop paying attention. You stop being intentional about your choices and momentum takes 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

You can also find you’re off course because you never had a clear course in the first place. When that happens, you might simply wake up one day feeling like things aren’t right and have no idea why.

7 questions to help you refocus and stop leadership drift

The first step is to take stock. Have you drifted? It takes courage to examine where you are because you will likely need to do something about it.

The next step, before you take action, is 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 or get rid of?”
  3. “Why do I want that?” Dig down below your initial answers to discover what is fundamentally important to you.
  4. “What do I care deeply about? What is so important that you would be willing to stand in front of a bus to defend?
  5. “What do I want to be known for?”
  6. “How do I want to feel about myself?”
  7. “How do I want to feel about others?”

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.

© 2015 Jesse Stoner
Reposted with permission. For feedback, email us at editor@leaderonomics.com. For more leadership insights, visit www.leaderonomics.com

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Jesse Lyn is a business consultant and co-author with Ken Blanchard of the international bestseller Full Steam Ahead: Unleash the Power of Vision. She is the founder of Seapoint Center for Collaborative Leadership, which hosts her award winning leadership blog.

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