What’s Your Leadership Wake?

I once heard effective leadership defined as “understanding and managing your impact.”  (Thanks to Rick Tamlyn, leadership coach and trainer, for this.)

Dr. Henry Cloud, author and executive coach, compares a leader’s impact to the wake left by a boat.

Many leaders are like boats that move through the water while drenching people or even capsizing other boats. Often they don’t know or don’t care about their wake. And some think there’s only one way to move through the water.

The Before

I worked with a successful IT consulting leader who was great at technology, consulting and selling. He got results because he had great skills. But with his no-nonsense, hard-charging, results-oriented style, he sometimes capsized other boats without realizing it. The higher he rose and greater responsibility he had in the organization, the more serious some of the collateral damage became:

  • attrition of some of his key senior people,
  • bosses not supporting him for further career advancement,
  • direct reports not sharing their ideas or speaking up out of fear of being drowned.

We have all seen this: people who rise to positions of leadership because they have good skills – but in spite of their lack of regard for and/or skills with people. (Think how much more effective they could be and far they could go if they got this!) Often, this aspect of their wake eventually comes back to capsize them or at least stall them, but, unfortunately, not before they have capsized several others.

Facing Reality

Here’s the rest of the story about the successful leader who was great at technology, consulting and sales, but was tipping boats right and left. His boss recommended working with me as his coach, and he made the most of the opportunity. We focused on improving his ability to leverage his direct, results-oriented style in a way that didn’t drench others. Through a 360 degree leadership and style assessment and through candid discussions with his boss and me, he faced the true reality of his wake. He saw his need to change. And he began to see that there were other ways of moving through the water.

The After

He tried new ways of interacting and handling situations. With some practice and ongoing focus and feedback, he saw improvement and so did his team and his peers. His boss noticed, too, and promoted him.

This person previously thought he had to use a harsh style to get results.

When he learned there were other ways to get results – even better results – that was an eye-opener for him. This was not about changing his core style or becoming someone he wasn’t. It was about improving his skill in leveraging his style in order to better regard people while still getting results. He became aware of his wake, and, through focus and effort, he became better able to manage his wake.

What’s your wake?

Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults and loves helping executives better manage their wake. Contact Joe at jbaker@people-results.com or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr.

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