The Catalysts of Leadership Drift

Most of us find ourselves in a difficult situation at some point in our lives. We may be undertaking new tasks, confronting new challenges, or working at a new pace or with new degrees of responsibility. Such experiences are extremely stressful and may cause us to challenge our underlying assumptions about who we are and what we stand for; they are the catalysts of leadership drift.

Troubling life events can profoundly affect one’s behavior, mindset or motivation, notes Brigette Tasha Hyacinth, MBA, in Purpose Driven Leadership: Building and Fostering Effective Teams (independently published, 2017). Challenges often shuffle priorities and strain perspective on personal matters. A loss of a family member, marital crisis, health scare or financial calamity can turn a leader’s world upside down, and one’s focus can quickly blur. Leaders who lose their enthusiasm and determination find themselves drifting.

Alternatively, drift can follow a period of working too hard, for too long, and running on fumes. Burnout is a serious problem, leaving afflicted leaders with no gas left in the tank and no energy or desire to maintain the required pace. Self-preservation supersedes daily responsibilities and issues. Leaders who drift from exhaustion eventually become ineffective, and their role within the organization is compromised.

On the other end of the spectrum, I have seen drift triggered by boredom. Leaders who are denied new challenges or goals will lose interest in, and enthusiasm for, their jobs. Bored leaders have no determination or satisfaction. There’s little motivation to apply themselves to their tasks. They drift from their responsibilities, abandoning any concerns, and look for ways to escape ever-increasing monotony.

Leaders burned in the past by setbacks or failures may build resistance to risk-taking. Their guard is always up, and they settle into their comfort zones. Coasting is perceived to be the safer route, reducing stress and posing little risk to job security (or so they erroneously believe). Leaders who aim for comfort are assuredly in drift mode, unlikely to move their organizations forward with new programs or products.

Leaders who have experienced rapid success or advancement tend to become self-absorbed. Pride and privilege dull their sense of responsibility, and they issue directives that benefit themselves. If they see the organization as a vehicle for personal gain, they and their values have dishonorably drifted. Their actions will ultimately derail their organizations’ efforts and their careers, and they’ll wonder where they went wrong.

What do you think? When was the last time you experienced leadership drift? Do you know why—the event or challenges that triggered it?  You can call me at 704-827-4474; let’s talk. And as always, I can be reached here, or on LinkedIn.

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