What is Your Leadership Wake?


boat wakeI bumped into a friend today at Starbucks and he mentioned a term I had not heard before, “Leadership Wake.”

This term refers to the residual impact of your leadership – what you leave behind you. To really understand this you have to have some degree of knowledge about boats.

Boats of any size leave what’s called a “wake” behind them as they cut through the water. The only way for a boat not to leave a wake is to remain stationary. If a boat is moving, it will leave a wake of some sort. The size of the wake is determined by a number of things, not the least of which is the size and design of the boat’s hull.

Some hulls are designed to leave a very little wake: a tournament slalom boat for example. Slalom water skiers weave their way through a slalom course comprised of 6 buoys at a boat speed of 36 MPH. However, the skier’s water speed can reach upwards of 65 MPH when cutting across the wake of the boat. When hitting the wake at this speed you want to ensure it’s as small as possible to prevent injuries.

Other hulls are designed to leave as big a wake as possible: an example of which would be surfing and wake-boarding boats. These types of boats have a completely different hull design. They also have added elements to further contribute to creating a big wake, like ‘fat sacks’ in the back of the boat that fill with large amounts of water to put excess weight in the boat to cause a bigger wake. A large wake is preferable in wake-boarding, off of which wake boarders can get more air time, and it’s essential for wake surfers who cannot surf without a big wake.

Obviously boats with small wakes cause far less impact to surrounding boats and to structures on the shoreline, whereas boats that produce large wakes cause a far greater impact on other boats and on whatever is on the shore of the body of water in which they are operating.

If a boat is moving forward it is going to leave a wake behind it.

Likewise in leadership: if we are moving forward – leading – we will leave a wake of impact behind us. The question is this:

Are you aware of your Leadership Wake? Are you aware of the impact of your leadership?

Do you create confidence, courage, commitment, passion, purpose and the like in the lives of those you are leading? Or do you leave a wake of fear, insecurity, obscurity, intimidation and hopelessness?

Selfish, self-centered, egotistical and accidental leadership leaves a nasty wake of destruction within an organization. People feel hopeless, unappreciated and lose heart, then productively ultimately plummets. That’s a bad leadership wake. It’s a big wake with a big negative impact.

Wholehearted Leadership is based in the belief that a leader helps people be better. It is delivered by an ‘others-centered’ leader from a deep place of commitment, conviction, passion, purpose, identity and life. The leader leads with humility, empathy, authenticity, risk and tenacity to create a significant wake of life in those following. The result is engaged, committed, passionate and productive employees.

Now that’s a great wake.

Sometimes though, we may think we are creating one sort of leadership wake, when we are actually having another impact to which we are oblivious. That’s why it is important for leaders to ensure they conduct regular leadership reviews. These are often best done with the help of an outside consultant if you happen to be the person at the top of the ladder. These reviews don’t need to be threatening; we are simply trying to get a glimpse into the nature of your leadership wake.

If you’re leading you’re leaving a leadership wake. And, unlike a boat, if you are in a position of leadership but are not moving forward, you are still leaving a wake – the ramifications of indecision are enormous.

Let’s make sure we understand the nature of our wake, and then make the changes necessary to leave the kind of wake we want to leave: one that is in the best interests of those we lead, and of our organization.

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