(The Three Types of Leaders, Part 1)
An exploratory vessel on its way to the Arctic Circle lurches to a stop. It has become frozen in a thick layer of ice. If the ship turns back, it abandons its vital scientific mission. Failure is to be avoided at all costs.
The captain decides to wait out the storm and consider all options. Meanwhile, the ice is spreading, freezing the ship in place. As the hours tick by, the captain mulls over possible solutions to the ship’s fate.
Ice clings to the rigging, the mast, and the crow’s nest, yet the captain hesitates to act. Worse still, the captain orders the crew to continue their duties as usual, stoking coal and washing the deck as if the ship is not freezing in narrow straits. Soon, the ship is too burdened to continue. The mission is lost.
Our Arctic captain did little or nothing in the way of providing a vision to the ship’s crew. In business, whether looking one year ahead or five, ice is always encroaching in the form of changing markets and competition.
Our captain is a timid leader. Such leaders simply fall into step and have the employees in their charge continue to do what they have been doing. Timid leaders thus reinforce the practices, processes, and procedures that are already in place, no matter how antiquated or misaligned they may be.
Such timid leaders are fearful of looking forward because the future is unfamiliar and full of risk. They feel that making the wrong decisions will reflect poorly on them. Instead, they make no decisions at all.
These timid leaders often work diligently and dutifully to complete tasks, while providing very little direction or counsel. Their primary concern is to avoid making mistakes. Their tendency to become isolated and uncommunicative leaves their direct reports operating without a rudder.
As Chinese military strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu observed, “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” By being wedded to the past, we subvert the future. Although tactics keep an organization functioning in the present, leaders must develop a telescopic view of the landscape to secure the future. Long-term vision provides a plan for the future of the organization.
By sacrificing vision for tactics, timid leaders put their organizations or functions at risk of losing their way. Soon, the whole ship may be covered in ice. Danger ahead!
In the next blog, we will discuss the timid leader’s opposite: the overbearing leader. Stay tuned.
THE TAKEAWAY: Timid leaders coast on preexisting operations and navigate by fear of rocking the boat. But, more of the same does not equate to sustained success.
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