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Monday, March 5, 2012

Surviving a Leadership Undercurrent


My mother always scared me with stories of rip tides or undercurrents taking people out to sea.  I believe her purpose was to keep me safe but it was also to show me the power of something that you cannot see.  Undercurrents exist both in the ocean and in organizations of all sizes.  People who are not cognizant of the undercurrent can be taken further away from the shore without even realizing it.  Leaders who lack situational awareness can also be taken further away from the mission/vision of the organization by not understanding the signs around them.  This type of situational awareness is an essential leadership skill


It is not surprising that the concept of situational awareness has been linked to both organization effectiveness and even student achievement. The researchers at McREL identified 21 key leadership responsibilities that are significantly correlated with higher student achievement.  The leadership responsibility with the highest correlation to student achievement was situational awareness.    



Leaders must understand their staff and community members’ dispositions to the changes they are leading.  This does not mean that you have to wait until everyone is happy and on board with the change.  In truth, that moment will never occur because people naturally resist change.  The key for leaders is to tailor their practices in stakeholder accordance with disposition and changes that are occurring. 


Not every tool should be a hammer and not every problem is a nail.   Some changes are easier for people to implement while others may be in direct opposition to prevailing attitudes. Effective leaders understand how the changes they are leading will be received and understood by all stakeholders.   The most effective leaders take the understanding a step further and tailor their leadership styles to create a movement for these changes.


The following advice on undercurrents comes from Trails.com:

Undercurrents are real and you cannot always see them but you can sense and feel when they begin to take hold.  As a swimmer if you do get caught in an undercurrent, don't exhaust yourself trying to swim against it. The best method for combating undercurrent is to attempt to swim perpendicular to the direction of the undercurrent. These rip tides typically exist in patches, and if you can swim out of the patch you will be able to return to shore.


Now read the previous paragraph again and replace swimmer with leader and swim with lead.  

Does it still make sense?  This advice holds true for both leaders and swimmers.  Leaders will exhaust themselves by going directly against the undercurrent.  Think about the undercurrent during your next initiative.  Your situational awareness will be key to not only surviving but also effectively implementing a new initiative to move your organization forward.  

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