Every Leader’s Achilles Heel

Achilles Heel of LeadershipThe Achilles Heel: that fatal weakness which can bring you down despite your overall strength.

For otherwise outstanding leaders, it is a lack of clarity.

You may be a brilliant motivator and leader of great character who empowers their team for success and inspires them to move to action. You may be trustworthy and a leader who lives each value of the organization in an exemplary fashion. You may approach your leadership role with a servant mentality and recognize every success and strength of your followers and organizations. And you may be the most honorable and courageous leader on the field. But if you are not clear on your:

  • Purpose
  • Vision
  • Strategies

you will either lead your followers in circles, down the wrong path, or leave them confused and bumping into each other.

In other words, you can have every attribute you need to be a strong, distinguished leader but a lack of clarity is the single vulnerability that destines you to ruination.

Ok…a destiny of ruination might be slightly melodramatic if you’re not currently fighting the Trojan War as Achilles did, but you get the point. When you read about great companies that lost their edge and their leadership status you read words that evoke a true sense of confusion. They lost their way, they lost their focus. Ultimately, they lost their clarity of purpose, vision and strategies.

It is the leader’s job to prevent this from happening, yet so many leaders don’t have this sense of clarity within themselves let alone the confidence and ability to convey it relentlessly to their followers.

This is why I love the simple analogy of dance to make this critical point…

I wrote a few weeks ago about how my renewed immersion in dance is not only lifting my soul, it’s helping me better understand the work needed to be a great follower. I am incredibly fortunate to have an instructor who not only has a genuine understanding of the soulful journey I’m on, but is committed to getting me out of my leadership “comfort zone” to a place where following feels truly natural and effortless. Let’s just say I have a loooong way to go!

But Joel is a phenomenal leader and dancer who empowers me for success by providing a foundation of clarity from which to build:

He is clear on our purpose by ensuring I know which dance we’re about to do. This seems so ridiculously obvious, but how many of us know with 100% confidence the exact purpose of our leaders? If Joel was not clear and I had to do even a small amount of guessing, I might start out heading to the side to Rumba only to be plowed over if he thinks we’re about to Tango. The result would not be pretty or soulful. Think about it, have you ever had a conversation with a follower in which what they said to you essentially equated to, “I thought you wanted me to Rumba?” I’m guessing you have.

He is clear on our vision by ensuring I know what the dance is supposed to look like when done properly, and the emotions it is meant to evoke. He has taught me which dances to dance on the balls of my feet, when to use my heels, and which dances are more staccato in nature. I know which are smooth and therefore traveling dances, and which are rhythm dances and have an entirely different carriage. All of this is critical for establishing the same vision in each of our heads as to what we want the dance – the performance – to look like. Because if we don’t have the same vision of the dance in its entirety, we cannot perform it in harmony. Think about the implication of this for you as a leader!

Joel is clear on our strategies by making sure I am clear on the steps. After all, to bring your vision to life you must align your strategies with your vision. Again, this may sound basic but how clearly do you think your strategies are being communicated throughout your entire organization? Essentially, everyone needs to be doing “the same steps” in order for strategies to be executed properly.

The crucial difference between business and dancing:

Here’s the thing about dancing with a partner: if the leader is not clear, the dance will be a disaster. This will be immediately evident. But in business, this is not always the case. It may take weeks, months or even years for a leader to realize their team is a mess because of lack of clarity around purpose, vision or strategies, but it will happen eventually with the same shattering impact.

How clearly are you communicating your purpose, vision and strategies to your followers?

Give this some thought and join me and my amazing Leadership Chat partner, Steve Woodruff (who doesn’t dance, but did invent Clarity Therapy) tomorrow night, May 22nd, at 8:00 pm Eastern Time for a global Twitter conversation with leaders from around the world about “clarity in leadership.” And mark your calendars for May 29th when we’ll host our final edition of Leadership Chat and send it off with a bang!


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Photo of The Achilles Heel by TexMex5.

Visionary Leaders and the GPS Ride of Insanity

Visionary LeadersYes, I realize I am a slow-adopter when it comes to technology.  I took my first GPS-aided road trip this past weekend and the device literally drove me mad.

I believe it was through this experience that I came to realize why the topic of Visionary Leadership is such a passion of mine: I simply cannot stand the inability to see the larger picture and final destination.

Big Picture vs. Bird’s Eye View

In the case of following my GPS, this meant literally.  If I wanted to be fully focused on the task-at-hand, such as driving 10 miles on Rt. 57 south and exiting at Exit 12, then it performed exceptionally and I could see exactly where I needed to go.

But if I wanted the bigger picture, such as how the route would wind through the State of Illinois, which state I’d enter next, and how it was taking me to my final destination – all from my current point of view – forget it.  I had to keep pushing the “expand” button for it to give me the “bigger picture” (which, technically, you’re not supposed to do while driving) and then, when the picture was too big for the GPS’s taste, it took me to a birds-eye view instead.

I didn’t want the bird’s view; I wanted my view of where I was, where I was headed and what route I was taking to get there. I wanted it all mapped out in front of me so that I felt confident in the entire plan, thus enabling me to fully focus on the task at hand.

Rather than focusing on the task at hand I found myself yelling at the GPS device, which took on the name “Jack” because of the language selection offered by the device (“American – Jack”), and I ended up sounding like Kate Winslet in Titanic, “Jack! Where are we going, Jack?!”

Knowing Your Optional Paths

Why is this important? When you can’t see the bigger picture you don’t know your optional paths.

At one point I hit a construction backup.  I had about 0.3 seconds to determine if I would go ahead and sit in the backup for 45 minutes, or follow the word “detour” that was flashing on the orange sign that had suddenly become visible, just ahead.

Because it was nighttime and I was in a rural area, and because I had no idea where, exactly, I was in the larger picture and if there might be a number of other reasonable paths to travel, I simply wasn’t sure if I could trust the “detour” path as a better option than sitting in traffic.

So I sat in traffic and lost 45 minutes of drive time.

Why is my experience important for leaders?

  1. Visionary leaders don’t have a GPS device that you can “trust” to take you to the destination embodied by your vision.  Thus, you must have your vision in front of you at all times to ensure you’re steering your team in the right direction.
  2. It’s critical to know where you and your team are at all times.  This sounds incredibly obvious, but how many times as a leader do we have to stop and ask ourselves and our team, “Where exactly are we at with this?”
  3. Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.  Most teams are focused on the daily task at hand.  With a view of the larger picture, you’ll be able to steer them to optional paths if they hit roadblocks along the way.
  4. With confidence in your strategies (path) for reaching your vision, you can focus on your own tasks at hand as well.

The Ultimate Big Picture

Ultimately, I believe your number one priority is to have your eyes set on your vision, consistently reinforcing for your team what that vision looks, feels, smells, tastes and sounds like, and to be consistently reviewing the strategies and tactics you are using to reach that vision.

How you get there – as a leader of values and character and integrity is vitally important as well. But without a vision you have no idea where you, and your team, may end up.

What do you think?

Please share your insights in the comments!


The Business-Altering Difference Between Vision and Mission

When a Leader’s Vision is Actually a Dream

What CEO’s Can Learn From the Goddess of Vision


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The Leadership Truth Juan Williams Revealed

By Lisa Petrilli

I grew up with my dad working for a Fortune 500 company in a number of management and subsequent senior leadership positions.  Although he came home at dinnertime carrying a briefcase, in reality he left “work” at the office.  Yes, he would get some paperwork done while my siblings and I did homework but that was the extent of it.  He couldn’t make any business calls because, well, let’s remember, we only had one phone line back then and I’ll be the first to admit I monopolized it as a teenager with a boyfriend. 

That was back in the “good ‘ol days” when the line between work and the rest of your life was clear and plainly visible.

The leadership truth that Juan Williams and NPR have now brought to the forefront is that the blurriness of said line has now gone well beyond the work/life balance in today’s 24/7 business world where we are “always on” to the question of the appropriate point in our personal lives as individuals expressing personal feelings and fears via social or other media when leaders we work for in other realms of our life have an ethical and professional right to take offense.

When is a human being’s expression of their personal feelings and fears within our purview as a leader?

  • Is the answer dependent on the particular role they play when they are working for us, as NPR’s response might allude to?
  • Is the answer dependent on the tone in which the feelings are expressed?
  • What about the question of whether the feelings and fears expressed by the employee cause others to be concerned about the employee’s safety or even the safety of others?
  • Is all of this irrelevant if it’s an expression of something entirely unrelated to work?


You see, underneath the fact that this particular situation can be viewed as an issue of Free Speech with serious Constitutional ramifications when viewed through a political lens, I worry about our core ability as humans to admit that we have fears; to admit that we have beliefs that may not sync up with what we’ve stood for all of our lives and that make us uncomfortable; to admit that we have flaws in our character as part of our natural condition. 

After all, I’ve been sharing with each of you my own personal journey to embrace my essential self – flaws and all – in a way that will make me a better leader and contributor to the world.  I’ve been casting off the chains of perfectionism and embracing the reality of my limitations and fears, and then finding ways to shed them from my life and replace them with opportunities for growth.

The last thing I want to do is to start going backward on this journey and see the same fate befall those on similar journeys…

What knocked the wind out of me upon hearing Juan’s story was the reality that he was judged on his expression of a personal fear even in the context of how he shared it, which I would say represented humility and forthrightness in the midst of his deep humanity and commitment to civil rights.  Yet even in this context, and even though he was expressing a fear that many Americans can understand even if they don’t experience that same fear themselves, he was fired. 

Fired in a cowardly, disrespectful, distasteful manner.

So, what does that mean for the rest of humanity as we share our own fears and beliefs with each other today in blogs, on Twitter, in Facebook and in other ways?  At what point can we as leaders choose not to like something said by an employee on their personal blog if it has nothing at all to do with their job?  At what point do we say it will affect how their colleagues view them?  Their clients? Their accounts?

And on the flip side, at what point do we start self-censoring our own free speech because we’re afraid of unjustified actions against us?

Steve Woodruff and I can’t wait to hear your thoughts – because this is the topic of the October 26th edition of #LeadershipChat.  Please join us at 8:00 pm Eastern Time to challenge each other and share with each other in regard to this critically important topic!  Looking forward to seeing your there!

As always, please feel free to share your initial thoughts and insights with me here.  I value your comments and appreciate you taking the time to respond.

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Photo is Listen to Wisdom by Ben Heine.