No Leader Is An Island


No Leader Is An Island


It is impossible to calculate how many times we at VIM Executive Coaching have heard the following expression (or a variation of it) from new clients:

“In my company, I have learned that if I want something done right, then I do it myself.”

Ownership, or taking ownership for a project or product can be admirable under certain circumstances, but it is also fraught with peril. When we are told by an executive leader that he or she has done something “all by themselves” or that they don’t need anyone else, it is a troubling sign.

We are not islands

Doing something by ourselves or not needing any support while not necessarily the same thing, still reach a troubling end.

Obviously, if it is a small task, such as proofing and approving an important brochure or following up on a sales call to a major customer, we often feel we have no choice but to do the job ourselves. However, if we are overwhelmed, even smaller tasks can get approved that are less than satisfactory. In retrospect, we must concede we could have had another set of eyes proofing the brochure, or we should have remembered important points from our follow-up call.

If it is a complex set of activities and we claim that we would rather keep the project “on our desk,” then it becomes much more problematic. We can get side-tracked due to other priorities or under-utilize managers or worse, give managers the impression that their assistance is not necessary. If leaders are consistent with their failure to rely on others, or indicate that team members are unreliable or untrustworthy, all it will do is lead to discord and a breakdown of communication and team building.

Why businesses often fail

As an executive business coach, VIM Executive Coaching has seen many organizations and their leaders succeed beyond their wildest expectations and, unfortunately, many businesses fail. Organizations fail for many reasons, of course, but a failure to delegate is right up at the top of the list. There are some leaders who so need control and so need to do everything themselves, or are so invested in placing everything on a need to know basis, that no one knows much of anything.

If the organization is complex (as virtually every organization can be), the more a leader might take on the idea of living on an island, the more difficult it is for the achievement of long-term success.

There is another hidden risk of the executive leader maintaining a white-knuckle grip on virtually every decision. Managers, and indeed, most employees are aspirational. An executive leader who isolates and takes on all responsibilities will in turn, provide an unfortunate example to others who are trying to follow in that leader’s career path.

The long-term effect of “island living” is not a deeper tan, but rather deeper divides and often deeper levels of miscommunication, mistrust and unfortunately, missed goals. In today’s business climate, the reverse is needed.

We hold on and it hurts

Organizations where top leaders are often aloof and fiercely cling to their independence are not much different than people who are aloof from their neighbors, friends and often spouses. They are so invested in their independence, they fail to see “the other.” Often, they don’t realize what is lost until it is gone.

In the case of organizations, it is a loss peers, managers, co-workers and the goals of the organization itself. The days of the hard-chargers are gone, and replaced with an inter-dependency and connectedness. In this business climate, especially given far-flung offices, contract labor and social media platforms, to hold on rather than to share and thrive, is a dangerous course of action.

What changes the equation? Mindfulness. Just as a marriage often fails because the partners fail to be mindful of one another i.e., they prefer to live on islands, so too organizations where executive leaders isolate and don’t see the qualities of others in their own departments, branches or corporations.

There is a price to pay for “island living.” At the end of the day, the perceived value od failing to be mindful is often isolation. VIM Executive Coaching is dedicated to helping executive leaders to be more mindful and by extension, more effective.


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