Why Leaders Drift

All leaders experience drift at some point in their careers—even the greatest, most knowledgeable and experienced executives. How does this happen? Why do even the best leaders drift?

Troubling life events can profoundly affect one’s behavior, mindset or motivation, notes Brigette Tasha Hyacinth, MBA, in Purpose Driven Leadership: Building and Fostering Effective Teams (independently published, 2017).  Challenges often shuffle priorities and strain perspective on personal matters.  A loss of a family member, marital crisis, health scare or financial calamity can turn a leader’s world upside down, and one’s focus can quickly blur.  Leaders who lose their enthusiasm and determination find themselves drifting.

Alternatively, drift can follow a period of working too hard, for too long, and running on fumes.  Burnout is a serious problem, leaving afflicted leaders with no gas left in the tank and no energy or desire to maintain the required pace.  Self-preservation supersedes daily responsibilities and issues.  Leaders who drift from exhaustion eventually become ineffective, and their role within the organization is compromised.

On the other end of the spectrum, I have seen drift triggered by boredom.  Leaders who are denied new challenges or goals will lose interest in, and enthusiasm for, their jobs.  Bored leaders have no determination or satisfaction – there’s little motivation to apply themselves to their tasks.  They drift from their responsibilities, abandoning any concerns, and look for ways to escape ever-increasing monotony.

Leaders burned in the past by setbacks or failures may build resistance to risk-taking. Their guard is always up, and they settle into their comfort zonesCoasting is perceived to be the safer route, reducing stress and posing little risk to job security (or so they erroneously believe). Leaders who aim for comfort are assuredly in drift mode, unlikely to move their organizations forward with new programs or products.

Leaders who have experienced rapid success or advancement tend to become self-absorbed.  Pride and privilege dull their sense of responsibility, and they issue directives that benefit themselves. If they see the organization as a vehicle for personal gain, they and their values have dishonorably drifted. Their actions will ultimately derail their organizations’ efforts and their careers, and they’ll wonder where they went wrong.

What do you think? When was the last time you experienced leadership drift? Do you know why—the event or challenges that triggered it?  If you would like more information or learn how to combat leadership drift, you can reach me here and on LinkedIn.