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John Maxwell Team
John Maxwell Team Certified Member

Priscilla Archangel is a John Maxwell Team Certified Coach, Teacher and Speaker.

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    Leading in a “No Wake Zone”

    Imagine that you’ve just joined a new organization or department or been appointed to lead a significant new project. You’re excited about your new role and have been given a charge by your new leader regarding specific outcomes and metrics to achieve. You took some time to evaluate the challenge ahead and get to know the team, and you’re ready to make some “quick wins.” There are obvious areas for improvement that will impact organizational metrics favorably. As you meet with your colleagues and team members to introduce your plans, their responses are muted. They don’t seem to appreciate the value of these initiatives. You continue to meet with key people one-on-one to gain their support and probe for issues, but you keep hitting a wall filled with excuses, pushback and noncommitment. What’s wrong? You’ve entered a “no wake zone.”

    What Is a “No Wake Zone”?

    Lakes and rivers have no wake zones where motorized watercraft are required to operate at low speeds, just enough to steer and make headway, but not to create any waves or turbulence in the water behind it. These zones exist to protect shorelines from erosion, to protect aquatic life, and to prevent boats docked nearby from rocking too much. While this space is a small part of the overall surface of the water, it’s a crucial area as this is the passageway where watercraft must traverse to gain access to the open water. Failing to exercise due caution within the norms of that environment could result in being in violation of the rules and result in associated consequences.

    What Does It Mean to Lead in a “No Wake Zone”?

    When you get behind the wheel of a speedboat, you automatically want to go as fast as reasonably possible, both for the fun of it, as well as to get to your desired destination. The same happens in leadership. You clearly see opportunities for improvement. You try to correctly assess the options for accomplishing them and move quickly toward those goals. That is until you recognize that the lip service that your colleagues gave to reaching organizational goals doesn’t match their actions to support your plans to get there. Your desire is to move faster, but the environment is slowing you down. You find that the subtle but effective measures in place to protect the existing culture, also protect it from the changes necessary to make progress.

    Any attempts to move faster in bringing about change ruffles feathers and is met with overt and covert resistance. Your only choice is to move so slowly that the change is almost imperceptible to you and others, thus demonstrating the capacity to progress smoothly at the correct pace without being perceived as destructive. You must focus on three areas:

    Protect the shoreline – These are the cultural boundaries that represent shared beliefs and values. You must frame the mission, purpose and scope of your projects, in the context of the current culture.

    Respect the aquatic life – These are people who comprise the fabric of the organization. You must value and leverage their skills and capabilities and help them to understand how they can best contribute to the future success of the organization.

    Beware of the boats – These are the other leaders in the organization, all trying to move initiatives forward as fast as they can. You must manage conflicts, ensure alignment and prioritization and support common goals and metrics.

    In this process, it’s important to understand the proper timing and to embrace the importance of the culture, people and leadership norms in moving initiatives that move the organization forward. Otherwise, frustration and impatience will flare up (like gunning the speedboat motor) and result in run-ins with the environment.

    Making Progress in a “No Wake Zone”

    How can you advance the objectives you’ve been instructed to accomplish? How do you create a positive impact for the customers and provide benefits to stakeholders? And, how do you leverage the reservoir of capabilities that you bring to the table? Learning the unique characteristics of the organization and demonstrating a respect for their future direction will help you develop relationships that smooth the pathway for faster change and improvement. You’ll then reach open water where you can move faster with fewer barriers to progress.

    As a new leader you obviously want to make quick wins. You see opportunities for improvement and want to move forward to meet clearly identified needs. But by slowing your pace in a “no wake zone” you will learn how to move forward in a manner that demonstrates appreciation for and builds relationships with your environment.


    Copyright 2018 Priscilla Archangel
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