Six Leadership Torpedoes (Part 1 of 2)

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On March 2, 1990, Tom Clancy’s “The Hunt for Red October” hit the theaters, starring Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin. It was a great movie and an excellent portrayal of modern submarine warfare.

What the movie made clear is that the submarine is a fearsome weapon. It was an absolute terror for both military and merchant mariners in World War I and II. It continues to be a significant threat today.

The submarine’s weapon of choice is the torpedo. Its main advantage is stealth. Even with today’s sophisticated detection and avoidance technology, it still has massive destructive power.

Leaders, similarly, can also take significant hits from “leadership torpedoes.” I define these as things that can approach without detection and cause trouble for both the leader and those they influence.

Today we’ll take a look at three out of six, and in two weeks we’ll look at three more. All of us are susceptible to different things depending on our personalities and our gifts. But these six are quite common.

Discouragement – We all get discouraged. Whether personally or professionally, rarely do things go exactly as planned. This can get really old, really fast.

The torpedo is when we dwell on our discouragement. Initially, this is simply distracting. Over time – if left unchecked – it can become debilitating.

When I get discouraged, I do two things – lengthen and strengthen. First, I lengthen my time horizon; and second, I strengthen my focus on the ultimate or desired outcome and my “why” for doing the work.

Imagine you’re climbing Mount Everest. You’re exhausted and starved for oxygen. You look up, and the summit still seems miles away. At that point, take a break, catch your breath and turn around to see where you’ve actually been.

Looking behind re-calibrates our horizon. It aligns actual progress with your ultimate objective. It re-establishes proper perspective. Most times, we’ve made a lot more progress than we thought. This gives us renewed energy for pressing forward.

Insignificance – Worthwhile endeavors often start small and take a long-time to bear fruit. Especially those involving pioneering or transformational work. If we aren’t careful, we can begin to focus on the “numbers” instead of the “impact.”

Focusing only on the numbers or what seems like slow progress can cause feelings of insignificance – that our work is not worthwhile or that no one really cares. Using the “lengthen” and “strenghten” technique is also helpful here.

In 1968, my parents purchased a piece of property in the mountains and we built a cabin together. For the first two summers, all we did was cut down trees and move rocks. To 9 year old me, this was really boring (and a lot of work!!).

In those first years progress seemed painfully slow. I wanted a finished house so I could go play in the forest.

In reality, the work was very significant. It just took time. Now, 55 years later, four generations of my family have enjoyed the benefits.

Isolation – when we feel discouraged or insignificant, it’s easy to withdraw. I’m skilled at this. I’m like the Yoda of isolation. And no – that’s not a good thing.

Leaders are out front. That makes us targets for criticism, arm-chair quarterbacking, and constant scrutiny. And, the higher you climb the riskier it often becomes to disclose weakness. Unhealthy cultures may actually penalize disclosure.

When this happens, reach out. Lean in vs. backing away. We all need a small group of trusted confidantes. Call on them. If you succumb to the isolation, those you lead will eventually suffer.

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