Most of us are familiar with the image of the lone wolf.
We usually associate this with strength, independence and self-reliance. This resonates with leaders, since we are out in front creating opportunity, health and growth for the individuals and organizations we serve.
But, what about the other side of the coin? Can being a lone wolf undermine our leadership?
The enemy of the lone wolf is isolation. In the wild, a lone wolf is more at risk from other predators. For humans, isolation opens the door to unhealthy vulnerability. Isolation has caused many leaders to stumble and fall.
That said, there are times or seasons when being apart from the pack makes sense.
Today, I’ll share a few thoughts on both the positives and risks of lone wolf leadership.
Independence – All leaders at some point need to take independent action, even in the midst of an otherwise very collegial working environment. A strong sense of autonomy allows a leader to take charge and drive initiatives forward.
Vision – Strong individualism gives a leader the ability to see things uniquely, yielding fresh ideas and often breakthroughs into new territory. Lone wolves aren’t constrained by groupthink or consensus, freeing them up for some “outside the box” thinking and innovation.
Decisions – Agility in decision making is also important. Some situations require it. In these cases, there may not be time for extensive consultation or collaboration.
A surgeon in an operating room whose patient’s heart suddenly stops beating doesn’t pause to get everyone’s opinion on what should be done next. They immediately take charge to try and save the patient’s life.
Most business or ministry situations aren’t like this, but I’m sure you can think of one or more situations in your own world where quick, decisive action may have been required.
Objectivity – Getting away from the crowd allows us to look at things with a fresh set of eyes. The longer we lead in a particular area, the greater the risk over time of becoming “too close” to a situation to see it clearly. Sometimes a little distance results in clarity.
Renewal – Getting away allows for renewal. Many leaders see this as a luxury they can’t afford, but that is a serious mistake. All of us need time to get away from the tyranny of the urgent not only to recharge, but to allow for clear thinking.
Collaboration – Lone wolf leaders often struggle with collaboration and teamwork. Their preference for independence can hinder their ability to build strong relationships, potentially resulting in strained dynamics and reduced team cohesion.
Myopia – Being too isolated always, at some point, leads to short-sightedness and lack of discernment. Every leader benefits from diverse viewpoints, alternative ideas, and valuable feedback. Without it, you risk making flawed decisions.
Delegation – Do you find it challenging to delegate tasks and responsibilities effectively? Trying to handle everything yourself leads to burnout, anxiety and – perhaps most importantly – a lack of development opportunities for your team.
Support – Pushing away from those around you inevitably undermines your support network. Over time, this will impact your well-being and hinder your ability to navigate challenges effectively.
In the wild, wolves have a well defined social structure and a clear leadership order. So do humans, and virtually all of the organizations in which we lead.
Pushing ahead or going outside of this structure definitely has advantages for a season. But, most days, it’s good to run with your pack.