Duck, Duck, Lead


We all remember that childhood game of walking slowly around the circle, taping the head of each anxious child poised to spring out of their seat with one change of a word; eyeing each kid with a bit of mischief combined with indifference, practicing our best poker faces until suddenly….GOOSE!

I’ve made a lot of observations as I walk alongside various individuals and organizations in their change process. One of the many things I’ve learned is that leadership is an opportunity not a hole to plug...

I’ve seen one too many organizations (usually start ups or smaller organizations) play the game of duck, duck, lead, choosing, with only minimal thought, the next individual to step into a principal role. In a rush to run around the circle of growth, development, or crisis management, leaders make a rash decision without evaluating potential outcomes. Effective leaders shouldn’t be chosen like a game of pin the tale on the donkey. Healthy organizations would never do that – plug a hole – there is too much at stake.

Usually, the factors influencing such decisions are relatively consistent. Financial options limit going outside the organization to bring in new talent. Time is restricting the opportunity to fully evaluate candidates and consider the consequences of such change, both healthy and challenging. Lastly, impatience rears its ugly little head, causing those in charge to make rash decisions in order to create the illusion of forward movement simply because we live in a culture of instant gratification.

Then what happens? With those pressures in place, leaders simply look to clone versions of themselves. Nothing signals the likelihood of future organizational leaks than a lack of diversity in core leadership. Like-mindedness isn’t always a good thing. If you pick future leaders that think, act, and look like you then the same patterns of organizational behavior are replicated. Growth requires creativity, outside-the-box thinking, and disagreement that promote broader levels of thinking.

So, what’s the practical application? First, core leadership cannot be a one-man or one-woman show. If you find yourself flying solo – adjust your course quickly. Seek out others – friends, fellow-business leaders, who demonstrate distinct strengths, motivations, personality types, and cultural exposures.

Second, diversity requires intentionality. Don’t just assume that you can diversify by hope or chance. Developing core leadership and raising future leaders that think, act, and look different then you, necessitates a purposeful plan of action.

Duck, duck, leadership is impulsive and one-sided. While it may meet an immediate need, it often fails to create the longevity that is needed to push organizations to further fulfillment of their mission and long-range goals.

Deb Gorton